ARTS

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October 25, 2002

What Kind of Total Disregard for Humanity Do You Have?

Tips for tots: do not, if you can help it, steal your research assistant's Instant Messenger lover once an evening of $4 pitchers at the Cove leaves you at your assistant's computer at 3 a.m., unless you want, subsequently, to have to spend time—time better spent coming up with trademark tweakings of clichés—researching portions of your column so that you can say something like:

Everyone loves burritos at 4 A.M.

Back in the 20th century, when there was only one Maravilla's, and it was out on 63rd and St. Louis, a review of the restaurant said that, even with the distance, it was still a preferred late-night hangout for U of C students because of the alcohol-soaking (their word) qualities of the giant burritos. U of C students are more or less everybody, I figure, so, since there were enough of us to encourage Maravilla's to open a second branch, one that doesn't implicitly encourage drunk driving, everyone must love burritos at 4 A.M. Coors does not have to tell me this.

That's right, it's time for the (about quarterly) pummelling of advertising and other media concerns in these august pages. The conscience of this column can no longer withstand the consistent assaults day in and day out perpetrated by the multinationals with the capital to buy increasingly cheap airtime during this, the Nocal/Socal World Series. Typically, the realm of avant-pop criticism limits itself, dans le monde sportif, to following the Boston Red Sox and any of a giant pile of football sides scattered across the globe. And, sure, this would be a vaguely appropriate place to gloat about Robbie Keane's two goals last week against Bolton or Simon Davies's part in the Welsh dismantling of a fraudulent, slutty Italian side with complicated hairdos. But today the aim of the cannon of avant-pop hatred is directed elsewhere.

It could be said that this is a truly stunning World Series. Piles of runs, compelling drama, and a reminder to all budding GMs that pitching wins championships—these are just some of the things one can take from this year's version of the Fall Classic. And baseball, itself, is still an important sport in our national/liberal understanding of the self, which is of vital importance in this peculiar day and age.

What that means, more simply, is that, in a liberal sense, you and I, we are both individuals and parts of a group. You have your name and your ID (which should have your name on it) that you use to get into places. I have my name, my nom de guerre, and my own ID—which does have my name on it—and other accoutrements that help me live on in this egoistic fantasy-world. Similarly, just as you can be classified in the mass of "eager devourers of high-quality / no-carb avant-pop culture criticism," I can be classified in the mass of "under-compensated dispensers of h-q/n-ca-pcc to the edh-q/n-ca-pcc." The same is true on the baseball field. Carlos Quintana is/was not only a right fielder/first baseman for the Boston Red Sox, but he had his own lifetime statistics (.276/.350/.362 over 1376 ABs). In other words, he was granted enough status to exist as an individual, not just part of a mass. It's said that the higher up the social scale one gets, the more facets of individuality one gets to appropriate, and it's this statistical swing of baseball (team stats and individual stats are both important) that keeps this sort of "forward" progress in check. Baseball affirms both an individual's negotiation with (his own) reality as well as his position in the group. Quintana cannot be responsible solely for a victory or loss, and a victory or loss could not be accomplished without him specifically.

At the same time, however, the statistical treasure chest allows decisions to be made about individuals on a seemingly impersonal level, as any fantasy GM knows. Numbers can be used to crunch down potential and make predictions, as well as determine value. They can tell us something about the individual as compared to other individuals. Of course, if we just "like" Trot Nixon, we might not listen to trades for Vladimir Guerrero, even though he will be playing in Boston next year. And numbers can also become defining elements of a baseball player's egotism and individuality. On Wednesday, MasterCard declared Cal Ripken, Jr.'s breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak baseball's most memorable moment, even though for years Ripken had sacrificed the team for his own pursuit of that record. In honouring the move in such a way, MasterCard indicated that there are times when the individual is more important than the mass.

Yet for all the neo-liberal celebrations (and complications of celebrations) of the individual we get during the regular World Series programming, the commercials we sit through during pitching changes or inning ends appear to be aligned in some sort of cosmic, soul-crushing mission—a mission to rob from each of us what it is that we think belongs to us only, our identity. In Heathers, after Heather "Madonna…jeez, no not that…my name is Tweety" McNamara eats a fistful of sleeping pills in the Westerburg High ladies' room, Veronica Sawyer storms in, trying to stop her. Heather snaps at Veronica, telling her that "suicide is a private thing," thereby something held within a person's own realm, within their own body, which is most of what anyone has near total control over. Heather pulls herself within her own understanding of her identity, and it's up to Veronica to break her out. Veronica manages to force the point with the oft-quoted "Heather, you're throwing your life away to become a statistic in the US fucking A Today. That's about the least private thing I can think of."

This conflict is underneath the John Hancock commercials during the World Series. Actuaries make their money based on an ability to collapse humans into tendencies and likelihoods. That's why the ads during the World Series inform us of cheery details like at what age the average American woman becomes a widow (56). They tell us that over three-quarters of us don't think we'll have enough money saved for retirement (whatever that means). In general, they tell us that math can't be beaten, and that just like even the best baseball hitter will fail about two-thirds of the time, sometimes there's no point in putting much stock in individual faith or self-confidence. Please, John Hancock, in this moment of dreams and hope (yes, Lackey will get a single to keep the inning alive!), rain on our parade and rob us (or the ball players) of our ability to be individual and plot our own fates.

Yet even the John Hancock ads don't quite crush as badly as those Coors ads in the World Series. The ads have some obnoxious rock music blaring about things these guys (as Coors has already designated itself as the official beer of "guys' night out") love. It includes football, burritos at 4 a.m., but it also includes twins. This twin thing has got to stop, really, largely for the same reason the stream of statistics in the John Hancock ads has to stop. General objectification, etc., is already deemed relatively bad the world around, but the twin angle is a double screw of objectification. That is, we can go on about male fantasies of dominance that involve two women, thereby shattering the already tenuous "equality" of one-on-one sexual interaction and putting the man back in the center. But having the two women be identical twins (and in the ad, they're dressed identically in every shot) robs each individual woman of her own uniqueness—it's as though the man went to the store, bought a sexual object, and decided he had enough cash to pull a second, identical model off the shelf. It's startlingly disgusting, but I guess that if I had to imagine which beer company would sign off on this political nightmare, I would have imagined Coors to OK this disaster. Coors ads (and labour practices and eco politics and sexuality politics and WWII politics) have always been loathsome, so it's really shooting fish in the barrel, here, but seriously—I beg you, Adolph and Co., knock it off with the twins stuff. Us boys get fed enough head-swelling garbage about white male privilege through Maxim. We don't need this terror on TV, too.

So, does anyone want to be a research assistant?