Gimmee an I, gimmee a T
The world is a big place. And yet in most eras including our own, all eyes are on one particular spot much of the time. There is one country to which people in all others compare themselves, and their own nation, with varying degrees of admiration, complacency, bitterness or other emotions. Which is my segue to the invention of cheerleading.
Yes, cheerleading. On Nov. 2 1898. And it could only be in… you know it. The United States. Specifically the University of Minnesota.
The latter was not a foregone conclusion. And the “sport” or activity or excrescence or whatever you consider it has of course historical roots, from British sports crowds chanting various things in unison, some more edifying than others, to the U.S. college scene. Including a “Princeton Cheer” documented from the late 1870s on that went “Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah! Tiger! S-s-s-t! Boom! A-h-h-h!” and more or less still does and accounts for the otherwise baffling “Sis Boom Bah” I first encountered in Pogo. If you care.
The point here isn’t the comics I read as a kid and still consider brilliant. Nor is it people in the stands yelling even with “cheer leaders” designated to trigger these arguably inane outbursts at key moments. It’s the point at which a “cheerleading squad” appeared to help focus the crowd’s enthusiasm, followed by a cheerleading fraternity in 1903 and then the invention of girls in revealing clothing.
Well, not exactly. But just as World War II opened up a great many other jobs for women as men went overseas, so it let them into cheerleading. From which they have never been dislodged, making up over 95% of all participants though in a nod to political correctness American colleges keep the ratio pretty even. And you just know this sort of thing would arise in the United States and everyone else would know about it.
Nowadays the United States apparently has around 1.5 million cheerleaders at all levels, against perhaps 100,000 in the whole rest of the world. And of course being American they have continually made it bigger, glitzier and more dramatic, from the aforementioned clothing to increasingly amazing athletics, organized competitions and so on.
Meanwhile the rest of the world gapes in amusement, delight or horror. But gape they do. Whereas what anyone does at sporting events in 98% of the world’s countries is known only there.
The United States does give some alarming signs of being in decline. And perhaps it is no longer inventing such iconically weird things the way it did in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But I wouldn’t count on it.
Not even as part of a crowd being directed by preppie guys wit megaphones while girls in spangles form a pyramid.