My wife and I have made a tradition of it. Every year we shun all other adult responsibilities and and wander off into retail utopia in search of a completed shopping list, all in the course of one school day. To be honest, we never quite complete it all in that one day but we do get time together, a quiet lunch for two and at least most of our list complete. And no crowds. That's my kind of Christmas shopping.
This year I had a bit of an epiphany. My youngest son, the naturalist, for exclusively academic reasons, has decided that he is a University of Florida Fightin' Gator. He might be the only 10 year old in this town that has not only chosen a school and a field of study, but has also paid a campus visit to the specific department building in which he plans to complete his coursework. Gators or no Gators, I'm going to feed that passion, I'm going to support this dream, just like any sane father would.
So we were looking for Gator gear. A shirt, a bag, pair of socks, disposable Bic lighter, something, anything with the colors and logo. Not easy to come by in Georgia. Sports stores. Four of them. The biggest had up and down escalators as well as an elevator but no men's room and, more importantly, no Gator stuff. But a few things this establishment, and the other three as well, had - Under Armour, Nike, Adidas. Hoodies. Hats. Pants. Shoes. Shirts. Looking over 2/3 of the sales floor it was easy to see that in every color combination imaginable, every active wear garment known to the free world was on display for purchase.
There was obviously Georgia apparel, as there should be, back in the corner. A few Tech items, Falcons, Braves, even a Georgia Southern hoodie. But it was all stuffed in a back corner accessible only by negotiating the trails through the merchandise emblazoned with brand logos.
I thought about what the team logos stand for. Georgia fans know the traditions that go with being a fan. Earning the right to walk through the arch, ringing the victory bell. Auburn fans roll Toomer's Corner. Arkansas fans call the Hawgs. Jax State fans get goosebumps when we hear Salvation and know where the references to troy fit in when the band plays Dixie.
The teams represent ideas, philosophies and for those of us that attended one of the schools, it represents some of the best years of our lives. Jax State Football means something to me because I've got sweat equity in it. It matters because I have hours on the books. It matters because I know my pertinent fields can be found on the 3rd and 4th floors of the Houston Cole Library and my professors were over the hill in Stone Center. It matters because I watched the Olympics on the big screen in The Roost while eating chicken fingers. It matters because I walked to Subway on cold evenings with a friend because that's what irrational college kids do, It's where I learned to drive a manual transmission and what good music was.
That UA or "Swoosh" or whatever means I paid too much to have the same brand as the kid next to me in health class. All I have invested in it is the $60 I gave the cashier. No one puked in a car. No one fell in a camp fire. No one sat in a place called "Restaurant" eating pancake sandwiches at three in the morning or took the Springfield, Missouri city bus for two hours to eat at Steak n Shake. Not one soul hollered "whup troy!"
So my question is, why does it matter to us? What is the magic a disconnected brand name mega company logo holds over us? This isn't capitalism, it isn't conservatism, it's consumerism. We're pushing our identity, our past, our great memories into a back corner of a store so that we can purchase someone else's dream across the front of a sweatshirt.
I'd rather buy my son his own dream on the front of his sweatshirt. Gators or no Gators.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire