Tim Tebow is an American football player and an interesting individual. But as a man and as an athlete, Tim Tebow is of little interest for the purpose of stock market prognostication. However there is another “Tim Tebow” that may be of interest to the stock market analyst. This “Tim Tebow” is not a man; rather, “it” is something ethereal. I am speaking of the things that this young man has come to symbolize and the associated cultural phenomenon that has emerged.
In this article I raise the question of whether the Tim Tebow cultural phenomenon could be an indicator of shifting social moods in the USA. To the extent that this were true, it could be a phenomenon of considerable interest from the point of view of social forecasting – including economic and financial prediction.
An Age of Cynicism and Despair
Americans are living in an age in which the social mood of the nation is laced with cynicism and despair. This zeitgeist is reflected in the content and tone of the financial media that is inundated with dire warnings that the USA is on the verge of an economic and social collapse. We are constantly told that the USA faces deflation, hyperinflation -- or perhaps merely stagflation. We are told that the US political system is hopelessly corrupt. “Banksters” are running the world. The educational system is failing. A college education is a waste of time and money. Americans are being enslaved by debt. The US economy is about to collapse under the crushing weight of this debt. The derivatives time bomb will explode at any moment. Our paper dollars will soon become worthless…. I could go on.
Never, in recent memory, has the social mood in America been so despairing or so cynical. But history indicates that extreme trends in social mood tend to produce reactions – seemingly out of nowhere.
The Absurdity of Tim Tebow
In our age of cynicism, Tim Tebow is an absurdity. In fact, his story is so sappy that many can hardly stand to hear about it. Only by recounting some of the details can one get a sense of the absurdity of it.
Tim Tebow’s parents were missionaries in the Philippines. While pregnant with Tim, his mother contracted a life-threatening illness and was advised by doctors to abort the fetus in order to protect her life. Mrs. Tebow refused the recommendation and successfully carried the pregnancy to term.
Despite being homeschooled, Tebow became a football star in high school. In college, at the University of Florida, what attracted the most attention to this young man was not his play on the field per say but his earnest and vocal commitment to his Christian faith. Tebow’s clean-cut persona attracted heavy skepticism and ridicule in the national media. However, despite running afoul of prevailing cultural norms, Tebow became an inspirational leader for a highly successful football team.
Despite his gridiron successes in college, the overwhelming consensus amongst experts was that Tebow would not succeed at the professional level due to various flaws in his style of play and technique. Furthermore, Tebow’s God-talk and hackneyed clichés about hard work and improving himself every day began to produce a cynical backlash. Tebow’s earnestness was simply too much for the prevailing culture of cynicism to handle. Tebow was savagely criticized and mocked throughout the media while he spent his entire first season and a good part of his second professional season as a reserve player.
When it was announced that Tebow would finally got a chance to play, most of Tebow’s critics were actually relieved as they expected him to become humiliated, relegated and soon forgotten. Tebow was a flawed player on a bad football team. A train wreck was seemingly assured.
But something happened. Under Tebow’s leadership, the Denver Broncos inexplicably started winning. And winning. And winning. And the games were won in dramatic fashion. In a matter of eight weeks the Denver Broncos went from being in last place in their division to first place.. And, through it all, Tebow never stopped reciting his naïve clichés about self-sacrifice and the value of teamwork nor did he cease publicly thanking his “Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
In those eight weeks, the cultural phenomenon that has erupted surrounding Tebow’s has been virtually unprecedented in the history of American sports.
Tebow has become the talk of an entire nation. Some are repulsed by him. An increasing number admire and have come to idolize him. Nobody can seem to stop talking about him. Tebow has captured the public’s imagination. But it is important to note that it is not Tebow’s play as a football player that is driving this cultural phenomenon.
Tim Tebow as Counter-Culture
I interpret the Tim Tebow phenomenon as a counter-cultural reaction.
Americans have been feeling very pessimistic and cynical about the future of their country and even regarding themselves as individuals. The story of Tim Tebow seems to have emerged out of nowhere to remind Americans of their “better selves” -- one that is idealistic, faithful and optimistic. Tebow seems to project an image that Americans once had of themselves that they almost seem to have forgotten – or at least had stopped believing was relevant.
The Tim Tebow story – from his mother’s fateful decision to not abort, to his own refusal to bow to the culture of public agnosticism – is seen by many as a story of “doing the right thing.” It’s a story of following through with one’s convictions and beliefs despite many obstacles.
This narrative seems to be finding a tremendous resonance in America. And people are flocking to pile onto the Tim Tebow bandwagon. And while Tebow still attracts a great deal of animosity, one can clearly sense a surge of people that are hoping that this young man succeeds. People want to believe that things will go well for a guy that “does the right thing.”
But what does all of this mean? Is it of any wider significance?
America And “Doing The Right Thing”
Americans believe that their nation faces a crisis unless something is done to contain high public deficits and debt. However, this fear, in and of itself, is not the reason for their sense of cynicism and despair. It is precisely the fact that Americans know what their problem is and are not doing anything about it that breeds such cynicism and despair.
The vast majority of Americans agree that in order to deactivate the debt time bomb, budget cuts must be made and/or that revenues must be raised. The problem is that until now, they have only approved of such measures so long as they and their families are not affected. Nobody in America wants to step up and take personal responsibility for the nation’s problems. Everybody wants somebody else to shoulder the burden.
Individuals don’t expect much from their fellow Americans because, based on their own conduct, they really don’t expect much from themselves. That is the reason for such deep societal cynicism and despair.
In sum, Americans are not “doing the right thing,” and what is most depressing is that they are aware of it and cannot or will not do anything about it.
Is The Worm Turning?
If you listen to many Americans, you could be forgiven for having the impression that they don’t have much hope – for their country or themselves. This is why the Tim Tebow phenomenon seems to be coming out of nowhere. Tim Tebow is the ultimate anti-cynic. He is the prophet of naiveté.
If there is one thing that distinguishes Tim Tebow is that he is a guy that dares to believe, and who dares to act on what he believes. Tim Tebow is always talking about how he believes in God, even if others don’t. He believes in himself and his abilities, even if other don’t. He believes in his teammates and his team, even if others don’t. And he dares to act on those beliefs.
Somebody forgot to tell this guy that good guys finish last, the American Dream is a scam and that God is dead. In this regard, Tim Tebow is more out of place in today’s American culture of cynicism than a penguin in the Sahara desert. That is why I say that his surging popularity must be understood as a counter-cultural phenomenon.
Can the fact that Tim Tebow has become such a cultural phenomenon be a sign that a worm has begun to turn in America? Could it be a sign that perhaps Americans are emotionally ready to take a leap of faith in themselves and start “doing the right things”?
Reason For Optimism About America?
2012 is an election year. American’s don’t need to be told any more that if they do not do something to get deficits and debts under control that the future will be bleak. They know that. 2012 will also be the year that Europe experiences a horrible crisis. The European drama that will be played out live before Americans' eyes will serve as a vivid testimony to what could happen if they do not get their act together.
Thus, coming into the 2012 elections Americans will be scared, and there will likely be an overwhelming national consensus regarding the need to bring public deficits and debt under control. Thus, the 2012 election will not be about whether to bring the deficits under control, but how this will be done.
Furthermore, there is another idea that Americans seem to be coalescing around: The solution to the problem of deficits and debt must come through a balanced approach in which expenditures are brought under control and additional revenues are raised. Americans seem to be resigning themselves that this implies shared sacrifice. After years of gridlock, Americans seem to be bracing themselves for the inevitable fact that if anything is going to get done, everybody is going to have to give up things that are important to them – both economically and politically.
In this context, it is likely that Republicans and Democrats will be forced by this cultural tide to offer their versions of “balanced” solutions. One result of this will be that as candidates move to the center with their proposals, the substantive differences between the positions of both parties will become relatively minor. Thus, it seems quite plausible at this point that whatever president and congress is ultimately elected will go to Washington with a clear mandate “to do the right thing” and solve the deficit and debt problem.
I know, I know, that sounds hopelessly naïve…. Almost like something out of Tim Tebow la-la land.
It should be clear that a shift in “social mood” that contributed to resolve the political impasse regarding deficit and debt problems of the USA would be highly relevant to financial markets.
This brings up the question: What drives social mood? And how does one track it?
There are some financial analysts that believe that stock prices are a barometer of “social mood.” According to this view, stock prices do not move as a function of “fundamentals,” but rather the so-called fundamentals are a function of social mood.
The idea is that it is not so much what the “facts” are that are important is assessing our economic and financial reality, but rather that it is how we interpret those data points that will define our social reality.
By this account, social mood is an independent variable. It has a life of its own independent of objectively measurable facts about the economy and financial markets. In this way the economy and financial markets tend to ebb and flow as a function of social mood.
This manner of thinking puts conventional social analysis on its head. Most social scientists believe that social mood is a “product of the times” – i.e. that it is driven by exogenous developments in the economy, politics, culture and etc. The alternative view is that economic, political, cultural and other social phenomena are driven by an independently fluctuating social mood.
What causes the ebb and flow of social mood? How can one predict it?
There is a distinct group of analysts that have expressed a keen interest in this line of research and they have developed an elaborate school of thought which they call “socionomics.” Adherents of this school of thought believe that social mood oscillates according to predictable patterns called “Elliot Waves.” According to this view, if you can identify where a society’s mood is on an Elliot Wave pattern you will be able to predict the evolution of social mood as well as all the social phenomena that are driven by it, including stock prices.
I have studied Elliot Wave Theory and its applications by the advocates of Socionomics and do not believe that its claims hold up to theoretical or empirical scrutiny. I also do not believe that social mood is an entirely independent variable.
However, I do think that social mood can be a phenomenon that is causally distinct enough that it can be usefully conceived of as an interdependent variable when analyzing indicia of social behavior, including stock price fluctuations. The Tim Tebow phenomenon may provide an example of how trends in social mood can take a seemingly independent path from the surrounding economic, political and social context.
For example, in retrospect, if social mood starts swinging from the sort of negativity and cynicism that has been so prevalent in the last few years to a more hopeful and constructive outlook towards the future, the Tim Tebow phenomenon in 2011 may come to be seen retrospectively as an early indicia of a momentous cultural and social shift. I am not saying that this is going to happen. Maybe this is just a “correction” in an otherwise intact bull market in cynicism and despair. I am simply saying that the Tim Tebow phenomenon is a development that may be worth reflecting upon and monitoring.
Americans are currently in a dark place. But the night is darkest right before dawn.
That is a cliché. But like all of the stuff that Tim Tebow says, just because it is trite doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. Especially if people believe it.
So, could it be morning in America? Are Americans getting ready to take personal responsibility and “do the right thing” regarding debts and deficits? Many will be annoyed that I am even asking such questions. It sounds so corny! Just like America’s growing fascination with Tim Tebow.
And that is just the point. The rise of the Tim Tebow phenomenon in the USA has got me wondering whether a worm has begun to turn and whether Americans may be yearning to see themselves in a new light – longing to provide a reason to believe in themselves once again by “doing the right thing.”
In the meantime, it is my view that due to more immediate concerns emanating from Europe that I have described elsewhere, all but the shortest-term traders should refrain from attempting to play the equity market on the long side through individual stocks or equity market proxies such as SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY), SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF Trust (DIA) or Powershares Nasdaq-100 Index Trust (QQQ). I believe that investors with longer time horizons should raise cash and avoid purchasing and/or holding equities - even those that appear attractive such as Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT) and Pepsi (PEP).
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.