What the Marching Band Got Me Thinking

This past weekend I had occasion to go to a college football game, which I do about never. I find big-time college football--meaning the whole complex of sport, media and advertisers--pretty much immoral. It's a billion-dollar industry, and the one actually indispensable part--the players--doesn't get paid. And don't give me any bullshit about traditions of amateurism, or how a college scholarship is value enough. These kids are putting their health--literally, their futures--on the line, and everyone in the game makes a shit ton of money except them. It's disgusting.

But last weekend was Family Weekend at Colorado State, and my mom and my sister and her husband came up to visit my nephew. They decided to check out the CSU-Air Force football game and invited me along. I said sure. I'm willing to put principle aside to spend time with my family.

At halftime, the marching band took to the field. They were dressed exactly how you'd expect a marching band to be dressed, and they got into indecipherable formations (maybe Space Invaders or Galaxians?) and they did a medley of 70s disco-funk. It was fun and it made me laugh.

I had planned on watching the band and then going to get a bite to eat, but when I stood up to head down the stairs, my sister pointed out that perhaps it wasn't the best time--the aisles were full of people doing the very same thing. I had assumed that most people had no interest in the band and would head to the snackbars as soon as halftime started. My assumption was wrong.

Given the seriousness of the tailgaters we'd seen as we'd walked in, and given the multitudes in CSU green, it was clear that most people in the stands took their college football pretty seriously. If they weren't hitting the snackbars until the band was done, that meant they saw watching the band as part of the entertainment of college football, not something divorced from it. You watch the marching band at halftime because that's what you do.

It's an interesting moment when you realize you are intersecting with a subculture that you are completely disconnected from. The marching band halftime performance is pretty much a tradition in amateur football. On Saturdays across the country, bands of snappily dressed young people carrying march-specific musical instruments (all hail the sousaphone!) get into careful formations and play jaunty marching band music for the entertainment of the crowds. And if you don't attend these games, you would never, ever see it.

My imagination began to play. Given the energy put into the endeavor, there really ought to be people who are obsessed with marching bands. People who travel the country attending football games, who watch with only passing interest while waiting expectantly for the clock to count down to the end of the first half when the real entertainment begins.

And among those obsessives, there should be one who takes it so seriously that he blogs about it. Who writes reviews. Who totally fails to see anything ridiculous about either the object of his obsession or the obsession itself. When faced with a performance inferior to his lofty standards, his reviews take on that strangely aggrieved tone you sometimes hear from critics, as though a perceived lack of quality is an insult aimed at him personally.

I imagined him sitting in a seat not far away from me, literally shaking with rage and contempt at all the philistines nearby. How can all these idiots actually be enjoying this? The formation doesn't even appear to be anything, and some of the euphoniums are sharp, and you call that an arrangement of "Staying Alive?"

It's okay, Marching Band Critic Guy. Here, talk to this person in the next section. He critiques stadium food, and he's simply outraged by the nachos.

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