The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

The Single Stupidest Thing Ever Written

Good. Gravy. I’m going to fisk this.

“NEW YORK – Let’s start with the popcorn. It is unfair to call it a tub of popcorn, as they do at the new Yankee Stadium. Perhaps a trough of popcorn, or a tank of popcorn, and, at 2,473 calories, definitely a gutbuster of popcorn. All around the newest theater of excess are such indulgences, culinary and otherwise, this particular caloric dirty bomb available for $12.”

I was in a restaurant a month or two ago where they had a really great buffalo burger with fries- absolutely delicious, totally irresistible, and a horrifying 1500 calories as I recall. My devilish plan of attack was this: I ate the burger, I ate the fries, I got a salad with that, I went out for a run that evening, and had soup or some such for dinner. 2200ish calories intake, minus what the run burned. SHOCKING FORESIGHT. I’m given to understand that I may not even be unique in my ability to plan my indulgences….

But of course the reality of what people do with that much popcorn and all those calories isn’t the point of this introductory paragraph. The point is YOUR POPCORN IS IMMORAL YOU GREASY PIGS, no? Bonus tonedeaf-and-tasteless points for getting a terrorism reference into an article about a New York team- we asked for it it, because we ordered the Large!

“That’s the thing about the new Yankee Stadium: Not only is it the biggest, the newest, the most expensive and the self-described best – the homage to everything that was America – it gets away with it, charm intact, for one simple reason.

The New York Yankees are unapologetic in their embrace of that culture. They are the canyon of popcorn and the 1,410-calorie plate of nachos and the 1,360-calorie bag of peanuts and the 1,341-calorie cup of cheese fries, and their fans are still begging for a heart attack.”

He really hates all that traditional ballpark food, doesn’t he? Keep that in mind. Note also that two paragraphs in, we’ve already degenerated into vast, nonspecific generalizations- “that culture”. Which culture? New York culture, rich elite culture, everyone’s favorite rhetorical whipping boy the “American culture of excess”? I’m going to need specifics here, because otherwise I’ll end up asking in what way are, say, financial malefactions on Wall Street linked to popcorn size at this stadium, except by vague geographic proximity? In what way does this have any more value as a connection, factual or rhetorical, than, say, my eating at a steakhouse in Texas and claiming that the size of the portions and the ready availability of red meat was a symbol of the bloodlust and overreach of the Bush presidency? Both are or would be utter non-sequiturs. Even the vaguely more defensible idea that the author is addressing some amorphous general quality of “American excess” makes little sense given that he’s trying to use this stadium as a symbol thereof- when anyone who pays the least bit of attention to the wider world can name you ten stadia in Europe at a similar level of opulence, starting with Old Trafford, the New Wembley, the Emirates….

“Which made the official christening of the $1.5 billion stadium Thursday afternoon an event laden with grins and excitement (and arterial plaque buildup), even as the Cleveland Indians stomped the Yankees, 10-2. More than halfway through April, the Yankees finally had their home opener, and any of the 48,271 present can attest that the team’s new dwelling lived up to its billing, good and bad.”

Which is why the only quotes in the article are from the dumbest person alive, who we’ll meet in a bit. Couldn’t be cherry picking, could it?

“It’s unclear whether Yankee Stadium wants to be a ballpark with killer amenities or a mall with a baseball field in the middle. The inside of the stadium is freakishly loyal to its predecessor, like twins who look identical but are actually fraternal. The differences are ornamental, and because of its classic look, the initial thought is: Really, $1.5 billion? And you didn’t reinvent the baseball stadium like Camden Yards in 1993? The toilet seats are definitely gold-plated, right?”

So the problem with the excess is that it’s not opulent and flashy enough? In their wild American excess, symbolic of the age, they preserved the appearance of a ballpark built in 1923?

“One trip around the concourse, and suddenly the cost makes more sense. It is a sea of goods, the free market through a Yankee kaleidoscope, a study in old-fashioned gluttony. It is a cheesesteak line 50 people deep, and a beer garden serving 14 sudsy favorites, and pink foam fingers next to pink hats with flowers alongside pink hats with glitter-covered NY logos.”

Gee, with 48,000 in a 52,000 seater, I figured there’d be no lines for anything. I mean, surely with that excess and opulence, there must be individual sedan chairs carrying patrons to individual vendors, no? Not just people waiting to buy lunch? All I’ll say about the rest is that if choices of beer makes you think of the fall of empire and pink hats terrify you, you need to get out of your treefort with the “no girls allowed” sign on it more often. I will also buy a pink hat for the first person to explain to me why the presence of shops explains the stadium cost; are they running at a loss?

“Next to the hat wall, where more than 100 styles are available, stood Kelley Rutkowski, a 23-year-old from New Jersey. She already had wrecked her diet for the day with the nachos and was inclined to do similar damage with her credit card, because her seat happened to be in the shade, and she was chilly. She found a hooded sweatshirt adorned with rhinestones. She looked at the price tag: $125. Rutkowski quickly summoned David Sidibe, a young salesman.

“Those are diamonds, right?” she said.

Sidibe’s eyes apologized.

“I literally can’t afford to keep warm at this game,” Rutkowski said. “Can I just tell you, David, this is a sin. I’m freaking freezing, and there’s no way I’m spending $125 on a freaking sweatshirt, because that’s how this country got into this mess.””

What. I just…what? How…how can….one person be this….dumb? How does this person get dressed in the morning and eat breakfast without drowning in the cereal or pouring coffee in their eyes? BRING A JACKET, you excruciating cretin. It’s been in the mid 50’s to low 60’s here of late, and common sense might tell you that if you’re sitting still outdoors in the breeze for 3 hours in that weather, maybe you should take a light wrap. Or, you know, sit there and shiver and complain about how American Capitalism has destroyed your dreams or whatnot. It’s like the definition of cursing the darkness instead of lighting a candle. And lest it pass without mention, the one idiot quoted in this article actually undermines whatever point the author was going for, since they are explicitly NOT participating in ruinous American excess or whathaveyou, they’re just whining about not being able to afford whatever goofy item they were looking at. Unless the stadium explicitly bans coats and sells 100 hat styles and one sweatshirt, this whole section is ludicrous.

“Never have $125 hoodies been mentioned alongside credit-default swaps and subprime mortgages. Indeed, a day of firsts, from that to Johnny Damon slicing the first hit into center field and Jorge Posada mashing the first home run into the new Monument Park in center.

“I knew that when I came here,” Rutkowski said, “I was going to spend a bunch of money I don’t have.””

And yet the core rhetorical gambit here is as old as sport, and specially associated with baseball: attempting to scry some special insight into the soul of the nation based on random occurrences from a single game of a single sport in a single city on a single day in a single stadium with a single crowd. You might as well read tea leaves or cast bones. Indeed you might be better off with such methods, since while all are equally bogus this particular sort of column about this particular sport is so threadbare and used up that virtually anyone with eyes to see can look right through it, and disregard the credibility of the author in doing so.

And also, if you’re spending money you don’t have, STAY HOME. I’ve been to one Knicks game this year because $80 a ticket is brutal. If I went to more and couldn’t afford it I’d be an idiot, not a bellwether of the national character.

“Rutkowski didn’t give in to the hoodie’s 74 rhinestones, principle preventing her from brandishing her MasterCard. Others did, and the Yankees reaped untold millions in merchandise and concession sales. Forget the competitive advantage given them by location and television rights; the Yankees’ revenues from the vendors and the tickets that range up to $2,625 for the front row will do plenty to cover a $200 million payroll.”

…so they’re spending on players and the stadium what they can afford based on revenues? This is the definition of wild excess?

“All because people buy into what the Yankees sell. It’s a lifestyle based around winning, and how doing so demands the biggest, newest and best. Depending on the perspective, either the Yankees are profiteers and the fans suckers, or both are willing participants in a time-honored waltz: pure commercialism.”

Or maybe both prices and incomes are much higher in New York than in most areas of the country leading to generally inflated prices and revenue figures, which fans are willing to pay because they can and they consider it a reasonable price to watch a game of baseball. If you’re selling out a 52,000 seater virtually every game, 81 times a year, it’s hard for me to buy the story that there’s something inherently wrong here. Really the only way this argument (if it rises to that level) makes the least bit of sense is if you assume there’s some specific “moral” price of a baseball ticket, where charging more makes you a profiteer and paying more makes you a sucker. At this point we’re trending off into elementary political economics which is a whole larger argument, so let me just say: if tens of thousands a week want to spend their money this way on this team in a metropolitan area in which there’s literally thousands of competing entertainments at every conceivable price point (including watching the games on TV!), I’m not really prepared to assume that they’re making a stupid or unwise choice. And further, if the intrusion of money into sport renders it “pure commercialism”, then sport has never been anything but since prizes were handed out among the Greeks. Get over it.

“Otherwise, the Yankees would still be at the old stadium, American sports’ truest cauldron of history. It remains standing next door and over the next few years will be picked apart by the atom and sold. And if the Yankees could split those atoms and peddle each for double, surely they would.”

That would of course be the stadium which the current one is apparently an eerie recreation of; but I suppose you can’t recreate “ghosts”, “aura”, “mystique” and “that stale urine smell in the bathrooms” or “that time in 1998 when a falling beam destroyed a section of seating and closed the place for two weeks”, right? Best not to mention the endless renovations over the old stadium’s 85 year run which completely remodeled much of the original in the mid-70’s as well, including full on demolition and rebuilding of some sections, enough so that some authorities consider the two to be separate facilities. Incidentally, a quick calculation reveals that the old Yankee Stadium cost about $300 million in 2007 dollars on its initial construction, with an additional equivalent of $610 million spent during the reconstruction in the 70’s. As we all know however, those were the days of history, whereas now it’s just pure commercialism as money infects the game. Right folks?

“Now, instead of the filth and funk of an 85-year-old stadium, the Yankees offer pears. Three kinds. And three varieties of apples, too. And tangerines and oranges and bananas, all for sale at the farmer’s market, which is near the Legends Suite Club, with its folded napkins, polished silverware and vases housing flowers. And, for Ruth and Mickey and Joe D’s sake, the Lobel’s stand that sells hunks of uncooked meat. In a stadium. Four ribeyes for $120.”

A pear mugged my grandma once, you know. Vicious things. Hey, remember a couple of paragraphs up when this guy was ranting about all that damn popcorn and cheese fries and such? I rather doubt he did by the time he got to this part of the article, because otherwise he might have wondered if being against almost all food items sold at baseball games might look a bit silly. So far as I can tell from this he apparently believes that it’s a moral point that only medium sizes of traditional ballpark foods be offered. An interesting hill to die on.

“It’s one thing to push an island of popcorn. But beef? Raw beef? Deep down, beneath the Yankees’ money-making behemoth, could there exist the slightest sliver of guilt for something as disturbing as seeing dry-aged beef on display in a ballpark?”

A challenge for all moral philosophers out there: please create a cogent argument as to why selling meat in a ballpark represents something for which a person should feel guilt; show your work.

Honestly though, we all know what the real argument here is: “Things are different! I feel uncomfortable and upset! Change frightens me! This is not my beautiful house! How did I get here?” And it’s a stupid, stupid argument. Indeed it’s among the most thoughtless a person can use, because it has zero intellectual content: it’s just emotion, badly expressed and incoherent in its nebulousness, sinister insofar as its lazily ascribes moral weight to simple differences of taste. If this author wrote politics instead of sports, I would bet good money on him being one of those goofballs who complains about America needing better immigration limits and border control because the imported salsa at his grocery store frightens him. What can you do with this sort of person?

“Nope. Not an iota. And it’s edifying, in a way, that the Yankees stayed true to themselves and their believers, responsibility be damned. It’s the American way, after all.”

I’ll just ask the same questions I ask whenever I see that word used: responsibility to who, for what, for what reasons? Any just moral claim can answer them very easily, most specious ones don’t even think they matter.

““This is going to stand the test of time,” Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon said. “The economy will one day get right. So in time, people will look at this and say it’s definitely worth it.”

They’ll look at the Great Hall, ultimately the stadium showpiece, a meeting place festooned with vertical banners of Yankees greats. It’s a long corridor walled with impossibly large pieces of limestone and granite, the sort that recall an opulent style abandoned long ago. Few are willing to spend the necessary money for such quality.

Why do the Yankees? It’s who they are. Another stop in the gift shop spells it out explicitly. A different hooded sweatshirt, one without rhinestones, is available for $70. On the front it reads YANKEES UNIVERSE, a friendly reminder for those who may have forgotten.”

Why do I suspect the reporter didn’t mention this sweatshirt to his quote, for fear it might ruin his story?

Folks, this article is dumb. Real dumb. In fact it’s a particularly fine example of its species of dumb, the Lazy Moral Scold Without Specifics. If there’s anything a psych degree taught me, it’s that in the aggregate people are fairly predictable; so one of the reasons I follow sports and the sports media is because the ways in which people are intellectually lazy or thoughtless about things and the worthless arguments they use tend to be the same from field to field. The ways people are dumb about sports are the ways they’re dumb about, say, bioethics or foreign policy in the middle east, more often than not. Think about this the next time you’re evaluating political or commercial appeals- it cuts through the clutter marvelously.

Incidentally, all facts mentioned here came from Wikipedia and a first page google search result for an inflation adjuster. Apparently that’s outside Yahoo’s research budget these days.

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April 17, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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