This is part one in a series called Being Alive, exploring the issue of our fragmented society and finding ways to become more engaged with the world around us.
This weekend I spent some time exploring College Station, TX – home of the Texas A&M Aggies. I always knew this place was legendary for it’s traditions and awesome sporting events, but I never fully understood the full might and power until this weekend.
First, Yell Practice.
Before each home game, the students all gather in the stadium in the middle of the night to have a yell practice. Don’t call them cheers unless you have a death wish. No, these are yells meant to inspire fear and terror into the opponents. These yells are serious business. They are led by 5 “yell leaders” who are elected by the student body, much like a class president would be, except this is so much more important!
So, here’s how it goes. Everyone gathers in the stands, there are some speeches and such, then the yells start. Each yell has a hand signal that the yell leaders give to the crowd, which the crowd acknowledges by giving the signal back (this is most hilarious when the ‘flip the bird’ signal is given). Then everyone crouches down with their hands on their knees (supposedly, this helps project your yell more), and they all to the yell in perfect unison, keying off of the elaborate hand gestures of the yell leaders.
These yells are so loud that they can be heard from miles away, and when you’re having yell practice, you can hear the echo back from the other side of the stadium. It’s pretty heinous.
When they sing their fight song, they don’t just sing. In one particularly important section (“saw varsity’s horns off”) everyone locks arms and sways back and forth. No one is exempt, no matter how bad they stink or how much of a stranger they are. Not too hard, right? There’s more. They actually pass the word up the stands in a matter of seconds so that each row goes in opposite directions from each other.
Everyone says “howdy” on campus, and you have to say “howdy” back. It doesn’t matter how stupid you think the word “howdy” is. You are in east Texas, in the middle of freaking nowhere, and you say howdy! (When in Rome… oh, and yeah, these guys have guns.)
When we went to the baseball game to employ all of this incredible cheering yelling/fanboy stuff that I had learned, I was surprised at one silly little thing – the guessing of the number of train engines. Let me explain… A&M’s baseball field sits right next to a busy railroad track, where trains pass all night long blowing their whistles. Every time you heard a train coming, you were to hold up your hand with a guess at the number of engines that the train had on it.
Yeah, I know, what a stupid little game. No winner is announced. No grand prize is drawn, but everyone does it.
So what does it mean?
I could go on and on with these little “sprinkles” on the cake of my visit to College Station – but I won’t bore you more than I already have. I’ll just cut to the point: this reminded me of the power of the shared experience.
Audience dynamics is a topic I’ve been interested in for a long time. I would have written my master’s thesis on this, if I continued in school. Our society is massively shifting away from the audience mentality and shared experiences – we are rapidly becoming more like “islands” in the sea of humanity.
These days, we get everything we want on demand. Everything is 24/7; food, entertainment, work. We watch movies on our time schedule. We time-shift our TV programming. We work weird hours; gone are the days of “quitting time” when the whistle blows and everyone goes home.
This shift is massively fragmenting our society, causing us to drift further apart as human beings because we have absolutely no commonality to our individual stories.
…But not these Aggies.
They are, perhaps, one of the last outposts of not only the “shared experience”, but above that, a “UNISON experience.” They don’t attend the athletic event. They don’t sit in the stands. They engage in the game. They understand that they are not there as voyeurs, but as participants; even to the point of guessing the number of engines on the passing train. They participate in every aspect of the world around them – they are full-fledged, actively engaged, instigating participants!
You can call it synergy, call it unison, call it the “12 man” on the field, whatever you call it, it is a force to be reckoned with.
At the end of the day I was ready to admit, “if I hadn’t have been a Cougar, I would have wanted to be an Aggie.”