Ratto: You knew we were in trouble as a culture when, No. 88, 101

The virus is real, the noise and optics are not

Ray Ratto
July 28, 2020 - 8:54 am
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This time, it's the fake noise and cardboard cutouts at ballparks, all there to enhance and mollify the home viewer, all in a way of seeking the old normal. At a time when leagues are desperate to find as many ways to squeeze money out of a once-robust ATM, make-believe is a huge market. Hell, make-believe is all they're pedaling because it's all they've got.

They're both lies, of course, told to make people forget the hard times we're in, making them two more examples of how we want our entertainment corporations to lie to us.

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Which is also the old normal.

They are both cheap and lazy gimmicks with deservedly short shelf lives, and baseball in particular may be out of the fake crowd and noise business soon enough. Four new positives have been found with the Miami Marlins, and for the second day running both their game with the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies (who have so far had no positive test results) have been postponed, and commissioner Rob Manfred's confident jaw-jut and full-steam-ahead talk on MLB Network Monday night did nothing to convince anyone that they have even the feeblest grip on the problem. Baseball is doing all it can do now after months of deliberately choosing to do not nearly enough, and is finding out that in the world of virology, too late means exactly what it says.

But while amateur geniuses talk about bubbling the NFL (no longer practical) and praising the NBA and NHL for isolating its players (while noting that lemon pepper wings are a more powerful force than safety), the fact is that almost all the leagues and teams have made the same basic mistake -- tooling the virus to their businesses rather than the other way around. The safety of the players is not the most important factor for any league; it never has been. If it was, they'd have done the medically prudent thing and waited for a reliable vaccine.

Instead, we have fake noise and people. And many of the fake people had to pay to get in through fees paid to the teams by people who wanted to be immortalized in pressed cardboard on the off-chance that their papery doppelgangers might be hit in the face with a foul ball.

And the ads. Don't forget the ads.

It's easy to say that all sports should simply be canceled until the virus is brought to heel, because it would have been the most sensible choice. But nobody made that sensible choice. Sports are working in other countries because those countries took the virus more seriously by prioritizing it first. They also had time to dress up the stands, but first they flattened their curves. America hasn't done anything remotely close to that, but they did get the pretending part squared away. That apparently is what our culture is best at -- clinging to old paradigms to delay the introduction of new ones.

Prioritizing sports differently would have been the new paradigm; letting the medicine concentrate on keeping players and potential customers safe would have been a moderate but acceptable compromise. Cardboard likenesses and fake fan noise from old games is what they chose, because they represent commerce, which is the only thing everyone inside the sports world truly believes in, based on their behavior throughout the crisis.

In short, the virus is real. The noise and optics are not. When we want to be real, then we'll move forward toward the resumption of all the old normals. Unless, of course, we are actually ready to rethink what kind of sports we want in the future and what forms they take. Maybe, in the end, the Miami Marlins of all teams slapped us into understanding how poorly we have prioritized and how well we can going forward.

Now there's a new paradigm for you.

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