American culture has always rallied around the underdog – perhaps because we can always see a little bit of ourselves in anyone who is not expected to win. After all, we are a nation of immigrants who had to fight against all the odds to make the American Dream a reality. And although we may have long forgotten about our ancestors’ particular struggles, that sense of longing for fairness and justice, that desire to take on “The Man” and win, remains an essential element of the American psyche.
Although the research is in its infancy, the underdog effect has found support. In short, we pull for underdogs and give them a relatively steadfast sympathy, so long as their fate has little bearing on our own personal lives and when the impact, in the larger scheme of things, is relatively minimal; indeed, backing an underdog financially is a completely different beast!
Given the recent Conan O’Brien-Jay Leno-NBC late night drama that happened right before our eyes on live TV, we find ourselves yet again anecdotally substantiating what Americans have been known for all along – loving those underdogs. Robert Lloyd of the L.A. Times reports that, towards the very end of Conan’s stunted seven-month run as “Tonight Show” host, the audience – including non-regular Conan lovers – chanted his name and guests starting appearing on the show just to show support, with nothing to sell. As Lloyd laments that “[Conan] is the picked-upon odd kid in all of us… lovable, where Leno [is]… a creature of the establishment,” we truly understand why so many of us cheered for Conan: as an underdog, he represents a possibility – that eventually he’ll get back on track, on some network, and will be better than ever. And if he can rise out of this mess and end up winning – then by golly, so can I.