Sunday, July 04, 2010

David Chidester: Authentic Fakes

I started to write a pregame show review of David Chidester's "Authentic Fakes," about the section on baseball, but it never took off, or I got distracted with Oakland Murals, so most of this review will be about the baseball section.

I picked up this book on my most recent trip to Los Angeles. I meant to go take pictures at the Santa Monica pier, but it was foggy and the parking was expensive, and I had finished my book and needed something to keep me company since I can't sleep without Mac and I figured I'd want to read on the plane home. Right, the plane ride that I slept through from before takeoff till after landing. Anyway, you can take the girl out of college, but you can't take the nerd out of the girl. David Chidester rocked my world in college, and he still does. The premise of "Authentic Fakes" is that lots of things that Americans participate in as "popular culture" actually fall under the category of "religion," if the definition/category is expanded or even evaluated enough. If you look beyond disparaging words like "fetish," "superstitious," "cult," and "magic," which Chidester finds counterproductive in his analyses, there is a lot to discuss in the intersections of religion and popular culture.

I found a lot of this book tedious- I mean, it really is a book you'd read in college, in an anthro course, or a religion course- and not all of it believable. There's sections on the "American" gang in South Africa, and internet religions, and they didn't all make me buy into Chidester's thesis that "popular culture is doing a kind of religious work." I like the thesis, but I just lost him sometimes- Tupperware? The Tupperware factory as a pilgrimage site? He lost me sometimes, and partly because he didn't go into enough details, choosing to go for breadth rather than depth. In the baseball section, he went into a lot of details, and I knew the rest. So I will cut to the chase, because it was my favorite part, and because I had already written it out and never posted it: The Church of Baseball.

We're just past the All Star Break, and I am very much involved in the Church of Baseball. My boyfriend, Joe Blanton, pitched a pretty poor game again today, after getting better his last few starts, and it seems like things are going downhill for the Phils. (Actually, since I wrote this, he pitched a stellar game into the ninth, which his team then busted up for him.This sucks, because the Phillies are my backup team. I only have a backup team because a) my boyfriend moved there and b) the A's always suck. I love the A's, I'm a diehard A's fan, but it can be truly depressing to be a diehard A's fan.

There are good times. And there are bad times. I've written before that baseball is an outlet for fans to express their emotions while players are supposed to play their role of stoic heroes. For Chidester, the Church of Baseball is like any church: it is an institution, governed by rules. You follow? Because I do! Baseball, Chidester writes, also "ensures a sense of continuity in the midst of a constantly changing America... Like a church, Major League Baseball institutionalizes a sacred memory of the past that informs the present." (I can see my dad, resenter of all organized religions cringing right now.) But it's true- we think of Babe Ruth when we discuss home run hitters, and Lou Gherig when we discuss Cal Ripken when we discuss Miguel Tejada.

"Baseball," Chidester continues, "supporst a sense of uniformity, a sense of belonging to a vast, extended American family that attends the same church." When I was a kid, dad and I didn't stand for the national anthem. I don't know what changed, but we do now (no, it wasn't 9/11). Forget the patriotism, it's true- I smile at people in A's hats and scowl at Yankee's fans (this also evokes the us/them dichotomy of religion). Church is about ritual belonging, as is baseball. We sit in a stadium, we rise and sit together, not because a priest or rabbi tells us to, but because of good and bad plays. It's a religious ritual. I'm still in.

As if you weren't convinced (OK maybe you weren't), "baseball represents the sacred time of ritual... the entire proceedings of the game are coordinated through a ritualization of time. But baseball also affords those extraordinary moments of ecstasy and enthusiasm, revelation and inspiration that seem to stand outside the ordinary temporal flow." It doesn't get better than this- the 9 innings, 3 outs, ritualized start times, day games, night games, 162 games, etc. And then, the moments of plays you've never seen, clutch hits, and the roar of the crowd when something INCREDIBLE happens. The triple play (yes I was there!), the bungled play, the amazing play where everything seems to slow down and speed up, collectively, for all of the fans.

Chidester goes on with many examples- some believable, some not. I was particularly baffled by some of the talk of aliens, Africa/America connections (this didn't seem religious, but historical to me), and the internet stuff. This isn't a book normal people should pick up. But think about the baseball thing, lo ye baseball dorks. Just think about it. And bow to the Shrine of Baseball as you root, root, root, for the home team!