Last Sunday afternoon under a perfectly mild late summer Atlanta sun, I saw the Atlanta Braves play the Florida Marlins in a tight back-and-forth ball game topped by a late inning rally by the home team.
Yes, I saw the game, but what I heard was an aural bastinado of song snippets and sound effects, and what I viewed behind the field was a constant whirr of color dedicated to selling products and services.
Once I noticed in the third inning that virtually all air space was cluttered with blaring sound, I began to count the seconds between each public address system eruption: only once did more than 10 seconds go by before the completion of one sound and the beginning of the next, many serving as the aural accompaniment to the Jumbotron activity above center field.
These sounds included:
- Snippets of recorded songs to announce home team players
- Snippets of songs played by the organist to announce road team players, often puns, such as “The Weight” for a Marlin named Ross Gload (take a Gload off Fanny…).
- The Braves’ famous Tomahawk chant and hack
- Snippets of other songs redolent of American-Indian culture, such as “Apache”
- Snippets of still other songs, all tending to middle-of-the-road pop, e.g., country pop and pop grunge
- Three or four different clap chants
- The “Charge!” bugle call
- Other sound effects, e.g., someone slipping on a banana peel or a growl of anger
- Two trivia contests with fans, both with a corporate sponsor
- Two other fan drawings, with corporate sponsors
- Music to camera scans of fans in the park
- The “stuffed animal” race that most ballparks seem to have now
- The same vote on which of three songs to play that most ballparks have, except that in Turner Field, they don’t wait a half inning to play the winning tune, but do it right away.
None of this sound and sound-with-pictures ever lasted more than two minutes and about half of it was less than 10 seconds. It was as if the Braves’ management decided that the game was not enough and that most people have the attention span of a three-year-old.
And of course, virtually all of the sound that was more than a grunt or a few bars of a pop song was sponsored by a corporation, including some of the biggest names in the business world.
By the playing of “God Bless America,” I was numb from the shock wave of commoditized sound emanating constantly from the speakers. But many people seemed to like it, dancing in place to the music, clapping when the announcer exhorted them to clap, cheering when told to cheer, doing the tomahawk chant and hack.
Just as many movies have become little more than video games (“The Taking of Pelham 123” or “300,” for example), so have sporting events become little more than VH1 documentaries or “Pop-up video” TV shows, spectacles of short but garish entertainments strung together and hung on the background narrative that is the topic of the documentary or the game.