Thursday, April 10, 2008

Is war just baseball by other means?

Last year's Fenway flyover.

A disturbing story in the Globe yesterday pointed out that the Red Sox opening day flyover cost taxpayers $100,000 in fuel alone. What's more, it turns out the Air Force scheduled 843 flyovers last year (which, using the back of this napkin, comes to $84.3 million in fuel costs, or more than half our entire funding of the National Endowment for the Arts). The Air Force claims the flyovers count as "training missions" - but then also admits that timing a flight against "The Star Spangled Banner" really isn't much like combat. (Maybe Dick Cheney is planning to buzz a soccer match in Tehran.) The article is at its weirdest, however, when it points out that for one of the pilots, "the flyover is an honor":

"Being able to represent our military in the opening game is pretty awesome," he said.

I had an odd little frisson when I read that - the kind that comes with the perception of a cultural shift moving beneath our conscious radar. Since when was it an honor for a soldier to consort with baseball players? I always thought it was supposed to work the other way around - that athletes operated as a kind of proxy military (why else sing the national anthem before the game) rather than actual soldiers operating as proxy athletes. The ubiquitous Air Force flyover also suggests a strange, shared sense of "global branding" of American sports and entertainment - that with our economic base hollowed out, we now explicitly link our defense department to our virtual entertainment world rather than our actual homeland. A small thing, perhaps, but worth noting.

1 comment:

  1. Only a few shrewd sportswriters have noted the militaristic creep since 9/11. (Flyovers, Colorguards, etc.)

    Bud Selig ordered the playing of God Bless America at baseball games after 9/11.

    But really this blend of militaristic symbol and patriotism at the ball field has worried activists at least since the Vietnam war.

    The very practical barter of the flyover for the military and sports is recruitment opportunity.

    Pat Tillman's death may be the ultimate conflation of what you are talking about. An athlete, he abandoned the ball field for the battlefield for truly patriotic reasons.

    However, the narrative that his enlistment fulfilled - (athlete becomes actual warrior) - was so perfect that the image system you are talking about absorbed it greedily. In fact, it went down so easy and tasted so sweet that the propaganda machine, so pleased with itself, would not reliquish Tillman's story to the truth.

    When the beast finally had to regurgitate, the very realistic circumstances of Tillman's death proved depressing enough for even art which always has its eye to the truth, never mind a mythmaking machine.