Monday, August 31, 2009

Passing a Metaphorical Torch



Last week, I read Greg Kot's Ripped during some pretty appropriate times. In between chapters, I used some free time to e-mail song files to a friend of mine for the Aught Music blog. In addition to this, I burned a handful of CDs for a co-worker as part of a music exchange. Today, these actions can be done with minimal thought, with most of the concentration being put into which songs to select. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that sharing music files and making my own CDs would have seemed almost incomprehensible ten years ago. To say that technology has changed music in the past decade (both conceptually and from a distribution standpoint) is akin to declaring that "the sky is blue" or "Tuesday tends to follow Monday on the calendar." While the remarks are true, there's much more detail and explanation below the surface. In his book, Kot gives a detailed, expansive history of the relationship between music and technological advances in the past decade. Again, said relationship may already seem well-known and documented, but like knowing that the sky is blue, we still need to refer to earth science texts from time to time.

Kot devotes ample discussion to the software developments (Napster, iTunes, etc.) and lawsuits filed by the major record labels. When one thinks of music and technology, these are probably (and rightfully so) the first ideas that might come to mind. However, there's much more to explain. Many of the monopolistic labels and corporations merely assumed that the money would continually come in via physical CD sales and concert revenues. This might seem obvious, but no matter how important the creative process is to music, the bottom line is always a deciding factor.

"With consolidation came pressure to produce profit. The multinationals were effectively run by their shareholders, who wanted a steady flow of quarterly returns to justify their investment. But in an industry supposedly devoted to creating a highly volatile and unpredictable product--music--this was hardly a sound strategy. How to reconcile the whims of creativity with the need for producing profit on a prescribed schedule (Kot 7)?"

The ability to download music for free led (and still leads) to two aspects, one of which is undoubtedly healthy, while the other one is still in a gray area. Kot supplies some anonymous quotes from music downloaders, and their opinions tend to fall into a creative category or a financial one. With a good portion of radio stations only playing mainstream hits, the Internet exposed people to independent and underground music that otherwise may have remained elusive. However, some browsers just didn't want to pay, especially with the rising costs of CDs, even with production costs being lowered. It's a classic example of taking the (potentially) bad (people 'stealing' music) with the good (people discovering new artists). Yet at the same time, there's potential for listeners to actually increase their music purchases when it's available for free.

"Within a week, I'll get four to five albums from friends like that. If I like the band, most of the time it leads to going to a concert. I will buy later CDs from the band or I'll buy previous CDs..."--Adam, college student in Seattle, born 1988 (68)."

These sections of the book are heavy on morals, pros, and cons, but the best sections are the ones I wasn't expecting when I picked it up. Kot details quite a few bands and their debt to the Internet. Some acts have become huge, and it all started with downloads and small yet feverish fan bases doing their part to help. Examples range from well-known (by today's standards) bands like Death Cab For Cutie:

"And in many ways a typical [year] for a struggling independent band with no major-label budget from which to siphon. On tour, the band was making $50 a night, barely enough to cover fuel expenses to get to the next town. Paying for a hotel was out of the question, so they'd shack up with fans, sleeping on floors and couches. That's when it became apparent that something else was going on, something they couldn't control but that was benefiting them in ways they couldn't quite yet fully grasp (73-74)."

...to lesser known musicians who use the Internet and developments to the best of their abilities, such as Dan Deacon:

"'If my album didn't leak [on the Internet] as far in advance as it did, not as many people would have heard it and the shows I did over the summer wouldn't have been as well attended. All these markets that the music industry has ignored are now being exploited by people you would not think of as pop stars (174).'"

Kot closes the book on the expected note, with the rise of bands (namely Radiohead) offering their work for free or for suggested donations. The beauty of his writing is that it's pure journalism. The actions of record labels and file sharers leave themselves open for a myriad of opinions, both postive and negative. Kot doesn't judge one way or another (even though it's obvious that he sides with the listeners), but rather presents the history of the Internet's mark on the music industry. As evidenced in his last book on Wilco (Learning How To Die), he's skilled at documenting individual bands both historically and emotionally, which can be difficult at times given the intangible qualities of the art form. Ripped is a very quick read, but there's no doubt that Kot knows his subject. He can write about artists as different as Bright Eyes and Nine Inch Nails, and his tone never changes, only the necessary details. I've only hinted at a few of the subjects and topics of the book. There will undoubtedly be more concise looks at the varying ideas, but Kot hits his marks, presenting a varied history with detail, but moving at a brisk pace without sacrificing style or major points.

Work Cited:
Kot, Greg. Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music. Copyright 2009 by Greg Kot.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

True Americana



There's really no need to mention a specific list. Whether one is discussing the essential postmodern authors, the essential American writers of the past thirty or so years, or an international list, Don DeLillo is virtually guaranteed placement anywhere. Personally, I've probably included him on some of my own lists, but the more I think about him, I don't have that much of his bibliography checked off on my reading lists. I read his debut novel, Americana, roughly six years ago. My memory of it is very, very sketchy, but I clearly remember not being terribly impressed (then again, I wasn't as well read at that time). White Noise followed, and it immediately restored my faith in DeLillo's warranted hype and acclaim. Cosmopolis lost me after about forty pages, and until recently, Underworld has held a noticeable place on my bookshelf; the only problem being, I've kept putting it off, occasionally reading the prologue, and feeling guilty that such an essential text was collecting dust. I've owned the book for a few years, and I've finally given it the proper time and attention.

The tidy description of Underworld is that the novel is a metaphor of American life and ideals following World War II, during the Cold War, and the formative years following both conflicts. The story revolves around two people, Nick Shay and Klara Sax, who knew each other very briefly and sexually when he was a teenager and she was a young mother. They reunite just as briefly in the beginning of the story, politely and maturely, and their interactions hint at a much longer, intertwining history:

"'I thought I owed us this visit. Whatever that means,' I said.
'I know what it means. You feel a loyalty. The past brings out our patriotism, you know? We want to feel an allegiance. It's the one undivided allegiance, to all those people and things.'
'And it gets stronger.'
'Sometimes I think everything I've done since those years, everything around me in fact, I don't know if you feel this way but everything is vaguely--what--fictitious (DeLillo 73).'"

Klara is an esteemed artist, and Nick is a waste management official. The difference in these occupations and lifestyles is manifested in the differences in their lives and histories, along with a supporting cast of dozens, sketched and crafted in staggering detail by DeLillo. Whether directly or through varying degrees of separation, the characters are connected by the travels of a baseball, the ball hit by Bobby Thomson off of Ralph Branca, a home run that gave the New York Giants the 1951 pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers. It's known as "The Shot Heard 'Round the World," arguably one of the most famous moments in American sports history. This most American of moments, in the most American sport, is the launching pad for the myriad of events and personalities that follow.

"Pafko at the wall. Then he's looking up. People thinking where's the ball. The scant delay, the stay in time that lasts a hairsbreadth. And Cotter standing in section 35 watching the ball come in his direction. He feels his body turn to smoke. He loses sight of the ball when it climbs above the overhang and he thinks it will land in the upper deck. But before he can smile or shout or bash his neighbor on the arm. Before the moment can overwhelm him, the ball appears again, stitches visibly spinning, that's how near it hits, banging at an angle off a pillar--hands flashing everywhere (42)."

Cotter Martin is the first of a few people to have possession of this baseball, but the above passage is a terrific example of DeLillo's ability to break down such a monumental point of history into a private, reflexive moment of one person. In addition, moments that register as seemingly private on the outside are given just as much detail, rendering them much larger than they actually are. This may seem like a catch-22, but DeLillo's eye for detail makes the small seem large and the large seem small. An example of this expansion:

"He [Brian Glassic, an associate of Nick's] also did it as a provocation. Brian believed I was safely encased, solid, with a house and family folded around me, surer than he was, older but also physically superior, physically fit, a man of hardier stuff, this was his own stated theme--a man who keeps his counsel. And it greatly fazed him, it made him want to chip away, make boyish forays, place claims on my attention (108)."

During my first attempt at Underworld those years back, I remember being dismayed by fictional accounts of famous personalities, namely Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, and J. Edgar Hoover watching the Giants/Dodgers game together. At the time, I felt that DeLillo included them as caricatures of sorts, quintessential 1950s representations, but now, the famous inclusions seem essential. After all, what is a true look at postwar America, imagined or otherwise, without the factor of famous power or celebrity? There are several imagined stand up routines performed by Lenny Bruce later in the book, which serves as yet another terrific metaphor. Bruce was the ultimate counterculture icon of his time, and his audience, both in real life and the novel, were allegorical mixes of people who understood the honesty of what he said, and people who either strongly opposed this frankness or were not accustomed to hearing it spoken aloud. One might subconsciously think that George Carlin (for example) could have been used just as easily as Bruce, but Carlin didn't suffer the same amount of backlash, scrutiny, and private investigations.

The aforementioned occupational differences between Nick and Klara may seem obvious, but there's much more that lies below the surface, even literally, in Nick's line of work in waste management. A running idea is that the history of any given culture or civilization, not just America, can be studied and explained by what its inhabitants threw away or buried.

"[Brian] looked at all that soaring garbage and knew for the first time what his job was all about. Not engineering or transportation or source reduction. He dealt in human behavior, people's habits and impulses, their uncontrollable needs and innocent wishes, maybe their passions, certainly their excesses and indulgences but their kindness too, their generosity, and the question was how to keep this mass metabolism from overwhelming us (184)."

A sampling of Klara's mentality as an artist:

"Art in which the moment is heroic, American art, the do-it-now, the fuck-the-past--she could not follow that. She could look at it and respect it, envy it, even, in a way, but not, herself, place hand to object and make some furious now, some brilliant jack-off gesture that asserts an independence (377)."

Obviously, there are several passages, characters, and plot points that I haven't given the proper attention in this essay, but the relationship between Nick and Klara, and the paths in which their lives go in the novel, is one of the better interpretations of American postwar history, the mixing of (and independence of) American business classes and creative classes. As they grow older, the two characters seem to switch roles and personalities. Nick is a rebellious teen, and Klara is a semi-stable housewife. As we see Nick as an adult, his outward persona appears stable, whereas Klara's life calling is one that would seem to naturally lend itself to rebellious qualities. The beauty of DeLillo's creation is that neither one fits comfortably into occupational stereotypes, and while the two are separated for most of the book, there's a definite understanding of how they've affected each other. They're both flawed, passionate, and committed, and despite their independence, they would not be who they are without the other, even if the relationship is neither close, conventional, or ongoing.

Work Cited:
DeLillo, Don. Underworld. Copyright 1997 by Don DeLillo.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Play On Words



Review: Heloise & Abelard, by Blank Line Collective.

"What if you could write a letter to that one person? What would you write? What if you had to re-live the entirety of that relationship from start to finish as you write? Would this be the letter where you finally get to say everything you ever needed to say?"

While killing time before Saturday night's performance of Heloise & Abelard, I had one of those moments that are equal parts serendipitous and just plain creepy. Reading Don DeLillo's novel Underworld, I stumbled across this particular passage about ten minutes before showtime, and I had to re-read it a few times:

"She stood on the roof of a factory building, a space made available for the evening so that a small theater group might launch a fund drive, and fifty people drank tepid wine out of plastic cups and said, We need theater."

Yes, there's potential to read way too much into this chance paragraph, so I'll keep it to a grateful minimum. Heloise & Abelard is being staged at Sip Coffee (1223 W. Grand), not on a rooftop, and while the audience sipped coffees instead of wines, the inherent message, namely in the final three words, is the same, no matter which direction it is taken. Chicago, even with its thriving theater companies both large and small, needs theater. Local ensemble members will tell you the same thing, for a myriad of creative and communal reasons.

The play is loosely based on the emotions and ideas behind the love letters between titular 12th century couple, a doomed love long before the fictional Romeo and Juliet, and a lot less hammered into popular consciousness. The performance revolves around the notion of having to remember, summarize, heal, and comes to terms with a failed relationship, and to do so via letter-writing. In this play, this comes down to one final letter, and the drastic range of emotions that swell once a love affair comes to an end. It opens with Heloise (Amanda Lucas) storming into her apartment, pulling a letter out of an envelope. The letter is crumpled, and as she reads it, her energy is both sapped and invigorated, all while her emotions visibly rise. Initially, there is little doubt that the letter is from the unseen Abelard, and she goes about writing her own response. In this process, there are hints to not only the sympathy for a woman scorned, but also traces of mental instability and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. She gets her typewriter set up, sits down, and says "Dear Abelard." A voiceover, both echoing and haunting, repeats this phrase. She types some more, gets up and paces nervously, and goes about some odd routines.

She replaces a wine glass on her table with one that looks identical. A hand towel is replaced with another one next to an ewer and wash basin. As she looks over what she has written thus far, she smiles coyly and becomes enraged, often within the span of a few seconds. The voiceover gives more hints to what is written on the page, and as this scene progresses, it grows into a long monologue detailing their relationship. It alternates slyly between imagined scenes of genuine love and connection, but laced with anger, not only with the apparent break-up, but also with the everyday "chores" and assumptions that go into any relationship. As the voiceover continues, it leads to the performance's most powerful scene, as Heloise delicately peels a mango, and ends up devouring it, tearing it apart, and becoming awash in the juices with equal parts anger and unbridled lust.

Some may be reading this with a hint of skepticism, assuming that a "modern interpretation" of a piece of history has been done a million and one times. However, Heloise and Abelard, is much more than that; it depicts reality and emotional distress that everyone has at least felt internally, even if they haven't "acted out" (no pun intended) Heloise's particular actions. The production design is fairly minimal, given the performance space and the forty-five minute run time. However, despite this minimalism, not a single piece is unnecessary. Heloise uses her typewriter, but also a Mac laptop. A few feet away from the wash basin is a CD player (which is used for a very effective few moments, playing a few strains of Neko Case's "Outro With Bees").

Carrying a one-act play, Amanda Lucas does a phenomenal job with next to no dialogue, committing her range to pure facial expressions and physical actions. Her scenes could have easily been over-acted or played for unintentional laughs in the wrong hands, given the fact that it's a performance piece in a virtually literal definition. At her most volatile and broken, she never gives too much, and at times makes her performance very unsettling, as if the audience is spying on some very private actions that shouldn't be viewed by anyone else.

Heloise & Abelard takes an interesting turn in its final climax, leaving the audience with quite a few unanswered questions, but in the best ways possible. This is the point of the play, to inspire discussions and personal interpretations, none of which can be outlandish in the proper context. In addition to being genuinely moved and thoughtful afterwards, I did some research into the lives of the actual Heloise and Abelard in order to put some of the scenes into context. If a performance can inspire deep thought, intentional discomfort and education, then there's no doubt as to its success.

Heloise & Abelard has two more performances scheduled at Sip Coffee House, 1223 W. Grand (at Ogden), August 21st and 22nd, 8:00pm. Please visit the Blank Line Collective website for more information.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Upend It Like Beckham



Earlier this year, I felt out of place among a few of my co-workers, in that I wasn't excited about the inaugural season of the Seattle Sounders FC. It's not that I was opposed to it, but when one of my co-workers excitedly announced that she had season tickets, I could do nothing but smile and nod in genuine happiness for her exuberance, but that was the extent. She had played soccer in college and now played on a weekly rec team, so her association with the game was well-founded. Another friend, it turned out, had a brother who covered soccer for Sports Illustrated. I did my best to give it a shot: I read about the Sounders' signings and roster developments in the newspaper and online. Once the season started, I read the game recaps. However, soccer still fell into the category of sports that I simply cannot get into, a category that also includes golf, lacrosse, auto-racing, or X Games-style sports. However, being both American and a non-fan of soccer always seems to carry a sociological and cultural stigma. Simply put, it's difficult to express honest indifference without coming across like a typical "Ugly American."

Merely because of working with his brother, I began to read Grant Wahl's soccer coverage in SI, and recently read what very well could be the most anticipated book on soccer in America, The Beckham Experiment. It chronicles the very up-and-down relationship between David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer. I went into the book determined to remain objective, especially since I tend to come away disappointed by sports biographies, even ones concerning my favorite sports, baseball and basketball. If a given book chronicles a specific player, the formula tends to be consistent: it's a look at their accomplishments, but layered with the usual exposes and dirty laundry that are no longer, in our culture, the shocks that publishers and writers want them to be. However, Wahl does some very impressive balancing acts. This is not a tell-all; this is a genuine, journalistic look at the personalities of a successful (yet struggling) sports franchise seemingly "blessed" with one of the greatest soccer stars to ever play the game.

Realizing that the book would appeal to knowledgeable soccer fans as well as people who merely appreciate the sex symbol and Us Weekly side of Beckham, Wahl gives enough information on the rules, regulations, and dizzying corporate facets of an MLS team to educate (let's just say it) people like me, but not so much as to bore the true aficionados. The true focus of the book is on the benefits and problems of Beckham the footballer, not Beckham the international, cultural enigma. However, because Beckham is so famous and so recognized by people who do not follow international soccer, at times it can be next to impossible to discuss his athletic side without at least nodding to his celebrity side. If Beckham wasn't the icon that he is, it's very unlikely that he would have come to Major League Soccer in the first place, at least not with the goals that he, his handlers, and the Galaxy executives had in mind. The initial hope was that his appeal would translate into MLS becoming as popular and lucrative as the NBA or NFL. Despite this hope, the task proved very lofty, even before Beckham set foot on an MLS field.

"Yet the task facing Beckham--to make soccer matter on a regular basis in the U.S.--would be enormous. The greatest player of all time, Pele, couldn't turn soccer into the daily religion that it is nearly everywhere else in the world when he played with the New York Cosmos in the late 1970s. (His league, the NASL, folded a few years after he retired). Nor did the U.S.' hosting of the 1994 World Cup. Since its inception in 1996, Major League Soccer had gained stability and produced competent young players, but it was still losing money and had yet to advance beyond niche status (Wahl 3)."

Whether it's because MLS is still a relatively small league (in stature and finances), or because Wahl had complete insider access to virtually every member of the Galaxy organization, we're treated to some very dynamic personalities, including Tim Lieweke, the CEO of the company that owns the Galaxy, and Simon Fuller, Beckham's manager. It's almost perversely fitting that major executives in sports franchises or athletic managers, no matter which league, always seem to be outlandish personalities, equal parts George Steinbrenner, Al Davis, and Bill Veeck.

However, despite the dozens of people involved in The Beckham Experiment, the most compelling figure in the book is not the man himself, but rather teammate Landon Donovan. Having already established himself as one of America's greatest soccer players, not to mention the leader of the Galaxy, almost from the beginning, he was "asked" to immediately play Scottie Pippen to Beckham's Michael Jordan, with one major difference:

"Let him [Beckham] be the captain. You [Donovan] be the star. [Galaxy President Alexi] Lala's challenge to Donovan was sincere, even if Lalas neglected to mention that the impetus for the captain switch was coming from Beckham's own handlers. But what if Donovan did become the star? What if he--and not Beckham--ended up being the Galaxy's best player? One of the cardinal rules of professional sports is this: Never bring in a new player on a higher salary than your best player if the new guy isn't better himself. It's a recipe for resentment in the locker room. And while Donovan made sure to acknowledge Beckham's lengthy credentials and the special circumstances of American soccer--Beckham could fill stadiums and sell 250,000 jersey; Donovan couldn't--there was no guarantee that Beckham would be the Galaxy's best player (80-81)."

Moments like these define the book. Yes, it's about Beckham's attempt to bring recognition to a sport that doesn't always register with American consciousness. However, the actions and opinions of the people around Beckham--especially his teammates--register strongly, especially given the candid nature of some of Wahl's quotes. In baseball, for example, if a teammate were to call out another teammate publically, the media coverage would be intense. However, since MLS still hasn't attained the status that its members would prefer, public frustrations are vented, and the results are surprisingly...normal. Sports are not always the dramatic, metaphor-laden diversions that they're made out to be. Teams are composed just like any other workforce. Personalities dominate, not everyone gets along, and some people receive preferential treatment, much to the chagrin of fellow employees. Wahl's profiles of players such as Donovan and Alan Gordon are much more compelling at times than David Beckham. MLS players often play for stunningly low annual salaries, and their day-to-day financial struggles and devotion to something (the game of soccer) speak much more clearly than the actions of an international icon.

I still don't consider myself a soccer fan, but Wahl's account of the Los Angeles Galaxy is a piece of excellent reporting. I'm already looking forward to the paperback edition, considering Beckham's angry reception by L.A. fans after his return from the Italian Club A.C. Milan. I'm sure a lot of American sports fans consider soccer "boring," but the management and the day-to-day actions of the MLS teams are just as compelling as the major leagues of baseball, basketball, and American football.

Work Cited:
Wahl, Grant. The Beckham Experiment. Copyright 2009 by Grant Wahl.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Wrigley Field Study

Note: The issues that I write about in this essay have been discussed in much more depth elsewhere. The appropriate articles are linked below. I just felt compelled to share my own thoughts in a personal essay.

A Sociological/Cultural Essay in Three Parts

I-The Commute Reminder

I take the bus to work everyday, from Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood to Lincoln Park. The #22 Clark bus has been a part of my commute since high school, and on the days that I'm not reading a book or a newspaper, I'm staring out the window, taking in the streets and the buildings. Sometimes, this is incredibly boring; sometimes, it's strangely familiar and comforting. After about fifteen minutes, the bus approaches Addison, and once it does, I always stop reading or daydreaming to look at Wrigley Field. During the offseason, this can be dispiriting. The ballpark doesn't have the same feel when surrounded by snow and seemingly vacant bars and restaurants. However, during the season, the neighborhood, especially on game days, has a vibe, a definite current of excitement. Thousands walk towards the gates, vendors yell about their available peanuts and parking spaces, and it would probably mirror a Cubs day game forty or fifty years prior, were it not for some of the modern differences, like the websites being advertised on the Wrigley Field marquee.

However, now that I'm back in Chicago, something troubles me. It's something visible among the throngs of people on the sidewalks, among the pennants being displayed, among the momentarily deadlocked traffic on Clark Street. My eyes feel like microscopes as they pick out that something, only a few inches in diameter, looking back at me. It's a cultural reminder found in both the likeliest and unlikeliest of places--a t-shirt on a t-shirt stand. It depicts a panda with slanted eyes behind black Harry Caray-style glasses. In faux-Asian script, the shirt's caption reads "Horry Kow." I see this on display during every home game when I'm on my way to work. This mirrors the same eras of forty or fifty years prior, but not in the vein of baseball nostalgia. This time, one thinks back to a time when Amos 'N' Andy and Charlie Chan were just shows and movies, nothing more.

Welcome back to Chicago for the 2009 season, Kosuke Fukudome.

Allow me to apologize on behalf of a small group of Cubs fans.

II-The "Fans"

I rarely post personal essays here, and I hesitate even further to candidly discuss certain periods of my life, especially in this regard, where it can be viewed as insulting. That said, three years ago I dated a woman who called herself a Cubs fan. She couldn't name any of the players, never knew the standings, and never watched games on television. This would have been marginally acceptable had her fandom been rooted in local pride, but the appeal for her was the embarrassing side of Cubs culture--the unspoken understanding that a Cubs game is a frat kegger/singles bar that happens to have a baseball game going on several feet away. This woman loved the idea that "We (Cubs fans) drink when we win, and when we lose, we drink to mourn the loss." Given the closing of the previous section, this woman was not at all racist, but that culture of "baseball fan" enjoys the game on a non-baseball level. It's a point of contention that White Sox fans claim to be real baseball fans, much to the chagrin of Cub fans who actually follow baseball as a whole (although I'm sure that U.S. Cellular Field has its own clique of fans who go to the game just for the atmosphere). On the Northside, these casual fans get into one part of a baseball game--the taunting and booing of opposing players as well as home team players who perform poorly. This supposed Cub fan base trickles down to another sub-section, the one that enjoys racial stereotypes as a means of taunting or "honoring" a given player. The t-shirt vendor who sells the "Horry Kow" shirts is merely doing it to make money. What makes this even more embarrassing is that it's done in "support" of Kosuke Fukudome, the first ever Japanese-born baseball player in Cubs history.

These "homages" began with Japanese-style headbands, which bordered awfully close to full-on offensiveness, before the t-shirts caught notice. I was living in Seattle during the 2008 Major League Baseball season, so this year is my first exposure to this. Some poeple may very well argue that anyone who finds the t-shirts to be anything but a joke is just uptight and needs to relax. However, was this an issue when Hideo Nomo first played with the Los Angeles Dodgers? When Ichiro Suzuki signed with the Seattle Mariners, there was an awe and fascination with his arrival, not because he was Japanese, but because America was receiving one of the finest international baseball players ever. Watching and attending Mariner games last season, the awe for Ichiro was still felt, but I never saw a fan with a headband or an offensive t-shirt. I'm not at all saying that these items do not exist in the Pacific Northwest, but I never saw a caricature staring back at me. This has gone even further in Chicago. In addition to the Fukudome "homage," fans can purchase t-shirts featuring a sombrero-clad silhouette pushing a lawnmower, with the caption (pick one) "Albert Pujols/Ozzie Guillen/Carlos Zambrano Mows My Lawn." Ozzie Guillen, the manager of the White Sox, even purchased one of these shirts.

If racial stereotyping doesn't get a big laugh, there's always the "Green Bay Fudge Packers" t-shirt available from the same vendors.

III-The Consequences

Perhaps I'm also perpetuating a stereotype by pointing out a specific group of Cubs fans, namely, the current and ex-frat boy scene that gets a lot of attention at Wrigley Field. In the wake of the Henry Louis Gates Jr. scandal and alleged police brutality in Iowa City, perhaps t-shirts are not such a big deal in hindsight. However, they do serve as a reminder that race and stereotypes are still problems in this country. Some people may roll their eyes and claim that it's just a stupid joke, that nobody really means any harm by the creation of such images.

If that's the case, then the people who produce these shirts should make one featuring Cubs outfielder Milton Bradley holding a piece of watermelon, with the caption "Sorry I'm Only Hittin' .250, Masta." That would not last a full hour at any t-shirt display near the ballpark. How is that any different from the other ones?