Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Please rise, remove your hats, and pay attention to this commercial

Yesterday I took advantage of a lovely afternoon and got out to my first Kernels game of the year. The Kernels are a low minor league affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, having just switched affiliations after 20 years with the verbosely-named Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. They play in Veterans Memorial Stadium on the city's southwest side maybe two miles from downtown. The stadium is located in an area devoted to sports facilities, containing in addition the ice arena, the football stadium shared by all the city's high schools, and some tennis courts. (The idea of such special districts is to separate functions that really can't be integrated into a neighborhood structure, although there are neighborhoods right around the area that surely have to deal with parking and noise issues.) The official name of their facility actually is Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium, which allows us to honor veterans while simultaneously selling naming rights. The Angels aren't the only ones who tend to the verbose, I guess!

(In this picture, swiped from, we are looking more or less south. Rockford Road runs along the left side. The ice arena appears at the top of the picture. The circly thingy between the ice arena and the stadium is the veterans' memorial. You can see the tennis courts along the right side of the picture. Kingston Stadium is across the parking lot. Note the proximity of houses at the bottom of the picture, across 8th Avenue. A similar neighborhood is across 15th Street from Kingston Stadium.)

The Kernels won, and I ran into two people I hadn't seen in awhile. Kernels' uber-prospect Byron Buxton beat out an infield hit, hit a mammoth home run, and laid down a sacrifice bunt; he's hitting .392, and Twins fans may justifiably salivate for the day he arrives in the majors..

Some post I should talk about baseball, and baseball parks as places. (One of my conversations yesterday, with former Lisbon HS teacher Greg Carter, touched on that very subject.) But today I want to complain about one aspect of an otherwise pleasant experience.

I've been attending baseball games for almost 50 years, and have seen many changes in how they're presented. By now I've gotten used to advertising on the outfield wall, commercials between innings and naming rights for everything that moves (none of which were features of the Wrigley Field of my childhood). I understand that baseball is a business, and that underneath the transplendent experience I had yesterday is some rather vigorous commerce. I get that. I'm OK with that.

I'm not OK with sponsoring the national anthem.

The national anthem ("The Star-Spangled Banner") has been sung at major and minor league baseball games since the 1940s, when the feature was added in hopes of buttering up the U.S. government enough to be allowed to continue to operate during World War II. It's a civil religious exercise that is a little silly on some level, but don't tell that to fans at a minor league baseball park. Minor league baseball and American civil religion go together like hot dogs and buns. When it's time for the anthem, the announcer doesn't need to tell us (though he does anyway) to stand at attention and remove our hats. 

Which is all the more reason NOT TO SELL ADVERTISING ON THE NATIONAL ANTHEM. (I'm sorry, was I shouting? I didn't mean to.) I've seen a lot of minor league games around the country, and the Kernels are the ONLY TEAM I KNOW THAT DOES THIS!! (Oops. I did it again.) The current sponsor is Cedar Memorial Cemetery. So we rise, remove our caps, and get a commercial for the cemetery before the anthem is played. Before Cedar Memorial, the sponsor was Wendy's Restaurants, with the spiel delivered by a retired military officer in uniform. Talk about wrapping commerce in the flag!
(Pledging allegiance to Cedar Memorial Cemetery, 5/20/2013)

The advantage to the sponsor is obvious. Of all the companies that sponsor ads on the outfield wall, goofy goggles races, or ads that play on the video screen before the game and between innings (which everyone born since 1950 has long-since learned to tune out), Cedar Memorial is the only one who is guaranteed a totally attentive audience. This may be great for the cemetery, and the Kernels if they're getting an appropriate premium price for this ad, but it seems grossly unfair to me. Maybe 'business ethics' is an oxymoron. Maybe we should accept the logic of the market, and the superior judgment of the Job Creators, but this seems to cross a line of grotesqueness. They are taking advantage of people's feelings of patriotism, and the reverent behavior that flows from that, to pitch them a product.

I don't know how to act when the commercial is showing. I hate being manipulated, and this manipulation is so blatant I feel duty bound not to go along with it. But how? I've refused to stand during the commercial, but I feel conspicuous, which shouldn't be bad, since I'm standing up (well, sitting down) for my convictions, but as a college professor I feel suspect enough already when it comes to civil religious observations. AND I still have to pay attention to the damned commercial, so I'll know when it's time to stand for the actual anthem
I am dust, and to dust I will return. When I do, it occurs to me I could go far towards securing the financial future of my loved ones by having commercials at particularly sensitive points in the memorial service. Dairy Queen, are you interested? My church, I'm sure, would never go for this, but I bet Cedar Memorial would be fine with it!

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