Two groups, one might call them the St. Louis Cardinals and the St. Louis Browns, clashed outside of Busch Stadium. The latter group protested the August killing of a teen; the former group puzzled over an October baseball game serving as the venue to air the grievance.
Supporters of the slain Ferguson, Missouri, teen chanted, “Justice for Mike Brown!” Supporters of St. Louis’s baseball team shouted back, “Let’s go Cardinals!” Mike Brown’s partisans repeated the loud mantra, “Fight back!” Red Birds fans responded, “Get a job!” The hands-up-don’t-shoot contingent waved an upside down American flag. A take-me-out-to-the-ballgame type of guy countered by taping an “I am Darren Wilson” sign to his back.
Who will protest those protesting the protestors? The Fourth Estate, of course.
If one were to read coverage of this nonevent at Deadspin (“The guy in the Darren Wilson jersey wasn’t even the worst part”), the Huffington Post (“seriously racist”), or Salon (“hateful behavior from Cardinals fans”), one might come away with the impression that an Aryan Nations meeting rather than a baseball game took place at Busch Stadium late Monday. This spontaneous but generally tame counterprotest passes for racism in an America a long way from Bull Connor, Theodore Bilbo, and George Wallace.
The people who demonstratively seek to eradicate racists, everywhere create them. In this world of anti-racists strangely desperate for racists, “Why don’t you buy a beer and watch the ballgame!” strikes sensitive ears as the equivalent of “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” Bigotry ain’t what it used to be.
The non sequitur protest expectedly–as indicated by the group’s video of the event with a narrator eagerly pointing out instances of racism real and imagined–encountered hostility. Several people expressed rudeness or ignorance. Others, understandably, displayed drunkenness. The park is named after a beer company, after all. But no N-words were uttered, crosses torched, or white hoods donned in the video making the rounds. One struggles to hear a few curse words; fistfights don’t break out. Disagreements do.
The protest bewildered more than outraged the fans shown in the viral video. One Cardinals devotee notes that he, too, objects to Officer Wilson killing the unarmed teen but then chides the activists for selecting such a bizarre venue to vent their anger. Protest an execution? Sure. Protest layoffs? Okay. But protest a baseball game? There’s a reason the game’s name follows “mom” and precedes “apple pie.”
Alas, when the Ferguson News Network abruptly jumps formats to the Ebola News Network, glomming on to mass-media spectacles such as a playoff game becomes a necessity. If the cameras won’t come to them, they will go to the cameras. Hands up, do shoot.
The two sides drowning out the other’s slogans share more in common than either admits. “Fan” stands for “fanatic,” a parochial, even bigoted creature found in the bleachers and in the horde marching between the sandwich boards. Enthusiasts of Mike Brown, like enthusiasts of the St. Louis Cardinals, appear wedded to the idea that their cause–be it incarcerating a cop or raising a pennant–represents pure, complete justice.
Surely more than a few Busch Stadium true believers would try to persuade the unconverted of Jack Clark’s superiority as a home-run hitter to Harmon Killebrew. And should the Giants sweep the Cardinals, St. Louis loyalists won’t concede the argument that San Francisco possesses the better ballclub. Blind loyalty serves as the vice and virtue of the fan.
This same characteristic that charms when glimpsed in, say, Fireman Ed bellowing “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets,” or John Adams beating his war drums in Cleveland, disturbs when found in political animals.
Despite the participants engaging in identical behavior, the crowds in old newsreels wildly cheering on Joe DiMaggio leave viewers with a very different feeling than the crowds in old newsreels wildly cheering on Benito Mussolini. For good reason we despise the fair-weather fan and the rigid ideologue, two antipodal archetypes that demonstrate that behavior acceptable among sports enthusiasts remains abhorrent among the human parts of the mass-movement whole.
One grasped this point merely by closing one’s eyes to the protest video and opening one’s ears.
There’s a mindlessness in chants. This is to say they shut off rather than turn on thoughts. Such rhyming mantras serve as the curriculum in most preschools. That the lingua franca of the four-year-old doubles as the Esperanto of protest marches speaks to the idiocy of most demonstrations. If monosyllabic barks, rote, sing-songy nursery rhymes, and placard sloganeering doesn’t convince that protests convince only in their inherent stupidity, then a conversation with any random sign-holder certainly will. Like the Cardinals fan believing his ’13 team superior to their vanquishers from Boston, the Mike Brown activists appear impervious to the possibility that the man-child who physically bullied a weak storeowner might have staged the same act minutes later with an armed policeman.
“All mass movements strive…to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world,” Eric Hoffer wrote in The True Believer. “They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it. The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ.”
Thus do Diamondbacks diehards imagine their team in next year’s World Series. Thus do St. Michael Brown acolytes imagine their icon as a “gentle giant.”
Fans? True believers? What’s the difference? Nothing and everything.