Cubs Fandom And The Psychology Of 'Lovable Losing'

By Stephen Gossett in News on Oct 31, 2016 7:37PM

“The moniker ‘lovable loser’ — I hate it, but it means something… There’s a part of me that doesn’t want it to go away.”

We’ve seen that very hand-wringing sentiment—expressed there by Cubs fan Raymond Fuller to the New York Times—echoed often in the run-up to the Cubs’ historic World Series appearance. The Daily Beast had a take, The Awl made reference not long ago and the Trib went long on Cubs fan identity and the allure of failure.

That mythology is of course a big reason this series is getting more media play than most, and it is predictably driving White Sox fans—who suffered their 87-year championship drought with nary a hint of romanticizationcompletely nuts. But the impulse may not be as aberrant as it appears at first blush.

“It's completely normal, understandable and explainable,” Stephen Schueller, an assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Northwestern University and doctor of clinical psychology, told Chicagoist. “We have a need to create stories. Rationalizations we come up with greatly impact the way we feel after events occur.”

The trepidation about identity loss is especially understandable if it’s “not replaced with something else,” he added. “It takes a while. People have a hard time forming a new identity, or maybe the new one doesn’t jibe with a particular person.” Like, say, potentially transforming from Charlie Brown into the Evil Empire, a la the Boston Red Sox?

At the same time, such fears are probably overblown, and most Cubs fans will likely be perfectly capable of shouldering the burden of an epic comeback.

“The normative case would be: Most people would be OK with forming a new identity shift,” Schueller said.

At the same time, the “lovable loser” mystique is pretty shoddy in terms of security blankets. Positive anticipation is much more psychologically beneficial than lowering one’s expectations as a way of protecting from disappointment, the professor said.

So think happy thoughts, Cubs fans, but don’t feel too abnormal if you just can’t bring yourself to do so.

“Storylines are really important to maintain psychological well being,” Schueller said.

But if that's the case, what about those White Sox fans, ever so happily unencumbered by narrative? Is their storyline their very antipathy toward storylines? Perhaps there's just only so much baggage to go around in a city—or maybe they've gone and made the great psychological leap forward. I'm sure Cubs fans will love that.