Thursday, August 04, 2016

The Sacred and the Profane (Part 1)

I had been there once before, in another lifetime, but even time could not erase the memories of that trip. It's almost cliche to call it a cathedral, but that's what it is, something sacred to our hearts and our identities as Americans, even those who don't know it, those who try to tear down sacred things, be it mentally or physically or with cliches and overkill, or those who reconstruct history so that the things we hold dear don't matter anymore.

They do. They do matter more than ever as we lose our identities in the soulless system we have constructed for our lives, one devoid of meaning, one that sneers at "sacred" and "tradition" and seeks always for new new new and buy buy buy and change for the sake of change only, our sad society of marketing and isolation.

Even the names of the streets surrounding Fenway Park are sacred. Ipswich. Landsdowne. Yawkey.

Of course we know the racist legacy of Tom Yawkey. From a Globe columnist:
That the Red Sox are so central to the city’s psyche makes it even more urgent for Boston to act now to banish this legacy of racism.
The Red Sox were the last team to integrate, this we know. Jackie Robinson and two other black players had a tryout for the Sox in 1945 but were not signed. This we also know.

But the Red Sox would not even be there were it not for Tom Yawkey. To call it Yawkey Way is not to overlook his glaring flaws. To pretend it never happened? That is to forget history, and to forget history is to repeat it.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Wait...I just can't. Just rename the damn street and let's move on. This isn't change for the sake of change or new new new. This is taking the profanity out of the sacred. The guy was an active racist at a time when our moral values as a society were changing for the better. As the Civil Rights Movement raged on, Yawkey continued to defy progress.

How about Ted Williams Way?

Fenway Park. Home of the Boston Red Sox. These are magical words to a baseball fan. This is a cathedral. This is sacred. You can roll your eyes at the use of "cathedral" or "sacred," but that just makes something wrong with you. The language of baseball is full of cliches, yes, but no other game has had more effect on our language than baseball. The cliches are cliches because media personalities are not as skilled in the art of language as they once were. Think about it. What distinguishes a Vin Scully or a Marty Brennaman from a Bob Carpenter or a Thom Brennaman is a mastery of the English language. Some creative chap came up with the terms "can of corn," "bush leaguer," and "hot corner." Have any good terms entered the baseball lexicon in the last ten years? We can't even come up with good nicknames anymore. (A-Rod, K-Rod, etc.)

Fenway Park is not a cliche.

Playing the Indians is just a coincidence
We tore our country down and put up corporate chains and strip malls and housing developments to isolate ourselves from each other. They tried to tear down this ballpark but the people said no. The people. Because when does it stop?

There's a reason populism reared its ugly head in this election cycle. People think Sanders or Trump are going to give them back what they think politicians took from them. But politicians didn't take from them. Corporations did. And the people let them. Fenway is one of the few relics left from a time when our communities and cities had an identity, before there was a Starbucks on every corner and people got excited when a Five Guys came into their neighborhood. You don't think it matters, but it does. There is a soullessness to Americans today, an emptiness, excused away by "chemical imbalances" like depression or ADHD, but these are really a result of a crisis of identity. Hence the reason people cling so desperately to tribalism and ideology and whatever is trendy and how they fall so easily for marketing and propaganda. They feel an intense need to belong to something, to identify with something, anything, to fill the hole where meaning should be.

Fenway means something to people. Ballparks and baseball mean something to people. Having something stand for so long makes it a part of a culture and gives a society identity. The Red Sox cap might as well be a City of Boston uniform. The team is as much a part of Boston as Guinness and cah pahks. Frankly, I'm jealous. Riverfront Stadium wasn't the prettiest park, but it was a part of my childhood and part of my identity. I'm also jealous of the kids who are growing up with GABp and the Banks area. What a great job they've done around the ballpark. I hope those kids don't suffer the sight of their ballpark being torn down. Maybe we'll regain some sense by the time they reach that age. Hope springs eternal.

The first World Series
The butterflies-in-stomach feeling that I get when I go to most ballparks (Nats Park, Citi Field, and Target Field are notable exceptions) was more pronounced when I went to Fenway in May. We took a tour on a Saturday morning before a game started at 4pm. We were going to the game the next day. It was fun to climb around the ballpark without any people in the stands. Here are some pics from the tour:

Haha, losers!

Even the restrooms are sponsored.

There is something mysterious about an empty ballpark.

These have to be uncomfortable sitting there for nine innings. Or even one.

Seems to be as famous as the ballpark.

The reason people think the Sox won that series...

They have their own garden. That would be an awesome job!

500 footer

The meager museum room made me appreciate the Reds Hall of Fame Museum even more.

Put him in the Hall!

 To be continued...

Monday, August 01, 2016

Propaganda in the Twenties

Part 1 of this series
Part 2 of this series

Part 3:

You have to understand what propaganda is to grasp just how dangerous it is. But you also have to learn to recognize it when you see it so you don't fall victim to it.

If you are reading this, you probably have fallen victim to propaganda. If you've ever purchased something you have seen in an ad, you are a victim of propaganda.

The word first came into use in the seventeenth century as the Catholic Church was trying to recover from the Protestant schism. (If you're Catholic you are probably familiar with the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.) Of course, it wasn't the first time propaganda was used. You can find recorded instances dating back to ancient Athens. You know about Greek theater - but did you know it was very often used as propaganda? Of course you do know if you know anything at all about ancient Greek theater. Of course you do. And those who don't? Shame on you! Ancient Greece is part of American history, after all.

The twenties were a time when propaganda was becoming its own kind of institution, a time when Edward Bernays had yet to overthrow governments with US taxpayer dollars but was still selling you soap and cigarettes with his uncle Freud's psychology theories, his uncle, father of modern psychology, the man who theorized about the id and the ego.

Ego has, for some reason, become synonymous for narcissism and self-importance, but that is not the original meaning of the word. The "ego" simply means "self." More specifically, it's the part of the mind that mediates between the conscience and the unconscience. It's what gives a person a sense of identity.

Then again, psychology itself is misunderstood. You can thank American pop psychologists whose egos in the general sense of the word reduced the real science of psychology to a pseudoscience, a grand tradition that continues today with such celebrities as Dr. Phil.

What is the science of psychology, then? It is the study of the human mind. It seeks to understand human behavior through the conscious and unconscious experiences of individuals AND groups.

Like everything in life, it can be used for evil. 

While white Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were slugging homers and entertaining white and black Americans alike, an Austrian corporal enamored with his white skin was beginning to understand the power of psychology to promote an agenda. Ideas were one thing, but symbols, flags, and fear would win over supporters. Symbols ARE important to our world. Semiotics (or semiology) is the study of signs, symbols, and how they are significant. It is closely related to the field of linguistics, which studies words. Both are inseparable from psychology, and from these comes propaganda. He thought the Social Democrats he despised had used what he called the "infamous spiritual and physical terror" to win supporters in Vienna. Fear is a powerful seller.

Iron Cross, First Class assigned ex-servicemen to National Socialist meetings to silence hecklers and protestors, then organized Ordnertruppe - strong arm squads - to keep order. Later they were officially renamed "Sturmabteilung." Storm Troopers. They wore brown shirts and eventually took to breaking up meetings of OTHER political parties. Political rallies became violent. Iron Cross, First Class even led one of these attacks, which landed him a three month prison sentence (only one of which he served.)

The concept of the "hero" is also a good seller, born of the same manipulation as fear. Though baseball players had been used to sell products since the late nineteenth century (the famous Honus Wagner baseball card was printed for a tobacco company,) it wasn't until the twenties when endorsements began to be common as the United States was undergoing what could be called a "consumer revolution." Prior to WWI, endorsements were rare and were mostly limited to sporting goods, part of the reason baseball developed a reputation as a "healthy" endeavor.

Then came the ads for cigarettes, beer, sodas, and guns, among other things. As endorsement advertising grew, so, too did the controversy surround it. Baseball Commissioner Landis worried that money for endorsing products was a guise for payment to throw games, though he never acted on it. Endorsements were seen as fraud by many parties, including the FTC, not to mention that Americans widely viewed the practice as objectionable. (The fraud charges continued for decades - Mickey Mantle got into trouble for endorsing a brand of milk he did not drink.)

None of these things would have been possible without Sigmund Freud or his nephew Edward Bernays, father of the field of "public relations" and Woodrow Wilson's WWI propaganda minister. Baseball players had been symbols of health, and once the view had been firmly established, they could have sold anything, even guns to children. And nobody thinks twice about it.

That's what propaganda does - it normalizes a product, a brand, an idea, an ideology. That's the point of marketing and propaganda of other sorts. You appeal to a person's ego, or a group's ego, and you choose words and symbols that will arouse specific emotions in them, and they come to see that product or idea as right or true to them. Sure, people objected to the baseball player endorsements, but enough just accepted it as normal that it became normal. Babe Ruth didn't buy his kids the guns he sold. It was enough to give the perception that he liked the product.

This works whether you are sending a seemingly positive message, as in "I like this product," or an inflammatory message - "I hate this product." "I hate this person." "I hate this group." It works by appealing to the ego - that sense of self, including all the hyphenated words that come with it (self-esteem, self-importance, self-awareness, etc.)

The flag.

Is there a more potent piece of propaganda than a flag? The flag inspires feelings of pride, patriotism, and belonging for those who support it. For those who don't? Loathing. Disgust. Evil.

For most Americans and Westerners, the flag that Austrian failed artist designed is a symbol of the worse evil bestowed upon mankind. The simple flag - red background, white circle, and black swastika (once a symbol of harmony found in ruins of ancient Egypt, Troy, China, India, and elsewhere), became the embodiment of death and destruction.

This was AND STILL IS the worst period in human history. The trick is to keep it from happening again. (Not everyone loathes the swastika flag, and indeed it is making a comeback among a swath of Trump supporters.)

"A symbol it really is! In red we see the social idea of the movement, in white the nationalist idea, and in the swastika the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man." - Mein Kampf

What is propaganda?

Chances are, you have fallen victim to it. Buy these cigarettes. Buy Coca Cola. Buy America.

Think, people. Think.