What house are you?
The answers – Yellow/Instinct, Red/Valor, Blue/Mystic; Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw, or Hufflepuff – were probably instantaneous for a lot of us, especially those about my own age, assuming we didn’t go full Disney Kid and shout “Wildcats!” We were raised in the age of Pokemon and Hogwarts. I was working the polls yesterday when a coworker saw a teen walking aimlessly through the park. “What team?” she asked.
The response was instantaneous. “Mystic!”
She shrugged and laughed. “Instinct, but I won’t hold it against you.”
We know exactly what we mean when we ask these things. In a world where ideas can be disseminated quickly, a popular fictional world like Harry Potter or Pokemon has a huge following that spans race, creed, gender, and political belief. I have Valor friends who are huge Trump supporters or who are ready for Hillary; I know Gryffindors who are atheists, Buddhists, and devout Christians (and a lot of cultural Christians, too). Why do we do this?
Why do so many younger people identify not so much with a social group like the nerds, geeks, jocks, greasers, goths, or preppy kids – to name just a few of the many that have graced the halls of high schools since high schools existed – but with a fictional group, and do so often for many years? Pokemon Go is a new sensation, but if its creators play their cards right it may be one of the longest-lasting and most popular apps ever. Of course, they better get their servers working soon! Next time it freezes when I’m about to catch a Tauros I’m gonna scream. But, seriously: those things which define us, even if they seem arbitrary, are held onto for a long time.
Some are much more dire in nature. Gangs, specifically the street gangs of youth, are not uncommon. Though a gang can be simply defined as a group of more than three individuals that view themselves as a gang, are viewed as a gang by others, and have both some degree of organization and outward markers like a unique name, hand symbols, or colors, this definition cannot make clear the level to which a gang often plays a role in the life of a youth (12-24, so yes, I’m talking indirectly about myself here). There are, according to the NYGS, around 30,000 gangs and 850,000 gang members in the United States, and they account for at least 15% of all homicides – despite being less than a third of a percent of the whole population. If you want to read more about gangs, I won’t talk your ear off – here’s my source.
Sports teams can be similar to Pokemon Go as well. Our favored teams are often arbitrary, based on where we happened to live when we first got into sports, our parents’ inclinations, or what school we attended. Those who don’t stick with one team and flip-flop, picking whatever team is doing well, are made fun of and called “fair weather fans”. Clearly, loyalty, even through difficult times – try being a Tennessee Titans or Detroit Lions fan and you’ll see what I mean – is valued.
Let’s look at an older, less physical example. The first Greek letter fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa, was formed in 1776 and the first sorority in 1870. The obvious sexist reasons for the almost hundred year difference notwithstanding, they’ve been around a long time – about as long as colleges have been common. Before that, it was more common for specific colleges to act almost like fraternities by themselves, since at the time any form of education other than learning a trade was incredibly rare. Small colleges. When I googled “Why should I join a fraternity?” the first point of the top article was friendships. It’s not just getting to go to fun parties – the draw was because of the community aspect. You could make friends who had a common identity.
In fact, we’ve always made friends based on common identity. When someone asks why you stopped hanging out with your old best friend, the answer is probably “We just didn’t have anything in common anymore.” That’s assuming the answer isn’t “She started flirting with my crush, the skank,” but you know. I digress.
Long before colleges and Greek life, we had other things we identified ourselves with: tribes. If one takes into account even just the millennia that we have histories of, humanity has a whole has spent much more time in a predominantly tribal world than any other. Tribes could be large or small, closely-knit or dispersed. Most importantly, they all were built on a common identity. Whether ethnic, religious, or territorial, a tribe member had to be loyal to the tribe first and foremost. A ‘lone wolf’, in those days, would probably be literally eaten by wolves. Community wasn’t just a fun thing to do, it was vital to survival.
So that’s why you diss the other team in Pokemon Go, the other Houses of Hogwarts, the other sports team; that’s why you say the other frat isn’t nearly as cool as yours. It’s because five thousand years ago, you had to care about your community or get bitten to death.
I mean, that could still happen today, but let’s hope not.
PS: Instinct, Ravenclaw, the Denver Broncos, and the Order of Lexington. Fight me.