The idiomatic concept of “rooting for the underdog” refers to a social psychological situation in which a person or group of people shows a preference for a hero who has little chance of winning the competition. Underdog can be understood in the broadest and most unwoven sense of the concept. But it is important, first of all, that the underdog is a character with a lesser ability to influence the world around him. The main categorical difference between the underdog and other more normalized members of society is that this social type has fewer spheres of influence. The psychological state of experiencing the underdog thus has a number of social connotations and possible non-obvious motivations.
The competition in which the underdog takes part can be in essence of any and most diverse nature. Therefore, the situation surrounding the underdog should be viewed as a default unfavorable for them. The underdog has less money and less social leverage. This concept in a broad sense implies a person who has a lower status in society. Therefore, quite often the competition in which the underdog takes part is in the field of social transformations. It can be a struggle to change the surrounding world, administrative changes in a city or district. In fact, it often happens that the underdog is interested in improving the social situation at the macro level for similarly vulnerable members of society.
The underdog can thus be perceived as a kind of archetypal hero, which was deposited as a symbol in the collective unconscious. Any person can actually become a kind of partisan fighting for the rights of the same unprotected members of society. The collective tendency to inscribe the biography of a famous person into a coherent narrative history makes the existence of such an archetype essentially necessary. The underdog is a hero who is at the beginning of a difficult path full of social inconveniences and obstacles. Such heroes overwhelm culture, literature, art and film, thus meeting the needs of a wide audience.
The audience needs a hero that evokes not only sympathy but also empathy. Therefore, the underdog determines the need to be several steps lower on the social ladder in order for the inevitable, programmed upward ascent of this hero to turn out to be even more dizzying.
It should be noted, however, that the underdog’s stereotypical narrative does not have to imply major social transformations. The very scale of the underdog’s personality is as comprehensive from the point of view of human experience as it is limited in its real possibilities in society. Often, the mission and only task of such a hero is directly climbing the social ladder and full self-realization in life. Literature and culture knows many examples of such characters who tend not to use their social class to their advantage (Menzies 16). These heroes may not be proud of their origin, but, on the contrary, be ashamed of it and strive in every possible way to break out of this hated social circle.
The public is extremely supportive of such heroes in reality and art, since they prove that nothing is impossible for a person, regardless of his origin. The theory of social determinism seems to dominate the mass consciousness to this day, but the more interesting is the desire of people to praise such persons who overcome this rule of predestination. The underdog has its own predestination that does not close a person in a particular social class. On the contrary, the very paradigm of such a person includes an upward movement or at least an extreme striving for it.
It seems interesting to explain the phenomenon of taking the underdog’s side from the standpoint of the theory of utilitarianism, the science of practical utility. By this logic, taking the underdog position is more emotionally satisfying and reliable. When people take the side of someone who has every chance of victory, the joy of such victory seems predetermined and not so high. The loss of the so-called top dog turns out to be psychologically traumatic, a real disaster.
From these positions, it is more profitable to root for the underdog in case of any possible result (Zourrig and El Hedhli 166). If the underdog loses, then the disappointment is not so great, since the disappointment is already inscribed in this paradigm. But if the underdog wins, the joy of the person who drew attention to the hero and made this bet will be extremely high.
Another reason for the support of the underdog by a large number of people can be conformism or massive agreement in decision-making, a person’s adherence to the supposed opinion of others. In this aspect, a person can stick to the side with less advantages, thinking that the rest will follow also guided by general humanistic concepts. One more crucial reason for supporting the underdog may be a rational perception of inequality and social injustice that needs to be eradicated. Thus, the concept of the underdog can be understood broadly and found in a variety of social and cultural phenomena. It should be noted that such a narrative is often used in the commercial, brand and advertising industries, which emphasizes its relevance and mass popularity.
Zourrig, Haithem, and El Hedhli, Kamel. (2017). “Consumers’ Motivations and Roles in Rooting for or Against Underdog Consumer”. International Journal of Consumer Studies, vol. 42, no. 1, 2017, pp. 164-172.
Menzies, Iza. “Horses Down Under: The Underdog Schematic Narrative Template and Australian Nationalism”. Journal of Australian Studies, vol. 45, no. 1, 2021, pp. 18-32.