Thursday, July 5, 2012

Super Mario and Me

on pop theology, philosophy, theology, culture, pop culture, christianityby Hannah Sigmon

For the past 8 or 9 months, I've been harboring a not-so-secret fascination with the Italian footballer (that’s soccer player to all you non-fans) Mario Balotelli. For those of you unfamiliar with him, which I assume is most of you, Balotelli is a striker for Manchester City in the English Premier League. Manchester City recently won the League Championship for the first time in 44 years with Balotelli playing a large role for the team. He also plays for the Italian national team, which as some of you may know, just suffered a crushing defeat to Spain in the Euro 2012 final.

Balotelli is a very highly valued player. He's 21,scored thirteen goals for Manchester City this past season, and is known to be a technically gifted striker and a formidable penalty taker. This season in the European Championship, he put on a dazzling performance against Germany, scoring both of Italy’s goals in the 2 to 1 victory.

There is more to the story though than just soccer. Balotelli was born to Ghanaian parents in Sicily, and at age 3, he was sent to live with wealthy Italian foster parents. After a while, his biological parents disappeared from his life, not returning until he became famous. Balotelli was never adopted by his foster parents and did not become an Italian citizen until he turned 18. He is Italy’s first widely known black player, and he continues to be the subject of racist abuse by Italians and foreigners, something he has dealt with his entire football career. Despite being a world famous multi-millionaire now, Balotelli has had it rough.

However, Balotelli has a reputation for being wild, unpredictable, and immature. In many ways, he has the right to be immature as he is only 21 years old, and competing with many footballers who are several years older. On the other hand, Balotelli often comes under criticism for actions that are not only immature, but inappropriate, dangerous, and stupid. One of the myriad antics Balotelli's been involved in since the beginning of his career involve crashing a car while carrying £5000 cash on him. When questioned by police about why he was carrying so much money, he responded, “Because I am rich.” In addition, Balotelli once drove to a women’s prison just to “have a look round”, and set his house on fire after shooting off fireworks inside his bathroom during a party (afterwards he was named the Fireworks Safety Ambassador in the City of Manchester). Other notable acts range from blatantly disregarding rules (breaking club curfew, being repeatedly sent off for aggressive play in games) and simply appearing stupid (not knowing how to put on a bib correctly before a Dynamo Kiev game – see video below). Simply put, Balotelli is a gamble. He was signed by Manchester City for €30 million, yet manager Roberto Mancini seriously considered selling him after only two seasons due to his uncontrollable behavior. 

Following his career, as entertaining as it can sometimes be, often makes me wonder why he continues to, as one headline read, go “from Super Mario to Stupid Mario.” Over-analyzing him, as I am wont to do, has prompted me to more seriously consider my own behavior and its causes. I am fascinated by behavior, and I am constantly trying to understand why people of at least average intelligence choose to knowingly make poor decisions. I am a prime example of this. I’m a responsible adult, and yet I have and continue to damage my body with alcohol, drugs, and bad food. I have lied to family, friends, and employers. I have stayed in negative, harmful relationships much longer than I should have. I have been ugly and spiteful to people I love. I, a rational, functioning human being, have the capacity to sit down and think long and hard about my actions, past and future, and typically I can determine the more righteous action to take – yet when the time comes, I often find myself “incapable” of doing what is good for me and others, and I don’t know why.

This is at odds with what I do everyday, because my job, which I am becoming ever more disenchanted with, involves identifying, understanding, and changing behavior. I work with families and youth with so-called “negative” behaviors and I am supposed to help them process through and change these behaviors once discovering the root causes and triggers. Yet I constantly find myself wondering how I am supposed to help my clients change if I cannot even change myself. I often wish I could subscribe to some idealistically Socratic “Know thyself” mantra, but yet these days, I find more and more wisdom in the words of Romans 7:19. Most of you probably know that I do not profess to practice the Christian faith, but Paul’s words, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” are becoming increasingly poignant. My sorely lacking knowledge of history and human biology leads me ever more to doubt the existence of free will, and this poses a serious conflict for someone who not only earns her living from attempting to help others realize their free will, but also assumes that she is in control of herself, or at least desperately hopes to be.

So this is the basis for my admiration and identification with Balotelli, the enigmatic firecracker. Would I act any different than he does if I were in his shoes? Would he act differently than me if he was in mine? I have no doubt that Balotelli, like me, recognizes his own poor decision-making, but is that recognition alone sufficient?

This entry really has no conclusion, for which I apologize. But whether or not you believe in free will, I hope it prompts you to consider yourself and your own actions. How much are we in control of our behavior? To what extent can it be excused and/or understood by our past and present environments? How much does attempting to learn more about yourself actually help you change? Or is there an aspect of you that acts beyond what you can consciously control?
(Thoughts welcome).


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