“The Melbourne Cup is the first Tuesday of November. It’s a public holiday. That shows how important it is to Australians. It’s a horse race. I don’t know how it became big or why it became big, but like it’s genuinely observed across Australia. It’s like a series of races that take place all week. They’re just horse races of different heats, of different… Just horse races! Horses from all over the world come to Australia to race in Melbourne Cup. The reason why it’s so big is that… So it’s a series of races, and the biggest race is the Melbourne Cup, and it’s quite long, and only the best horses compete in it. The reason why it’s so big is because people… It’s like a festival, I guess. It’s fashion and food, and it’s more about like the people, I guess? It’s like the Oscars or Grammys where, like, you’re like, ‘What’s she wearing?’ It’s kind of like that. When it comes time to the actual Melbourne Cup race itself, people put bets on which horse is gonna win. And that’s part of the tradition. Even if you aren’t normally a betting person most people in Australia will go put a dollar, two dollars, five dollars, ten dollars, probably not extreme amounts, but people will go and put money on a horse. The newspaper has a centerfold with like all the horses and their statistics and the jockey and their experiences and where the horses have won before. I pick #12 because that’s my lucky number, I just trust that number. And then you go to the tab and you put a bet on. You can do it from anywhere in the country, not just in Victoria where the cup is. The Melbourne Cup is the one day a year where the tab is full, it’s like bursting. It’s usually just a couple men, like the serial gamblers. It’s hectic on that day. I get excited. It’s the one day a year where I actually get excited about a horse race. I think you can tell that everyone else cares, too. It’s all people talk about in like the days leading up. Three o’clock on the dot is when the race starts. When I was in high school, school finished at ten minutes to three. And there was no way I was gonna get home in time or anyone was gonna get home in time for the race. So school ends classes like half an hour early on Melbourne Cup day so we can all get home in order to watch the race. My brother and I would get off the bus, and we’d race home, and we’d drop our bags and everybody would be in front of the TV. I don’t even know why it was a family affair, but it was. I can’t explain the excitement when the race started. It was kind of like everything stopped. And the tag line for the Melbourne Cup is like, ‘The race that stops the nation.’ And it genuinely is. Like, traffic stops. People park their cars and like listen to it on the radio. Everybody stops for like two or three minutes just to listen to this race. Unless you win, though, you don’t get anything out of it. You don’t get any like satisfaction or money, just nothing. It can be kind of anticlimactic. When it’s over, people kind of just go back to their lives. Some people will like watch the after ceremony where they like crown the jockey and like give him money and stuff. They interview the owner of the horse, and they put a little sash on the horse to say that he won. It’s just the one day where everyone in Australia kind of stops. It’s kind of become an Australian tradition just to watch.”
I could tell this was a very exciting experience for the source to relate. It’s certainly outside of her usual interest, but like the rest of Australia, it seems not to matter whether horse racing is in your interests or not. Because it’s not a horse racing thing. It’s an Australian thing. It’s part of their identity. It’s very much like our Super Bowl. Everybody watches the Super Bowl, everybody knows who’s in the Super Bowl. The whole nation stops on Super Bowl Sunday. That’s what the Melbourne Cup is for Australians. However, it seems they have a lot more invested in it what with all the betting and whatnot. Americans, however, experience it longer. Whereas no one researches before the Melbourne Cup, it seems, and not too many people continue watching after it’s done, the Super Bowl is savored for every minute of it, including the aftermath. And everybody is prepping from the week before.
Informant: I am scared of everything, so anyone else’s superstitions genuinely become mine because I am afraid.
Collector: Can you give me some examples?
MG: Um… When I was a rower, I, like, had to eat a very specific meal before every race, like, I wore, like, the same underwear every time under my uni, like, wore the same socks… I had a full orange, an orange sports bra, an orange set of underwear, and these orange socks that I wore, and one time, I could not find the other orange sock, and I had to go to Costco and buy another giant pack of socks because there was only one orange one in the set, but there were, like, it was a big set of socks.
Informant is a junior at the University of Southern California. She is studying communications here. She is from Boston, Massachusetts. She spent a while in the southern part of Spain, and speaks fluent Spanish. I spoke to her while we were eating lunch at my sorority house one day. We were sitting together with some of my other informants. Much of what she told me was learned from her own experiences.
We were in the middle of talking about folklore and ghost stories, and the conversation turned toward superstitions because Maya said she was very afraid of everything. She has a very particular way of doing things just because and often picks up habits from other people. This type of superstition is seen, I think, in a lot of different people. It manifests itself slightly differently every time, but for the most part many people who are athletes or performers have this type of superstition where they have a ritual or specific thing they need during every meet or performance.
The informant and I were talking about sports and superstitions so he mentioned something specific to his home state’s sports culture.
“Hockey is really huge… a culture unlike anything in California. Everyone grows out their beard during playoffs season, and they don’t shave it until their team’s out of the playoffs. Bad luck for your team if you shave your beard. I don’t [participate], because I’m Asian and I can’t grow a beard.”
Sports superstitions are nothing unheard of, but it’s still interesting to observe how they vary from region to region. Some people don’t wash their jerseys until their team is knocked out of the playoffs, and some people don’t shave their beards. How such a tradition begins and spreads amongst a group of people would be interesting but probably difficult to investigate.
My informant is a senior member of the USC track and field team. He is of African American descent and is entirely dedicated to his sport.
“Track is life. To eat healthy—these are words I learned from J.P—to eat healthy, to practice hard, to watch videos and film and study other people and how they run and how to help yourself run. So you just eat, breathe, sleep track. Its all you think about, its all you do. It’s a thing, it’s a thing actually, but it can also be applied to other sports. Like, ball is life. Like when n****s eat, drink, and sleep basketball. So like even if you *motions twisting his ankle* you just keep goin cause its life.”
Analysis: This proverb exemplifies the lifestyle of the person or people who use it. The statement is simple but powerful “track is life” meaning that everything that that individual does, is for track. I thought that this piece was particularly interesting because the noun in the beginning of the proverb can be changed depending on the sport and the groups of athletes that use it. Track is life for someone who runs, but “ball is life” for another individual who plays basketball or football. The universality of the proverb is part of what makes it so powerful, it can be applied to almost anyone and anything with simple changes to the word choice. It is also something that can be universally understood, because anyone who is in love with their sport will understand what the speaker is saying when they state that “Track is life” or “Ball is life” etc.
The ritual: “My high school’s cross-country team…our sectionals which was like the last meet of the year, cause we always lose sectionals…it’s always at the same place, it’s at this elementary school in Noblesville. And we would go there and there’s like this random path into the woods, and all the guys on the team would go there together, and we would take one lollipop and everyone had to kiss the lollipop and it was super weird.”
The informant carried out this ritual for his high school cross-country team. He said that one guy on the team never did it because he thought it was too weird, probably because he thought it was too close to kissing other guys. This ritual was probably more ironic than for good luck, since the informant himself said that the team lost sectionals every year. Going in knowing that they’ll lose, the ritual for “good luck” was probably just a parody, since the ritual itself is kind of weird to begin with.
“Our mascot for my high school is a falcon. They have a big tile mosaic thing of a falcon in the quad and you’re not supposed to walk on it, especially on game days. And especially when we played our rivals, Los Gatos High School. It’s right in the middle of the quad. It’s supposed to be bad luck if you step on it. I’m not really sure if it works or not but I never stepped on it just in case. Also I never played sports but I still didn’t do it.”
My participant is not an athletic person and did not participate in athletics in high school. I found it intriguing that despite her lack of interest or involvement in sports she still subscribed to the superstitions associated with her high school mascot. I was also surprised that it was bad luck to step on the falcon when it was located in such a public place as the school quad since it would be an easy mistake for pedestrians to make.
“When USC students go to football games, as they head off of campus they kick the flagpoles on the edge of campus. It’s suppose to be for good luck. It’s supposed to help the team win. I heard about it when I was at orientation and the guide pointed at the poles and told us that ‘All the students kick theese poles on the way to the Collesium.’ It’s like a superstition thing. I have done it once during freshman year when I went to a game and sure enough when I did it I saw tons of other people doing it too. It’s definitely caught on.”
As a fellow student at USC I know this tradition to be true. It is interesting to note that this was taught during the orientation process to the university. During orientation at USC students are not only taught official protocols of the university but they are also taught about the unofficial culture of the campus, through an official medium. The kicking of the flag pole could even be considered a ‘right of passage’ for students attending football games. As if only the true fans and devoted students partake in this good luck ritual. This tradition is not only to ensure success for the football team during the game, but also an initiation into true fandom.
Informant is a theatre student at USC who was raised in Wisconsin and comes from 65% German heritage.
The big joke is between Wisconsin and Minnesota. This one has been going on for a while, I know, and everybody knows it.
“Two Packers fans die, and go to hell. And they’re like, “Dude, it’s fucking freezing down here. Like, this is supposed to be hell. Can’t you turn up the heat?” And the devil comes and is like, “Oh, no didn’t you hear? The Vikings won the Superbowl.”
The joke is that hell froze over because the Vikings won the Superbowl. We find it funny.
The Vikings – I think they try and tell a similar joke in response, but it doesn’t work as well because the Packers actually have won Superbowls. At least three, maybe four. So it’s like “Sorry guys, nice try.”
Packers are like a freakin’ cult. Everything else it’s like “Yeah, that’s a sports team we’ve got.”
This joke was prefaced by one about a specific place’s name in the area, which came from the informant’s dad and was a bit of a groaner/lame pun, though the informant remembered it fondly (identifying it as a lame pun themselves). This joke the informant found particularly funny and made themselves laugh with it even when I didn’t, because I didn’t have as much knowledge of the context. Later in the session, the informant elaborated on the extremes that the Packers fans exhibit – big painted bodies, cheese heads – and generally showed how the Packers are a very big deal there.