Academic journal article Ethnologies

New York Yankees and the Conservative Use of Space

Academic journal article Ethnologies

New York Yankees and the Conservative Use of Space

Article excerpt

Sports events, as the ancient Greeks knew well, could be used as a substitute for war in city-state competition, hence the creation of the ancient Olympics. Although the founder of the modem Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, envisioned an event free of consumerism and nationalism, they are now a forum for national conflict and rivalry (Riggs 1993). As Katz and Dayan (1985) argue, the Olympics are a coronation for the king of nations and a celebration of conflict, contestation, and conquest. The Olympics now reinforce nationalism and hyperpatriotism as fundamental values rather than the equality, liberty, and fraternity that are the official reasons for the Games (Rothenbuhler 1989). In addition, commercialism and consumerism are now values supported by the Games, in contradiction to de Coubertin's vision (Farrell 1989). Truly, the Olympics are a substitute for war; national aggression, the fight for supremacy, and economic competition are all enfolded within the Games.

Although not a substitute for civil war, on an intranational level sports may serve the same purpose as the Olympics. Sports teams can elevate the recognition of a city on the international and national business, convention, and tourism scenes. Winning the national championship title in any sport makes a city's name synonymous with a nation's best, though only briefly. As marketers well know, winning in a sport allows a city to claim greatness, as evident in the crass commercialism that transformed the Atlanta Braves and the Dallas Cowboys of the early 1990's into "America's Team(s)". Perhaps the existence of sports teams is one factor contributing to Yi-Fu Tuan's statement that "Places can be made visible by a number of means: rivalry with or conflict with other places, visual prominence, and the evocative power of art, architecture, ceremonials and rites. Human places become vividly real through dramatization" (1977: 178).

Sports are, fundamentally, agon between two sides and between two cities. In choosing schedules, this aspect of sports is central to the search for higher ratings (Russell 1994; Van Weert and Schreuder 1998). Further, broadcasting increases the exposure of a city's teams, on both regular television and special channels like ESPN and CNNSI (Higgins 1999; Mitrano 1999). The dramatization of cities on television, through the contest itself and through the commentators' reflections on rivalries, increases the importance of successful sports franchises to a city.

Walter Benjamin argued that, "What is true of the image of the city and its inhabitants is also applicable to its mentality" (1986: 114). After a stay in New York, Benjamin might conclude that the image of a city provided through sports is similarly indicative. Indeed, as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani stated, "The resilience and determination of the 1996 Yankees is a metaphor for the entire city of New York, where we have battled back in the face of the doubters and the doomsayers to once again make New York a city of growth, opportunity and hope" (1996: 3). What Giuliani leaves unsaid, however, is for whom this battle was fought. The desired appearance of the parade is to present an image of citywide freedom and joy that the masses can participate in.

Focusing on imagery has its dangers. The consumption of sports teams as metaphors for a city might just as easily lead to incomprehensibility. Simply put, the image of a city provided by a sports team is not reflective of the city's whole. To simply accept Giuliani's statement then, would bring about a retort similar to Baudelaire's response to the promotion of cities through arts -- it leads to "a state of mind bordering on vertigo or idiocy" (1997: 121). Although arts and sports may construct a representation of what is good and noble in a city, they are impermanent and replaceable. If taken as a permanent representation of the city, the stadium or museum can evoke a false understanding because it allows the appearance of freedom and contestation within a highly constrained and limiting space. …

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