Monday, October 20, 2008

What An Audience Wants

I don't much care for the Boston Red Sox. I grew up a Yankee-hater, and so was forced to root for them a couple of times, most notably and frustratingly in 1978 (Bucky Dent, pop fly), but I couldn't really bring myself to throw myself into their legendary suffering with any real passion. After all, I had my own suffering to tend to...

By the time the Yankees hired Joe Torre and I'd gotten out of my childhood, my own Yankee-hating softened, so much so that when the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry heated up again, I was pulling for my home town Yankees now. No love for the Red Sox. Not now, nor ever.

And so I was rather pleased, last Thursday night, to flip on the TV and see that the Tampa Bay Rays were ahead, 5-0, in the seventh inning of Game 5 of their Championship Series, poised to close out the series 4 games to 1. I watched enough for the Rays to score a couple more runs off the Red Sox' truly hateful closer, the brilliantly intense frat boy Jonathan Papelbom, and then, with a rather confident and self-satisfied explanation to my baseball-not-understanding wife that the networks will be pretty displeased with the resulting Phillies-Rays World Series, I flipped the TV off. As I dozed off, I thought of my poor Dad, now inexplicably a Red Sox fan (explicable, really, because he lives in Maine now, but still inexplicable to those of us who think loyalty should outweigh geographical happenstance), and how it must be maddening to him to see the Sox go down without more of a fight... but for the most part, I just thought of how potentially boring the World Series would in fact be. But I would have said I was happy about it.

Until I woke up. And went out to the front door and got the paper, scanning for a final score. For a moment, I was surprised not to see some photo of Tampa Bay Rays jumping on each other, but then I saw it, the news stunning and inevitable and somehow right: Boston 8, Tampa Bay 7.

Boston had come back.

And I grinned. Smiled. Shook my head in a kind of wonder and joy that they'd done it. Why? Not because I wanted the Red Sox to win, no, far from it -- but because of one very simple fact:

It made a better story.

And that's why this election scares me right now. We - we Americans - we audience members - we crave, more than anything else, more than a good explanation of our financial meltdowns, more than a health care plan, more than ending illogical wars - we crave a good story.

And what's a better story right now? That Obama wins going away? Or that scrappy old warrior John McCain, left for dead so many times, makes one last stirring comeback? Pulls off the upset of the young century?

I don't deny that the overall narrative of Obama winning is just as good a story (and after all, the Rays did win the Series, but it took a full Seven games) -- but right now, in the immediate 24-7 culture that craves a good story all the time, I think what we need and want is a good comeback story, and looking at McCain the last few days, I get the sense he's got one in him.

Just don't turn off the set.

No comments: