Ritzer, G and Stillman, T (2001) 'The Postmodern Ballpark as a Leisure Setting: Enchantment and Simulated De- McDonaldization', in Leisure Sciences, 23: 99 - 113.
This article describes the development of new ways of packaging baseball. In the process, baseball illustrates how leisure can be combined with, and dominated by consumption practices. The theoretical term used to describe changes in baseball is the Weberian notion of disenchantment, developed best in Ritzer (1999). Basically, baseball originally offered 'enchanted, magical settings' (99), then they grew increasingly rationalized or McDonaldized. However, the fully rationalised baseball stadia produced disenchantment, a loss of the 'magical qualities that attract consumers' (100). The loss of customers threatened the commercial viability of baseball, together with other problems to do with salaries and strikes, and this led to the redesign of ballparks to attract both more and more diverse customers. This reflects the same process that is indicated by 'gentrification of our cities', and has the same effect of excluding the poor. In this and other ways, the process of re-enchantment is not simply one of de-McDonaldization: aspects of McDonaldized organisation remain, but these are now disguised by a superficial covering of fun and spectacle to keep the fans enchanted.
Ritzer and Stillman expand these points by:
(1 ) Offering a social history of baseball, stressing their early role as places of spectacle and generalised entertainment 'as early as the 1800s' (101). Nevertheless these tendencies have now been dramatically developed. The earliest forms attracted considerable loyalty from fans, and gained their charm from 'the heroic events that took place in them' (101). From the 1960s to the 80s, baseball stadia were rationalized, made larger and devoted to multiple uses. However, they were not particularly popular -- '[fans]... were fed up with the disenchanted homeliness of the late modern, multi-use parks' (101) and with the game and its increasing commercialisation and industrial tensions. As a result, 'fun ball parks' were built. Sometimes they simulated some of the classic parks and their features, but they also added additional forms of consumption, spectacle, and aspects of regional differentiation and local identity. It is clear that the desire to increase profits is a factor, and more money can be made by charging higher prices to a more middle-class audience. However, the McDonaldization thesis still applies, together with its 'Weberian perspective and its pessimistic view of the future' (102).
(2) Describing some of the 'extravaganzas' now on offer, which include impressive electronic displays, landscape attractions, music and fireworks (especially at Anaheim, owned by the Disney Corporation). Here, postmodernist notions such as 'implosion' are tried out to describe the fusion between leisure and consumption more generally. Examples here include the inclusion of shopping centres, food courts, beer gardens and bars, video arcades, museums and amusement parks in baseball stadia.
(3) The older ball parks were small and charmingly idiosyncratic, with layouts or climatic conditions that introduced unpredictability. They also displayed a highly symbolic 'patina' which confirmed their historical status (104). New ball parks try to simulate these qualities, to build upon the fans' liking for the early ball parks and their distaste for the larger multi-use stadia. Sometimes, this includes using historical local buildings, such as railway stations. This can be done so skilfully, that the latest ballparks look really 'authentic'. Fans like this look: this is either because they are unable to tell the difference between authentic and inauthentic stadia, as is implied by postmodernist concepts such as 'hyperreality', or perhaps they simply don't care about the differences as long as they can consume the pleasures on offer. It is true that the recent stadia have not reproduced the inconveniences of the early parks, such as poor amenities. As postmodernism predicts, time and space have been manipulated here, and the recent stadia offer a 'temporal pastiche' (106). They also offer a combination of standardization and localisation, with attempts to construct a local identity for the parks, which can include 'iconic quirks on the model of the early modern parks' (106).
(4) Baseball is now much more capital intensive and commercialised, or gentrified. Ticket prices increased tremendously, and thus the working-class fan base has been neglected. Park owners often benefit from subsidies from local government. The salaries of players have become a significant aspect of costs. Thus it is the working-class fans who are really victims of the improvements. This is a significant change in baseball, which'increasingly will be the pastime of corporations with their luxury boxes and of yuppies with their credit cards' (108).
(5) However, marxist analysis focused on profit-making will not explain rationalization as an ideology, or the extension of rationalization into areas where there is no immediate pay-off, including many leisure settings. We need Weber here, and there is still space for McDonaldization. In leisure, there is more scope for resistance then there may be with the rationalization of work: 'some people may find rationality off putting', and so the 'cold inhumanity of rationalization' needs to be camouflaged (108). In the case of baseball, this has led to a selective, but not a total de-McDonaldization. Sometimes this will assist profit-making. In the case of baseball, a reintroduction of the quality of the viewing experience, as opposed to quantitative calculations of seating capacity has paid off. Similarly, reducing the predictability of the game, by using natural grass and open stadia, or different layouts, can increase the excitement. Although multi-use stadia can be operated efficiently all the year round, specialized stadia just for baseball can still make money. Similarly, it might not make sense to offer minimum standards to the fans in terms of things such as catering, especially if the aim is to attract more affluent fans. These look like reverses of McDonaldization, but highly rationalized aspects remain, including efficient crowd control, computerisation of ticket sales and scoreboards, and the efficient provision of catering and souvenirs. This 'combination of the retro with rationalization, a pastiche of the two' (110) seem acceptable to the fans.
(6) The same postmodern pastiches are found in theme parks, and it is increasingly difficult to separate a real baseball game from participation in a baseball theme park. The experience of attending a baseball game has been 'greatly transformed', and possibly no longer offers real baseball at all (111). 'The ball park is no longer an oasis as it was for turn of the century fans who sought respite from urban industrialised society. It has been colonised by the consumer culture' (111). This shows a general trend that 'strenuous efforts to manufacture leisure tend to pervert it... however authentic, there is something intrinsically constraining about postmodern leisure' (111). [Hint here of the 'unhappy consumer', or even of the colonisation of the life world by system imperatives]. Baseball has been turned into a theme which has become merely 'layer[ed]... over the same rationalized and commodified core processes that characterise all of the new means of consumption. The result is not quite baseball and not quite a shopping mall but something in between' (111).
[Many links suggested themselves to recent debates about soccer grounds in the UK, many of which are being replaced by glitzy superstadia. There is also asubstantial decline in fan attendance going on at the moment which may or may not be linked (the usual explanation turns on the steeply increased ticket prices). For a criticisms of the effects of 'sanitising' cricket grounds, try this excellent article from the Guardian.]
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