America's Not-So-Secret Love Affair With Losers - OZY | A Modern Media Company

America's Not-So-Secret Love Affair With Losers

America's Not-So-Secret Love Affair With Losers

By Eugene S. Robinson

SourceCharley Gallay/Getty Images


Because there’s a 50 percent chance that if you’re not on one side of the equation you’re on the other.

By Eugene S. Robinson

Despite all of the chatter to the contrary, in the West we do not love winners. We hate them. Deeply and thoroughly.

And in America, a country with a lustfully obsessive attraction to WINNING, nowhere is this more clear: it’s not the winners who win in America. Not really. Because if they do, we suddenly find ourselves in the wholly strange position of not being able to figure out why we hate them. But make no mistake about it, we hate them – undefeated fighters garner our suspicion (Floyd Mayweather Jr.), undefeated teams provoke our secret yearning for their downfall (the Yankees still have not fallen far enough to be loved for some). Yeah, we talk a good game about how much we LIKE winning and by proxy WINNERS, but this is just not true.

We have names for them: “lovable losers,” and we extol their exploits.

We love the loser, or at the very least: the underdog. Their doomed attempts at doing and being anything but a loser closely mirrors our realities of bad marriages, shitty jobs and widely witnessed personal failures. We have names for them: “lovable losers,” and we extol their exploits in film, song and story. Example: Charlie Sheen’s media ubiquity in 2011 when he became The Crown Prince of succeeding downward. And here’s another: professional fighters who have extended periods of solid losses and they still fight because they are “crowd favorites,” and they are crowd favorites not despite losing but specifically because they lose.


Our protagonist about to do the unthinkable, even for an anti-hero

Or consider the iconic ending to the film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Set in Britain, it’s a figurative and literal commentary on running class tensions in the U.K. The film’s protagonist wasn’t the earliest cinematic anti-hero but this 1962 introduction of counter-intuitive behaviors was still a major first and uncovered a darker trend in Western thinking. Even if you never saw it, the ethos of the scene where Tom Courtenay as Colin Smith speeds toward the finish line is indelibly etched into the modern memory. Long story made short: he’s a prisoner with an aptitude for running who, while entering an inter-prison competition, is presented with a choice. Win and get released. Lose and, well, jail and whatever other wonders await one inside the stony lonesome.

The Long Distance Runner pulls ahead of the pack, and when he’s 20 meters from the end of the race, a clear leader and winner, he stops. As in: refuses to run another step. The rest of the pack of runners bear down on him and your expectation is that he will start running when they are about 10 meters away. That he will rescue victory from the jaws of a self-imposed defeat. That he will do something, ANYthing other than just stand there. But he does. Just stand there, that is. The pack passes him by, only the first one a winner, but all of them not losers. All except for our protagonist, in deep embrace of some sort of philosophical point about opposing “the man,” we’d guess.

But the love affair with loss runs long, deep and wide, and fires the entire Judeo-Christian canon from Adam and Eve to Jesus to…well just about everybody with the exception of God. So the real question is: does the fact that both paupers and princes, losers and winners alike, all have a cold and damp grave waiting for them at the end of the game have any bearing at all on how we play it? And isn’t this just rehashed Sartre at some point?

Lots of questions, and possibly lots of questions without answers, but there is one thing that seems certain: loss is guaranteed and winning is ephemeral. Therefore losers will ALWAYS have work, and the only work winners really seem to have is to sharpen and sweeten the quality of our losing. Which, if you think about it, is pretty comforting. And since you can’t really win without knowing loss, the smart money says: embrace your love of loss and start learning how to really win.

So get going. Get out there and start…losing. Since, paradoxical as it seems, it’s the trying, and it is trying, that can make you both part of the crowd and its most favorite.

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