Quiet Celebrations

Think of “celebration” and, if you’re like me, you think of athletes celebrating a win on the field. You think of a soccer team winning the Olympic gold medal and rushing the field, hugging, screaming…unabashed ecstasy.

But not all celebration involves such a spirited display. In fact, more often in life, a person’s reaction to amazing news is more subdued.

Consider this scene from the movie Pursuit of Happyness. Will Smith’s character is told by the firm he’s interning at that he has a full-time job as a broker. After much struggle, landing the job is quite an achievement. His response to the news? Stoic. Steady. Wet eyes.

Another example actually does come from the world of sports, but in the locker room, not on the field. Brandon Belt, a player on the San Francisco Giants, being told in spring training he had made the big league club. It’s in the first few minutes of this clip (embedded below). Rather than break out into cheering, Belt is quiet, and starts lightly crying. Why does he cry quietly here, but rush the field after his team win a game? Is it just the social / group dynamic?

Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a book intriguingly titled Dancing In the Streets: A History of Collective Joy. I haven’t read it because I generally don’t like Ehrenreich, but a paragraph review of the book seems apropos:

It is a truism that everyone seeks happiness, but public manifestations of it have not always been free of recrimination. Colonial regimes have defined spectacles as an inherently “primitive” act and elders harrumph at youthful exultation. Social critic and bestselling author Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed) teases out the many incarnations of sanctioned public revelry, starting with the protofeminist oreibasia, or Dionysian winter dance, in antiquity, and from there covering trance, ancient mystery cults and carnival, right up to the rock and roll and sports-related mass celebrations of our own day. “Why is so little left” of such rituals, she asks, bemoaning the “loss of ecstatic pleasure.” Ehrenreich necessarily delineates the repressive reactions to such ecstasy by the forces of so-called “civilization,” reasonably positing that rituals of joy are nearly as innate as the quest for food and shelter. Complicating Ehrenreich’s schema is her own politicized judgment, dismissing what she sees as the debased celebrations of sporting events while writing approvingly of the 1960s “happenings” of her own youth and the inevitable street theater that accompanies any modern mass protest, yet all but ignoring the Burning Man festival in Nevada and tut-tutting ravers’ reliance on artificial ecstasy. That aside, Ehrenreich writes with grace and clarity in a fascinating, wide-ranging and generous account.

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