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Tailgate Parties Are a ‘Powerful Impulse’ and a Microcosm of Society

by Beth Carter
Publication: Wired

September 21, 2012


Think football, and odds are you think tailgate party. And with good reason — the tailgate party is among the most time-honored and revered American sporting traditions, what with the festivities, the food and the fans. And the beer. Don’t forget the beer.

To the untrained eye, these game-day rituals appear to be little more than a wild party, a hedonistic excuse to get loaded and eat barbecue. Not at all. They are, according to Notre Dame anthropologist John Sherry, bustling microcosms of society where self-regulatory neighborhoods foster inter-generational community, nurture tradition and build the team’s brand.

Sherry didn’t always feel this way. There was a time when he considered tailgating a boisterous nuisance, little more than a gauntlet of unrelated and unruly celebrations to be run if he were to reach his seat in Notre Dame Stadium. But then he had an epiphany: What if there was meaning to the madness?

“One day I slowed down and paid attention to things that were going on that weren’t individual celebrations,” he said of research presented in A Cultural Analysis of Tailgating. “It was much more nuanced that I had thought before.”

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