Two weekends ago, the California Golden Bears had a chance to be the No. 1 football team in the country. We were No. 2, and the No. 1 team had just lost. For the first time in more than 50 years (and who knows what football even looked like way back then? Neanderthals running around throwing roughly sewn pigskin, being careful to dodge the saber toothed tigers and mammoths on the way?) we had a chance to be No. 1.
Until we lost.
It's not the loss itself I want to talk about, though, since I've already regaled all of my friends, my landlady and my dentist ("I can't clean your teeth if you keep talking, Liz" seems to be somewhat representative of my life) with my strong feelings on the matter. More poignant, though, was the reaction of the blue and gold sea of Cal fans in the moments following the game. As the Oregon State players flooded the field, the fans stood stricken on the sidelines, not breathing, not blinking, not believing. For a solid 10 minutes, nobody moved, until my dad turned to me.
"Well, that dream's over," he said. "Let's go get ice cream."
We spent the rest of the evening in a deep depression, only mildly abated by copious quantities of Ben and Jerry's Phish Food. Our dreams had been dashed -- yet why were they our dreams? Just as I'd had nothing to do with our team's success when we were winning (as much as I like to take credit for "my boys"), I'd played no part in the team's loss. Yet this fantasy life that I had vicariously lived had the power to send my hopes soaring, to bring upon torrents of tears. And to make me fat.
What is it about our society that makes us unable to live our lives free from the world of fantasy? When I was younger, I'd spend hours playing with my Barbies. I'd dress them up in the clothes that my mom wouldn't let me wear (not that the form-fitting tube dress would have looked quite the same on my 8-year-old body), I'd drive them around in the red convertible that I would never have, I'd have them kiss the string of perfect Kens that I would never be able to attract. Now, I read gossip magazines about Heidi Klum's perfectly toned body, Oprah's new $50 million estate, how Brad and Angelina are more in love than people that perfect looking and perfectly nice have a right to be.
We watch romance movies and sigh while the music sweeps us up during the climactic kiss. We spend hours upon end conquering civilizations and building fake societies in the world of the computer. With the advent of MySpace, Facebook and other networking sites, even friendship has left the realm of the real and merged with the virtual world, where you can have three hundred "friends" you've never met. When Brad and Jen broke up, my friend locked herself in her room and cried and ate chocolate for days (although the breakup could have been an excuse for every girl's dream diet).
When did fantasy become not merely an escape from our reality but actually our reality itself? Why can't I be happy with my own clothes, instead of looking at Barbie's wardrobe longingly and wishing I were 5 inches tall and far bustier? We're living our lives based on the placebo effect -- our thinking it's real makes it real. So what if the closest I've seen a boy come to professing his everlasting love is grunting that he "kinda, you know, likes me" over pizza? If it can happen on the big screen, it can happen to me.
Why the shift? Why did being a celebrity 50 years ago mean you were idolized during the two hours of a movie, and being a celebrity today means having your garbage dug through and your T-shirts' armpit stains analyzed? Maybe it's our reaction to how unpalatable reality has become. Maybe it's a product of modern technology. Maybe I should ask some of my Facebook friends.
Liz Moody, a 2004 graduate of Johansen High School, is a student at the University of California at Berkeley. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.