Wednesday, November 14, 2007

False Consciousness at Wrigley Field Is More Than the Cubs Being in First Place in September

Reprinted from September 2003:

False Consciousness at Wrigley Field Is More Than the Cubs Being in First Place in September

Karl Marx would probably not have been a fan of Major League baseball, but even if he was, he most certainly wouldn’t have been a Cubs fan. As one of the oldest teams in Major League Baseball, the Cubs have been able to maintain the longest losing streak in the Majors - nearly ninety-four years without a World Series trophy. Much of that losing streak has been played out at Wrigley Field, the second oldest ballpark in the Majors. However, the Cubs have continued to pack the park with frivolous fans. The ballclub has been consistently one of the highest grossing teams in Major League Baseball. Wrigley Field has been a major contributor of that capitalist success.
Wrigley Field has been owned by wealthy businessmen (Charles Weeghman, The Wrigley Family and currently, the Chicago Tribune Company) since it’s creation in 1914. The creation of the park was to make money for its owner. This is Marx’s material base; the physical ballpark owned by a businessman who can use the structure to make money. However, the stadium alone is not going to attract consumers. Wrigley Field needs a superstructure.
The first and most obvious addition to the park is a home team. Charles Weeghman originally put his team known as both the Federals and the Whales into the park. But over the years, the ownership has adjusted the superstructure. The Cubs were purchased and moved in by Weeghman in 1916. In 1937, Bill Veeck renovated the outfield to create the bleacher seats, the manual scoreboard, and the bittersweet vines on the outfield wall. By creating this atmosphere, Veeck hoped to capture the imagination of the fans who felt they had to experience the ballgame by being there.
Although the Cubs have had only one appearance in the World Series since the team moved to Wrigley Field, management has successfully attracted fans by maintaining the superstructural notion of experiencing the game. In fact, Wrigley Field has created a false consciousness among the masses of those claiming to love the Cubs. Day baseball, the ivy, the manual scoreboard and the history of the ballpark have continually kept fans coming back to the park despite losing year after year. The current management base of the Cubs and Wrigley Field has made the exploitation blatenetly obvious by marketing not only Cubs apparel, but “Wrigley Field” apparel. Selling everything from Wrigley ball caps to “Friendly Confines” jerseys. So when the Cubs win the World Series this autumn for the first time in ninety-four years, hopefully the taste of victory will create an apetite for winning that willl no longer settle for the experience of Wrigley. The revolution is upon us!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Why teachers deserve the salary they get

Why teachers deserve the salary they get

While reading my Daily Herald this morning at 6a.m., I was struck by the number of people who thought that I did not deserve the salary I earn for being a high school teacher. I was reading the newspaper at 6a.m. because I need to leave by 6:15 every weekday morning to teach. I understand that teachers get ten weeks off in the summer and we do get holiday time off, however there are a number of important facts that the public does not realize regarding teaching. Although there is time off that is built into the school calendar, most teachers are going home after working an eight-hour day and grading papers, reading for class and preparing for the next day’s lesson. This is true on weekends as well. If I want to spend a minimum five minutes per essay for grading and making comments, I need to allow 625 minutes for a class load of 125 students. Furthermore, although teachers have some vacation time, that is their only vacation time. My friends who work in the corporate world are always planning vacations and traveling at convenient times for them and for travel deals. It is not possible for me to go skiing for five days during February. My day is further limited by the nature of my schedule. I am bound by an hour-by hour schedule all day long. Every sixty minutes I stand up in front of thirty people and try to inspire and teach them. No matter how hard I try and how hard I work, I will make the same salary. The businessman who puts in extra hours working hard for the company is often rewarded with bonuses, options, or commissions. There are no incentives of the sort in teaching. Our society needs salaries to motivate and attract good teachers. Teachers are people who are dedicated to helping young people become successful members of society. All teachers need a college degree with specified training in education. All teachers must continue training to keep their certificate valid. Most teachers get advanced degrees. All of this work deserves to be rewarded. And the rewards should underscore the importance and respect that teachers deserve. So, while eighty thousand dollars a year for nine months of work sounds like a lot, please consider the big picture and if you are still convinced and you think it is so easy get your degree and teach!

Tis the season...

Reprinted from 2003...

As the daylight turns from growing to waning at the end of September, there is a different kind of light to distract the masses from the darkness. One can already see the signs of Christmas in the department stores on State Street. Christmas lights, candles, wreathes and bows appear in the store overnight on some unnamed date during September. Quietly, ornaments, clothes and gift baskets appear even before Halloween has been celebrated. Along with the change in merchandise, Chicago’s State Street transforms into a holiday culture that thrives on the consumption of an idea, “the holiday season.
Multitudes of shoppers make their way into the shopping district that is bound between Michigan and Dearborn Avenues on the east and west and Randolph and Balbo Avenues on the north and south. The city of Chicago and the surrounding businesses transform this area into a virtual theme park centered around the idea of Christmas. Windows of department stores are full of storybook images that display towns and village life that urban shoppers have never known, but want to imagine themselves having been a part of. There are decorated streetlights, jingle bells and bows to make the streetwalkers all feel they are in a magical place. All of this is centered around a German market and an ice-skating rink.
Although most of the shoppers are not German and many are not religious, they are still taking part in the mass consumption that industrial capitalism has produced: ornaments, decorations, food, presents, gift wrap and cards. Shoppers are convinced that giving is a way to show you care and the best gifts are those refined items for purchase in the various stores throughout the shopping district. It might include one of any hundreds of Christmas ornaments, or a prepackaged, pre-assorted gift basket. In an authentic culture, these consumers would be giving far more meaningful and personalized gifts. They would not buy a basket at Marshall Field’s full of mass produced culture such as candy-canes, fruitcake, Frango mints, holiday-blend coffee, hot cocoa, etc. Instead, these consumers would be producers; each might be at home baking something from a family recipe that has been perfected and passed down over generations. Then, the producer might package and decorate the basket in a meaningful and unique way and deliver it to their loved one’s open-arms personally.
Instead, the would-be consumers must participate in this seasonal, generic culture. They enjoy shopping at the German market. Although the majority are not German, they enjoy purchasing German blown-glass, drinking grog and eating roasted chestnuts - items that cannot be easily found the rest of the year in Chicago. These consumers make purchases based on mass media’s promotion of the latest and most festive holiday clothing, decorations, and gift ideas. One example of this marketing is from a season or two ago when the Gap, a major retailer in the state street shopping district, demanded, “Everybody in leather.” The creation of this inauthentic culture is not limited to Chicago’s State Street. This is just one example. Malls and shopping districts all across America promote this suspension of reality to sell their mass produced items for the “holiday season.” When the Gap says, “Everybody in leather,” they really mean everybody - everybody in America, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, whether you are on State Street or in the Mall of America.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Commercialization of Sports in America

We were discussing Pro sports the other day and I thought "Wow, sports take up a tremendous amount of time in this country." But I wasn't thinking of playing sports with friends and family or clubs, I was thinking about the amount of time and energy Americans spend on watching and discussing professional sports without questioning what we are doing. This includes fantasy leagues, ESPN sportscenter, pregame shows, post game shows, sports radio etc... Too many fans disregard or don't notice that these are ultimately profit making ventures ( Additionally, aren't there many things that could bring people together? A birthday, and anniversary, to catch up with an old friend, for a holiday such as memorial day, labor day, Halloween, etc... Why do we have to get together around the rules of the marketplace? So I don't see anything wrong with enjoying a sporting event per se, but it is when the sporting event replaces interaction and masks the marketplace logic behind it that I begin to question it's role. The danger is when the individual doesn't see this dynamic and becomes a true "fan" (which is short for fanatic), which by definition is an illogical devotion and emotional attachment to a corporate venture without seeing the business. So I guess I am speaking about a fine line and it all depends on one's perception of where the line is. As a personal example, I have been to two parties recently: a family birthday party and an engagement party. One was at a home and one was at a bar/lounge (Tryst Both were events to celebrate and bring people together - both family and friends. And yes both had sporting events on the entire time (not even Chicago teams playing). And so each event although held for different reasons contained large groups of individuals not discussing politics or race or health care or jobs, but instead crowded around a television watching a game very passively. That is where I am drawing the line and I see this happening all too often in America. I think professional sports has become hegemonic in our society. Especially in regards to the strange relationship sports has carved with alcohol. See the Marin Institute's website ( or the Center for Alcohol Marketing on Youth report - see second attachment below, but I'll put a highlight here:

Case Studies: Alcohol Advertising on Selected “Big Games”
Significant amounts of advertising dollars were spent on big sports games for 2001, 2002, and
2003, and spending behind the selected big games in 2002 was 16% higher than 2001, and 6%
less in 2003 than in 2002.
􀂃 NFL Monday Night Football accounted for the greatest amount of alcohol advertising
dollars of any “Big Games” programming category ($40.4 million in 2001, $42.7
million in 2002, $38.4 million in 2003).
􀂃 NCAA basketball tournament games also accounted for a large portion of alcohol
advertising each year ($23.6 million in 2001, $27.6 million in 2002, $21.1 million in
􀂃 The Super Bowl, an annual event, took in $16.3 million in 2001, $24.5 million in 2002
and $29.6 million in 2003 in alcohol advertising. This represents 3.3% of 2001, 4.1%
of 2002, and 5.5% of 2003 alcohol sports spending.
􀂃 More than $5 million was spent on college bowl games, and from $7 million to $9
million was spent on the World Series each year.
􀂃 X-games and women’s sports accounted for the least amount of spending when
compared with the other “big games,” most

Now how do we tell students that alcohol is not funny and not healthy and not for them when they are inundated with this advertising as part of the hegemonic sports culture in America? I think that seeing the big picture (or a sociological imagination) helps us see these connections that are not always apparent.