“In the end, glorification of splendid underdogs is nothing other than glorification of the splendid system that makes them so.” Theodor Adorno
I have been wrestling with the idea of the underdog since March Madness started, why? I am not so sure. The concept that we are rooting for the underdogs just never seemed genuine to me, because by the time we are paying attention, they’re probably not really an underdog anymore. They’ve already accomplished some task, defeated some enemy, or tore down some obstacle that society thought they were incapable of doing, and they used hard work to do so. And then they are suddenly capable of accomplishing the task, thus, making them no longer an underdog, right? Maybe?
Let’s talk about it.
So I was listening to Sports radio, as I often do, I heard an argument whether a team in the tournament was an underdog or not. The team was from a major conference, with an amazing coach, who has won a national championship with this said team. However, the reason they were even considered an underdog this year, was due to the fact that they were not supposed to be this far along in the tournament. They were “underdogs”, yet nothing about their pedigree screams underdog, except no one believed in them this year. And that’s the thing, they weren’t an underdog, just because the analysts and experts (or society) didn’t think they were a “top” dog doesn’t actually make them an underdog. Today, it seems like everyone wants to be an underdog, that there is some “advantage” to being an underdog. And this is where my head begins to hurt.
Why do we have underdogs in the first place? Isn’t it because we love hierarchies, and like to classify certain types of people? We have to have our top dogs, the cools kids, “beautiful” people versus our underdogs, lame kids, and “ugly” people. We like to know where we stand in the proverbial food (people) chain, don’t we? And somewhere along the way, we decided that rooting for the underdogs, was the cool thing to do. But is it because we really believe in them? or want to “root” for them? It seems to me we need to take a look at “underdogs” :
un·der·dog is defined as a “competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest” or it is also considered “a person who has little status in society.” (source)
Now, I have already touched on sports, like in the Rocky movies, the number 1 underdog film of all time, Rocky was always considered the underdog. But that’s not reality, right? It pulls from a number of real-life stories, but it’s not quite reality. But let’s look at the second half of the definition; an underdog is a person who has little status in society, similar to the origin of the word.
“The origin of the term ‘underdog’ can be discovered in the murky depths of ship-building history. Planks of wood labelled ‘dogs’ would be placed over a pit, and one happy ship-builder would saw from above, while the other would have to stand in the pit, sawing from below, becoming covered in sawdust, but doing an equal amount of the work. Weeping. The man above was the ‘overdog’, and the man below, the ‘underdog’. Why the planks were called ‘dogs’, we’ll never know. Dubious internet apocryphal derivations only go back so far.” (source)
Interesting origin, huh? My first thought when reading this was the person at the bottom really necessary? I am sure the process was faster, because the blade could be steadied, but the need for a person at the bottom still seemed odd to me. But this is how I think rooting for the underdog is now. There are legitimate underdogs in life. But more times than not, we place others or ourselves in the category. A true underdog cannot really help the cards they were dealt in life. However, there are plenty of people who like to throw themselves into this category these days to garner more credit than they probably actually deserve. It’s like a bunch of mediocre people going down this road called life, and saying they’re “underdogs” to make them feel better about themselves. They say never compare apples to oranges, but we can’t help ourselves. There are plenty of people out there saying they are apples (underdogs) and they’re really oranges (middle dogs). That’s right, I am saying just because you’re not a top dog, doesn’t make you an underdog, you might just be a middle dog. And that’s where your story needs to start.
People are cheapening the word to make their successes seem greater, and taking away the attention from our real underdogs, the most fragile in our community. That’s why people don’t like feminism or the whole Black Lives Matter movement, they want to cheapen the pieces of the underdog pie. Rarely, do you hear poor whites complain or fight back about Black Lives matter, because historically, even poor whites, see how they are treated better than poor blacks. Who do you hear complaining, middle class America who doesn’t want to identify that young black boys and girls, or women (as a whole group) have struggles that their counterparts do not. And were talking in absolutes here, I mean generally.
When you google the word underdog, you get tons of articles saying, “Mankind has always rooted for the underdog.” (source). The reality is that nobody wants to be at the bottom, social mobility is the key in our world, so while we root for the underdog, the goal is we all want to be “top dog” and we feel good when underdogs do too. It just seems like in today’s world we all want to be the underdog who becomes a “top” dog. But there are people out there who have dedicated their lives to real underdogs, and they more than anybody, know every one that they root for, work with, or encourage doesn’t make it or change. Underdogs are reminded of their status in life almost everyday. They are often ignored until they reach an accomplishment in life, those are the people we can call a true underdog. Some of these underdogs stay in the same position their whole life, and never move up in the food chain, those are the people we need to be rooting for or helping.
So let me ask again, are we really rooting for the underdog? or are we rooting for ourselves?