The mighty pulpwood forests of the North are being clear-cut to
make paper, and octopuses are being netted by the millions for
the great inking fleets of the Indian Ocean, all so American
television critics can write a few more column inches this dim
summer on the popularity of such "reality" programs as Big
Brother, Survivor and The Real World. Even at such a daunting
cost, no one has yet explained why the "reality" of Survivor's
tribal council looks so much like the "reality" of the pupu
buffet at Trader Vic's. More important for sports fans than this
new intrusion of reality into television, however, is our
persistent confusion of television with reality.
Been to a major league ballpark lately? Except for being much
more expensive, it's just like watching baseball on TV in the
comfort of your 60,000-seat rumpus room! It's like appearing as
an extra on American Bandstand! It's like being sentenced to
forced labor in Uncle Mao's WackyDiscoFunTime TV Theme Park and
Commercial Re-Education Camp!
In the manner of the NHL and the NBA, baseball has decided to
let no game go unmediated; no inning, no at bat, no single
moment is allowed to pass without a deafening infusion of
prerecorded enthusiasm. Baseball no longer sees game play as
sufficient to hold our shattered attention; rather, the game
simply provides the excuse for a series of inescapable marketing
and advertainment opportunities. It is nine innings' worth of
music cues and videotape rolls, a cross-promotional platform
from which a captive audience can be efficiently inoculated with
the best brand names. Between the big-screen trivia games and
the big-screen, home-team-only replays (as lopsided as a
Politburo show trial) and the big-screen commercials and the
big-screen sneaker races and the big-screen cutaways of
overserved burly girls shaking what appears to be a groove thing
(only way larger) and the big-screen instructions to CHEER! or
SHOUT! or STAMP YOUR FEET!, each introduced by an eight-bar
guitar break from 1975's most popular three-chord,
anthems, it's hard to remember why you came out to the ballpark
in the first place.
Operating on the assumption that even though we've paid 12 or 26
or 48 or 195 dollars for a seat, we're apt to wander off like
idiot children if things go quiet even for a second, live
professional sports now seek to simulate the seamless, streaming
content of television or the Internet. Forget about turning to
your kids and remarking on that dandy 6-4-3 double play; they
can't hear you because it's dance time! From loudspeakers the
size of the cathedral at Chartres comes the news that Y.M.C.A.
isn't the homo-facetious send-up the Village People thought it
was, but an unironic crowd pleaser that gets everybody on their
feet! Wanna go to the dollar dance at a Bugtussle wedding, but
don't have a cousin named Cletis with a recessive pellagra gene?
Sit tight! Here comes that frenetic remix of Cotton Eyed Joe! In
case you can't get enough of this crap, it's all available now
with your new subscription to SI! On a gift CD we inelegantly
refer to as "crowd-pumping arena music!"
When did we all decide that it was okey-dokey to co-opt every
form of human experience--whether going to a game or riding an
elevator or standing in the checkout line--into a theater of
mandatory advertising? When did we all agree to give up our
rights as ticket holders or fans or citizens and reduce
ourselves instead to a set of deliverable bloodshot eyeballs?
Did I miss a meeting? Did we vote?
If so, is it too late to vote Gary Glitter off the island? How
about Rick Derringer? Lynyrd Skynyrd? Just asking.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO