Moving from the UK culture of dripping cynicism with a hint of self-loathing to the seemingly too-earnest, naievete of some elements of US culture sometimes hits you metaphorically over the head. Baseball, for instance. We got partial season tickets to the Orioles' games, and have been to several so far. They involve watching the game, yelling, eating fried food and drinking beer--the universal components of sport, no matter where you are. But they also involve:
(1) a group-sing during 7th inning stretch (also at national anthem but that feels like a duty, not a group sing)
(2) gleeful and intensive following of silly virtual shell-game in which (I am not kidding for those of you unfamiliar with the insanity of MD's obsession/self-identification with sea creatures) three animated crabs are sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning (MD's state spice and the sponsor for this particular interlude), they turn red, and after one secrets away a pearl (note: do not comment on the inconsistency for fear of being knocked on head with neighbor's fried food and/or beer. also, it could be a baseball. It's tough to tell.). The entire crowd then watches in focused attentiveness as the crabs move around, flip over, get chased away by some sort of bird, and then reconfigure themselves, pause, and reveal which crab has the pearl. excited, energetic, loud cheers emanate from the entire crowd--often louder than any at any other moment in the game--to exclaim how they indeed have successfully followed the pearl (I get it every time! The middle one! I picked the middle one!).
As a recently decamped near-British person, I can say that this is all a bit too, er, unselfconscious. Where's the cynic noting the crab-pearl inconsistency? Where's the commentary on corporate sponsorship of silly interludes while the TV audience is also watching the shilling of same corporate product? Where's the Freudian commentary on the abjected nature of the pearl, consumed, hidden, constantly watched by obsessed viewers, only to be revealed to the evident satisfaction of all? What about the historic connections to the sideshow and carnival, in which we are the rubes, rapt in attention to see if we can beat the shell game? What about the scathing commentary about the attention span of the masses and wouldn't it be nice if they'd pay as much attention to a novel or a newspaper or an opera?
At the end of the day, when all is said and done, I'm not going to lie to you, bod yn onest: it's kind of fun. Sitting in an unselfconscious crowd. Cheering along with them. Watching them watch. Deciding to go along with it. Following the silly pearl inside the silly crab. Finding out that you know what? cynicism? It takes a hell of a lot of energy. And at the end of the day, you're at a ball game. Get on with the big group sing. Get your kumbayayas out. Huzzah for uncalculated glee.