Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Commercialization -- Why Stop Halfway?

Years and years ago, 1972 to be exact, I came back home from a year in Sweden.  I had gone there knowing very little about the country except the common headlines -- country of advanced social policies, beautiful women, and a different sense of sexual morality.  I found out a lot about all of that.

But as I drove in from the airport in the US, what hit me as hard as the bright summer sunlight was ... the billboards.  Billboards everywhere, hawking this and hawking that.  Bright, loud, assaulting on the senses.  Wow, I thought.  I hadn't noticed this very much when I was here.  Only the absence of billboards in Sweden in favor of a natural environment made me aware.

But in fact, I hadn't seen anything yet.  The day of commercialization had been going on for centuries, of course, but the sun wasn't even yet at high noon, little did I know.  Sneakers were still Chuck Taylor, Air Jordans still more than a decade off.  Superpacs in an even more distant future -- Elizabeth Drew hadn't yet written about how much time in a legislative office needed to be spent raising money for the next campaign.  And stadiums were still called Franklin Field after Ben, or more prosaically, Convention Hall.  Such a lack of imagination!

Now, we have just finished a wonderful basketball season, and the Warriors, which has been my team since I was a grade school boy in Philadelphia pushing a ball has hard as I could toward the basket and yelling, "Joe Fulks!", have won a World Championship.  Yes, the championship is a little tainted by injuries that weakened every single opponent while they have remained unscathed, but there is skill in that and not just luck, and as they say, "It's part of the game."  So we'll take it, and we'll take the poetry of cooperation, and vision, and unspoken ballet coordination of the parts, and the unerring intelligence of assembling the parts, and coaching with great intelligence and intuition.  We'll take it.

But we can't help but notice the venues.  Here in Oakland -- I hear that the commentators were forbidden from saying "Oakland," but had to say "Golden State" and "The Bay Area" unerringly, what with the impending move to San Francisco and all the real estate and construction profits to be had there for the VC and Hollywood owners, one with the thickest New York accent that one associates with hated teams of the past, yes, forbidden from saying "Oakland," that city of a less glitzy image and history, or even saying "East Bay," which is so local, so lacking in glamor, maybe with better weather but who wants to own a team from "Oakland?"  Only after the game, away from the commercial broadcasts, did the basketball people come to say "Oakland," when they just couldn't help themselves, because that's whose team it is.

But as I say, we can't help but notice the venues.  We have the "Oracle" Arena, they have the previously unimaginable "Quicken Loans" Arena.  "Quicken Loans Arena."  "Quicken Loans Arena?"  "Quicken Loans Arena."  How easily it springs off the tongue, how mellifluous the sound, how so very ... oh how so very American.

George, George Orwell, are you there?  George?  George, does language characterize a country, or what?  What evil lurks in the heart of man?  What language depicts the very essence of being?  Billboards?  How quaint!  Billboards?  That's ridiculous.  That's nine o'clock in the morning, before the Congress was owned, before the rules were changed, before 1984 and 2001 had come.  Way before.

What are we going to get at high noon?  One can't tell the future, but I'd say, let's move on from sports and arenas, let's get on to cities.  We need to commercialize to save beleaguered cities.  I can see, not just "Oakland," but "Google-Oakland, California."  That should solve Oakland's budget deficit.  And what about states?  Brownback's Kansas problem could be saved by a little inventiveness and entrepreneurship.  How about "Monsanto-Kansas, USA?"

But if you think about it, that's probably just 11 o'clock.  At 11:30, we'll move into the Federal Government.  I'd start with the legislative committees.  How about the "Exxon-Mobil House Judiciary Committee?"  How about the "Koch Industries Senate Finance Committee?"  And that's just the legislature.  The executive branch can't be far off, let alone Scalia's and Alito's judiciary.  We can see it now.  American ingenuity springs eternal.   What deficit problem?

Come on, country!  Let's not stop halfway.  Is this a great country, or what?  Let's make it pay!

But I digress, I digress.  For now, just for now perhaps, but just for now, we'll take what we are given.  We are given a team that brings us joy, that makes us proud, that shows that despite all the glitter and the distractions and the diversions and the craven lack of taste that is network television, despite the names, despite the prices, despite the pressures of the world, despite everything, there is still poetry in the world, there is still a drive to perfection, there is still a place where work and work and drive and work and inspiration pay off in what was just a possibility.  Now they will see what it's like to experience a triumph of performance art, and I will go to the parade on Friday and hope not to get injured -- after all, it's Oakland -- and we will wait to think about next year at least until baseball season is drawing to an end.  Baseball season, at Arena, and AT&T Park.

Budd Shenkin

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