The other day a small group of us visited the St. Pete pleasure palace known as the Tropicana, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, razed, eheu
, of their diabolical nom de guerre
. Concepts of sport, crowd massage, mass media, and the spectacle of fun have evolved. (We don't get out much, and we now know why.)
The indoor ballpark is really more a destination than a place to watch a game. Long before we got there, which was just as the game was starting, large crowds had navigated a complex parking scheme, entered the dome, and spent hours spreading out among a large number of food bins, retail outlets, novelty shops (get a life-sized baseball card of YOU!), more food bins, etc. As at most international airports, all this is at the level you come in on, and marks the yellow brick road you take, up escalators, along endless corridors, to your seats. And as at airports, they are paranoid about YOU. No thermoses filled with water in the arena. All bags are checked. The next Rays bomber could be standing right where you're standing.
The scoreboard one sort of doesn't see at first. The eye is drawn instead to what it thinks is the scoreboard, a giant TV monitor surrounded by Fox News-style info widgets. Lots of insta-data about each player as he comes to bat -- height, college, what he did earlier in the game (complete with visual graphs) mother's middle name, other stats, etc. Every few seconds the large TV screen goes to a commercial break, and all the information vanishes while we are adverted to. For a good portion of the game this was bothersome, as I was always looking across the field to this board to check Outs, Hits, etc. Around the sixth inning I realized there was another scoreboard that didn't just go away, and that it was in fact THE scoreboard. This other thing was just Media flapping itthemselves at us, which is what itthey doesdo best.
It does it by crowdcosseting. People were always being featured on the giant screen, blown up large, as they danced to the music, chanted for their heroes, or did the funny thing that was going to win some exciting something. So the crowd watched as members of itself, writ large, were seen pointing to themselves, writ large. As Fox, Disney, Universal, et al
understand quite well, the story is always you, because you will continually attend to you. Media know they can sell beer and food and future events and cotton candy to you while you get your willies off digging you.
All that's missing up there was a giant Twitterized text space.
"Yeah c'mon you Rays!"
"Evan, I love you!"
This is not to say we didn't enjoy the game. The visibility is good -- odd when high pop-ups hit the lights up there, or nearly scrape the ceiling. So it's a bit much to constantly be prodded to "MAKE NOISE!" at crucial moments, as in the bottom of the 9th, when the Rays were down by 2 and the bats were ominously silent. They were the only thing that was. 40,000 cowbells rang out, along with innumerable incantations, building out of sound a sort of Stimulus Package of Ain't it Grand Energy which, 45,369 people believed, would wake dem bats and blow the White Sox to Obamaland in a puff of Tampa Bay West Wind Witchery.
At this level of crowd prodding, it didn't feel as though I was attending a sporting event. The crowd is there exploring its own features, its resources, its powers. Cosseted by media on one side, forced to see boundaries, in the form of stern looking Protectors of the Field, who got up and faced us between innings, in case the multitude, forgetting where it was, rushed the field, intending to play the game it originally was summoned only to watch, seeing as the spectacle it had paid for as become so intermingled with the watchers thereof as to make it perfectly understandable that it believes its presence is needed, is summoned upon the field of dreams, on the other. The Trop is a magic mushroom; the crowd is Alice, and the boys of summer, they're the animals in a Florida zoo -- part of the somewhat antiquated premise, but, in a roiling media-rich world of prizes, hot cars, food, baubles, Bud, tribes, terrorists and teapartiers and YOU -- no longer entirely where the action is.
Labels: anxiety is the lifeblood of ignorance and ignorance is the carriage of US media, baseball, tampa bay rays, tropicana