Play Ball!

It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a free spirit with a bad case of wanderlust. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve thrown the necessities into a backpack and left on some adventure for a day or a weekend or who knows how long. With that in mind, welcome to the chaos of this past week. A few months back, my partner and I discovered that one of our favorite bands, Bear vs Shark, were reuniting for a few shows in select cities. For years, we told each other if they ever reunited, we would travel wherever to see it, and since they’re a Detroit band, we were prepared to have to travel to Michigan. The good news? We only had to travel to San Francisco. But man, was it one whirlwind of a trip. Driving from Seattle to San Fran and back in 4½ days is no joke. Anyway, I mention that only because I realize a post talking about my depression and anxiety followed by a week+ of silence could be seen as bad form. Or maybe I’m over thinking it (which I’m prone to do). But in reality, over half my week was simply occupied with other concerns.

Speaking of other concerns, the World Series begins tonight! I love baseball. There’s something wonderful about sitting in a ballpark on a summer evening, overpriced beer and peanuts in hand, alternating between action and conversation in tune with the rhythms of the game. Moving along in three-out increments, it’s impossible to determine how long each half inning will take and what will occur in that time. Baseball, then, is a patient sport. And as a fan of baseball, I’m incredibly excited for the Cubs to be in the series for the first time in over 70 years. They’re an iconic, historic team who plays in one of my favorite ballparks, Wrigley Field. While I haven’t been fortunate enough to catch a game at Wrigley, I did have the opportunity to tour the park; I even got to stand on the field behind home plate. Looking at the signature ivy that lines the outfield wall from that perspective…it’s something I’ll never forget.

I dunno if it’s just me, but I find ballparks themselves to be fascinating structures. Every time I watch a game, I inevitably end up thinking about how the ballpark itself shapes the action and is thus an actor in the game. That is, the park in which a game is played has a tangible impact on the outcome of said game. I know some would say this is the same for any sporting event, given factors such as hometown crowds and, for outdoor sports, climate. However, most team sports are played on a regulation field. When you watch/play American football, soccer, hockey, basketball, rugby, etc., you may notice individualized aspects of the building (like the giant Heinz ketchup bottle in Heinz Field in Pittsburgh), but the playing fields themselves are all uniform, all conform to the regulations of the sport.

But not baseball, not ballparks. Baseball is different — each ballpark has its own unique characteristics that impact the gameplay itself. That’s not to say the field is unregulated; the distance between each of the bases, the distance of the pitcher from home plate (in essence, the baseball diamond itself, the infield) is absolutely regulated. However, it’s when we get into the outfield that things get interesting. For starters, every park’s outfield is different. While the general shape is the same (you have a curved wall at the back of the park, with the longest distance from home plate to the wall being in center field), the specific curve and the distance from home plate varies. Yankee Stadium is famous for the short distance between home plate and the right field wall, which leads to an increase in home runs in that park. Additionally, the height of the wall itself is a factor. For instance, the left field wall at Fenway, the Red Sox stadium, is nicknamed “The Green Monster” for its imposing height; a home run in most other parks get stopped by this wall. Even foul territory impacts gameplay. Since parks are constructed differently, the size and shape of foul territory changes. Some parks have a large amount of space between the infield and the dugout/seats; this means there is more of an opportunity for a pop up that would drift into the stands elsewhere to be caught by a player, leading to an out. Or, perhaps there is very little foul territory in the outfield, like at the previously mentioned Fenway, so nearly every shot to the outfield is fair and playable.

I mention these brief examples to demonstrate how baseball players don’t just play against the opposing team, they very much play against/with the park as well. Professional ball players must be rhetorically attuned to the way the park shapes the action and adjust their gameplay strategy accordingly. Additionally, home field advantage is painfully real – if half of your games every year occur in the same place, you’re going to intimately learn how to read and interact with the park. The sheer amount of time a team spends in their own ballpark means a heightened rhetorical sensitivity to the ways that park acts on the game.

I’ve never looked into what work has been done on ballparks, materiality, and the rhetoric of baseball. I’d be shocked if I’m original in my thinking or observations. But I’ve been musing over it for so long, I felt I had to get it out of my head and into writing. And who knows, if there hasn’t been a lot of work done to this extent, maybe I have another future project on my hands (like I don’t already have enough of those. Silly brain won’t stop being curious about things). But for now, I’ll watch the World Series, hoping to see the Cubs win it for the first time in over 100 years.

Starting Over

So, this blog has gone neglected (ignored, honestly) for a few years now (and they’ve been a crazy few years). I didn’t live up to my expectations for what I wanted this to be. But I’m ready to give this another shot, to try and hold myself accountable for making my often random musings public, to engage my own scholarship in ways I encourage my students and colleagues alike to do. So…

 

I’d like to start (over) with a brief musing that began as a conversation with my partner while watching the most recent Apple keynote announcing the iPhone 7. During this keynote, Apple announced it removed the auxiliary input (aka the headphone jack) from the latest release of their iconic smartphone. However, this post is not about Apple. It’s not about the decision to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone. Instead, this post is about the rhetorical significance of a material object Apple is attempting to declare obsolete via this decision: the headphone wire.

Portable headphones are a wonderful invention. And make no mistake, wireless headphones can save time, energy, and entanglement, particularly when physical activity is involved. But headphones serve another important function: they are a public deterrent. They communicate a very specific message – do not bother me. To be fair, headphones aren’t the only public symbol that someone wishes to be left alone, but I would say they are the most ubiquitous, consistent, and convenient one; they are hands-free and remain (relatively) out of the way of everyday business. While over-ear headphones can be easily spotted, wireless or not, I find their size problematic for commuting; they simply take up too much room in a bag. In-ear headphones are super commute friendly, but they are easily unseen. Thus, the wire does the communicative work. And as a woman, this simple object, the wired headphone, is even more important. It’s my one consistent line of protection against the barrage of men catcalling me, harassing me, trying to holla at me, etc. You get the idea. It’s not a fool-proof method for avoiding unwanted attention, but it works damn well.

When looking at the headphone wire as a rhetorical object, I can’t help think of the recent pushes towards object oriented ontology, new materialism, and other variations on the theme objects shape meaning. In the Lacanian sense, the wire is an important actor* in a complex social network of meaning-making. It communicates a message and contributes to, in this case, a potential non-interaction. That is, by communicating a simple “do not bother me,” the headphone wire is a meaningful contributor in staving off a physical interaction. Thus, we see that this wire is vibrant in Bennett’s conceptualization. That is, the wire is alive and buzzing with rhetorical potential, actively shaping possible (non)interactions before they even/ever happen.

From where I’m sitting, the rhetorical significance of wirelessness, in this case, means ambiguity at best (are they or are they not wearing headphones – I can’t really tell with that hair/hat/hood/headband/etc. in the way) and increased harassment, and all that comes with, at worst. Without a clear symbol telling the world to leave someone alone, how will people, particularly women, conveniently wear their desire to remain unbothered as a public advertisement?

Now, to be fair, Apple isn’t forcing anyone to use wireless headphones. In fact, they’ve included newly designed wired headphones as well as an adaptor so people can use their current headphones with the new phone, both plugging into the phone via the lightning port. However, this constant push to exist wirelessly overlooks the material rhetorical significance such wires convey. Wires are more than physical tethers to and connections between objects. In the case of portable headphones, a simple wire communicates a simple request – please, just leave me alone. However, for at least a decade now, Apple has been at the forefront of deciding when technology has become obsolete by removing it from their devices, and typically for the better (like the removal of the optical drive from their computers)**; if Apple does it, it’s not long before other manufacturers follow suit. I think Apple may have overlooked the rhetorical significance of wired headphones and the implications of wirelessness in this context. And I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit concerned that when others follow suit (because they will), an important social rhetorical tool will no longer be available for meaning making.

Thoughts?

 

 

*I know that Lacan made early distinctions between actors and actants, but I think such a divide is counterproductive. From my understanding, Lacan began considering both human and non-human agents of meaning as actors within a given network, which I feel is far more productive and accurate.

**Apple removed the optical drive, better known as a cd/dvd drive, for a few reasons. First, it took up a significant amount of space inside of the computer, limiting the size and/or inclusion of other components, most importantly the battery (in portable computers). Second, it broke. Often. In fact, as I learned from Apple certified technicians, it was one of the most common repairs done on machines. And any time you open a computer to repair it, you run the risk of damaging fragile internal components, even when done safely and shielded from electrostatic discharge. Less repairs = less potential for further damage. Third, cds/dvds were becoming outdated technologies. Taken together, while people still complained about the removal of the optical drive, Apple did actually make the best decision for its users and its technology, even though it was controversial at the time.