Right around this time last year, I wrote about the affective pedagogy embedded in the work of loving the Chicago Cubs, how it might condition a fan to a form of hope disconnected from optimism and expectation. And I mused that such an orientation might provide a meaningful alternative (really) to forms of forward-looking attachment that leave us perpetually disappointed, individually, and turn us into grasping subjects of neoliberal capitalism.
This year, everything looks different. Not the neoliberal capitalism part: that’s still there. But the Cubs part, yes. Last year, the Mets swept the Cubs in the NLCS. This year, the Cubs are holding their own in the World Series. This postseason, when people talk about ‘underdogs,’ they are emphatically not referring to the Cubs. Crazy.
I grew up listening to Harry Caray call Cubs games, and he often narrated the flight of a long fly ball in anticipatory, increasingly exuberant stages: “It might be … It could be …” and then, if the shot cleared the outfield ivy, “It is! A home run!” Of course, most broadcasters of that era had such signature lines (my second, charmingly nonsensical, favorite is from Baltimore: “Go to war, Miss Agnes!”). But it strikes me now that there is something essentially Cubs about “It might be, it could be, it is.” To the extent that this triptych still resonates for Cubs fans, I suspect that the affective structure I wrote about before, and all of its promise, remains.
In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, Rich Cohen reflected on a lifetime of Cubs disappointments, and speculated that so much might have been different if he’d grown up watching a winning team. “Maybe,” he wrote, “I’d have learned to cherish my fellow man and take yes for an answer and accept all the love that’s been showered on me.” He also suggested that if the Cubs keep winning, Cubs fans will start losing their identity: “being a Cubs fan always meant something and now will mean something else.”
But I’m not sure that affective histories dissolve so quickly. It’s true that Pollyanna-ish observers might take a still-very-hypothetical World Series win as a sign that good things inevitably come to those who wait, or some other such rubbish. And it’s also true that lots of ballpark fans have been waving signs proclaiming that the Cubs, and Chicago, “deserve” to win it all this year.
I, too, am enchanted by the story of this postseason, mostly because it makes me feel like things could be other than they are, or have been, like something new is possible. But “could be” is all I can count on, and really all I want. “Could be” is the glittery essence of possibility.
And possibility forms the core of this affective magic. It’s not the same as likelihood or even probability. Possibility lives in might be-could be suspension. Caray’s gruff singsong was not “It might be … It will be” or “It might be … It must be” or “It might be … It should be.” Just might, and then, a few fractions of a second later, a little more surety but still no promises: could. The very literal-minded might say that such subjunctive hedging is necessary because Wrigley Field is unpredictable, what with the wind and all. Sure. But that’s not really the point.
Sometimes, Caray was wrong: might be, could be, isn’t. But that inaccuracy is as much a part of the field of possibility as other, jubilant, instants of rightness. Possibility, at its most radical, entails unpredictability.
Contemporary systems of threat-assessment and risk-management expressly target unpredictability (see Louise Amoore’s The Politics of Possibility for a brilliant analysis of this phenomenon): in security, in markets, in human behavior. Their preferred modes are anxiety, prediction, and preemption. They cannot abide the space between “could be” and “is.” Far too risky. Just an inkling of “might” and they activate, begin engineering the unexpected away.
Obviously, sports fandom operates on a different, and arguably trivial, register. But at our present, and wearisome, juncture, I’ll take an alternative wherever I can find it. The Cubs have made it this far; we’re well past “might” and holding our breath in “could.” “Is” would be awesome. But if it doesn’t happen this year, there’s always next, or the one after that.
Possibility is endlessly renewable. And to dwell in it, even for a few weeks in the fall, is to refuse the twin certainties of “won’t” and “will” and all the potentials and pleasures they foreclose.