So you probably noticed that I haven’t posted anything since September. Part of that was due to the Big Ten resuming football, which ate up what little writing time I have. But most of it was due to Big Fan, a movie I would have enjoyed at another time.
Big Fan is about a lifeless loser named Paul (Patton Oswalt). He lives with his parents on Staten Island, works as a parking attendant, and cares about little else in life other than the New York Giants. He is a frequent caller to sports talk radio. These calls are the clear high point of his life.
I used to listen to sports talk radio until I realized what a shallow, empty exercise it can be. Some of it is still very good but most of it is either bland (can’t offend the people we might need as guests!) or filled with the worst kind of cringe, usually provided by the callers. More often it’s just full of pointless debates about nothing important, or just ripping on someone for the sake of ripping on someone. I get it. Gentle, happy talk isn’t entertaining to many people. But there are people like me who actually care more about the nuts and bolts of sports than we care about our individual fandoms.
Paul sure as @$%%$^ ain’t one of those people like me.
Paul and a friend unknowingly witness a drug deal involving a star Giants player. They inadvertently reveal this to the player when they finally approach him after following him around. The player beats the crap out of Paul, to the point that he is hospitalized. Paul refuses to press charges because it might hurt the Giants. Paul’s brother proceeds to sue the player anyway, acting as Paul’s legal guardian.
Unfortunately, the court documents reveal Paul’s identity to a rival sports radio caller. Paul becomes obsessed with revenge. He tracks down the caller, confronts him, and we think he’s shot him. Only, surprise, it was a paintball gun.
Paul gets arrested anyway and goes to jail. in the end it’s clear that he’s learned nothing from his toxic fandom. He’s still all in with the Giants.
There’s nothing technically wrong with the movie. All the performances are great and my worries about Patton Oswalt not being able to carry a leading role were unfounded. So why did this movie almost break this site?
It’s like this: In 2009, when Big Fan was released, the notion of toxic fandom being driven by obsessive devotion to meaningless rivalries and media programming that encouraged people to act like barnyard animals was largely a phenomenon confined to sports fans.
Now it’s woven into the fabric of American life. We darn near lost our democracy to toxic fans and I’m still not sure it will survive. The will to remove it is surely there. The ability hasn’t arrived yet but it isn’t far off.
So what was a portrait of a sad, lifeless loser in 2009 seemed very different in the fall of 2020, and almost horrifying after January 6, 2021. I wanted to understand the mind of the Pauls of the world but good grief, it’s a pathology, not a lifestyle.