Great piece, JP.
The Mad Men Twitter accounts are particularly intriguing to me. I believe that fans had been running "fake" accounts for characters and eventually, AMC decided to take control of them. I know that the day I started sending emails that was being followed by Peggy, Don and Roger, I laughed. But the feeds themselves aren’t that interesting, which makes me think about the actual purpose. They’re not that funny and they’re not particularly informative either. Is AMC just doing this to "take control" of their content? Is there a way that they could be more…compelling?
To pick up on the dilemma of athletes performing dissent: as MLB initially imagined and enacted something like "integration," it used Jackie Robinson. The many contradictions of that use and abuse are pretty well known, but it’s worth noting the several instances of his difficult, complicated performances in this process, not least being his "playing himself" (Audie Murphy-style) in The Jackie Robinson Story (1950). The film itself is quite perverse, at once celebratory, confused, sentimental, and highly fictional. (The very idea that he mght "play himself," given the many layers of "self" he played in baseball, on and off the field, is a problem worth pondering.) It’s also striking that Robinson then took up political performance explicitly, rejecting Nixon (whom he once supported) and campaiging for JFK specifically based on their civil rights positions, and his complex relationship with MLK.
It’s obvious but worth mentioning that the current "diversity" in baseball, whether national or raced, has more to do with money than anything else. Big contracts for Matsui (Yankees, now A’s) or Suzuki (Mariners), made with much fanfare, helped to build an "Asian market" for the MLB television rights/sales. And the ongoing exploitation of poor young men from the DR, Venezuela, Cuba, and Puerto Rico is sadly legendary. While the movies Elizabeth cites look back on an unintegrated past with a mix of nostalgia and regressive or progressive inclinations, they don’t quite get at the corporate machinations that shape the image of baseball. As much as the MLB sometimes works (and pays PR firms) to reshape that image, the profits machinery grinds on. Bud Selig’s recent refusal even to acknowledge a problem of holding the All-Star Game in AZ is only one prominent example.
This post is in response to Elizabeth Rawitsch’s "The History of Discrimination in Baseball" and her comment "I wonder if that lack of bitter history and Asian-specific (or even Latino-specific) discrimination is precisely what makes celebrating the heritages of Japanese and Dominican players acceptable?" A color line was drawn against Asian players. The first attempt of a major league team to sign a player of Japanese ancestry occurred in 1897 when manager Patsy Tebeau of the Cleveland Spiders (now Cleveland Indians) announced that he was signing an outfielder known in the press only as "the brother of Japanese wrestler Sorakichi (Matsuda)". This signing never materialized. Eight years later (1905) NY Giants manager John McGraw announced that he invited a Japanese outfielder named Shumza Sugimoto to spring training. McGraw said the 23-year old outfielder had “all the goods” as a player and described him as “extraordinarily alert, a splendid batter and base runner and unusually quick and accurate picking up flies and grounders.” Impressive talent was not enough though. Sugimoto was not signed by McGraw for the 1905 season, and it appears that race was indeed the factor. Organized baseball was not comfortable with the idea of a Japanese player crossing the color line. Towards the end of spring training this uneasiness was expressed in a debate in the press. “Should the color line be extended to include Japanese players?” According to the Sporting News, the general consensus was “yes.” Sugimoto told the press that he “did not like the drawing of the color line in his case” and decided to instead join the semi-pro Creole Stars, an integrated team in New Orleans. The cases of Sorakichi (1897) and Sugimoto (1905) clearly demonstrate that there was “a yellow color line” drawn at the major league level that prevented Japanese American players from receiving the opportunity to compete at the highest level.
Sources: “News and Comments,” Sporting Life Magazine, Vol. 29, No. 15, July 3, 1897, pg. 5
“Line Hits from the Bat,” The Evening Herald (Syracuse, NY), July 14, 1897, pg. 2
“Japanese for McGraw’s Team, Special to The New York Times,” New York Times, Feb 10, 1905, pg. 8
“New York Nuggets,” Sporting Life Magazine, February 25, 1905, pg. 8
I think the performance that happens with the tweeting beards is great precisely because it’s ephemeral. The level of devotion a tattooed body may be high, but it’s still a marking of the fan’s body, rather than a gesture of ownership of (at least part of) the athlete’s body. This is particularly radical when you consider the gender issues at play.
I don’t think what makes the uses I cite of social media in MLB interesting is any sense of heightened devotion or forging real connections with players (in fact I argue quite the opposite). What I find interesting, however, is the ways in which fans have a new space to perform gestures of fandom and mark their physical and/or emotional presence on the bodies and sites of their favorite players and teams.
Another interesting inscription of the social media fan-body onto MLB is the "mosaic" the MLB site started doing this post season. For the World Series, see: here.
Short on my own comments after screaming in live attendance at last nights World Series, I encourage all of you to read Tom Verducci’s comments on the 2011 Series here. He completely renders my arguments false and, as a baseball fan, I could not be happier!
I wonder how we reconcile this emphasis on national fame with the trend toward internationalism that we’ve been discussing over the past week.
Both Nicholas and Annie noted that the successes of individual international players (Albert Pujols, Chien-Ming Wang, Ichiro Suzuko, etc.) are often perceived as triumphs on behalf of their home countries. Is this what happened to Steve Nebraska in reverse? Is it not acceptable to find success outside the national context (outside the Dominican Republic, Taiwan, or Japan)? Or is it the start of a trend toward international fame?
Thanks for the interesting post, Nick.
We seem to be returning frequently to the way in which Major League Baseball has been marketed (or has marketed itself) in recent years.
I find particularly insightful your designation of baseball as the ‘grey lady’ of sport. Baseball’s struggles to both embrace and distance itself from its past cultural status is at the core of its current identity issues - it’s both "the national pastime" and embracing globalization, etc.
This concept of on-field violence as a marketing tactic to draw in viewers who may not even really know the game has interesting correlations to baseball film. Eight Men Out, for example, cuts from the first to the fifth inning of game one without warning, making it appear as though there are four outs in the first inning. No one seems to notice. This downplaying of the rules of the game in favor of a rousing melodrama is how baseball narrative has functioned for years.
While it may be simpler to describe this as simply baseball reaching for the more aggressive fanbases of sports like football or wrestling, I find it more interesting to ask if the mediation of reality is taking a cue from fiction narratives in this case? Is this the reality television effect (the blurring of drama and documentary) for sports footage?
I’ve heard of people tweeting as characters from television programs like Mad Men and The West Wing, but I wasn’t aware of the tweeting beards. How fascinating! It’s hard to imagine anything more immersive than playing along with (and, for that matter, doing everything along with) your favorite player, always being a part of them. It removes the temporal distance of role playing or reenacting.
And yet it also seems very ephemoral. I’ve been thinking all day about tattooing: a more permanent way that fandom and the body can intersect. A tweeting beard seems flippant compared to the fan-player devotion that a Brian Wilson tattoo would signify.
I suppose it’s a question about the personal vs. private in relation to Twitter. Is tweeting as a player’s beard really about forming a one-on-one connection with the player or is it about performing a one-on-one connection?
The comments to Dr. McDaniel’s article have been great. Pellom is opening a new, long overdue, door to reflections on Negro Leagues history. Only in recent years have we begun to see a closer reading of the history which takes into account the deeper issues of race, agency, masculinity, community, and even gender (see works by Rob Ruck, Adrian Burgos, Martha Ackmann, to name a few).
Most discussions had centered around (1) trying to validate their performances in the context of white baseball contemporaries, (2) mildly successful attempts at statistical data gathering in an effort to prove "hall of fame" worthiness (3) focus on folklore and romantic notions of black players and black people becoming more "American" through baseball. Baseball is often viewed by the general public in this vaccum, above all that was happening in society.
McDaniels is among those moving towards more rigourous examinations, and this is welcomed. It opens the door to understanding the black experience from reconstruction to the early years of the Civil Rights movement (1880-1960). It must have an "Afro-Atlantic" focus, account for the impact of WWI and WWII, the great migration and urbanization.