Invisible People, and the Noise They Make
Imagine if Wal-Mart opened for business today, but barred customers from entering their stores. Imagine a new radio station going on the air, but not advertising as to where to find their signal. Imagine a public election being held, where, due to distrust of (some of) the citizenry, the people were not allowed to vote.
Imagine a baseball game where the fans were not allowed to attend.
This bizarre, yet thoroughly American turn of events will occur this afternoon in Baltimore in a home game scheduled against the White Sox. Does a team still have home-field advantage when no one’s home?
In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, “Slaughterhouse Five,” the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, becomes “unstuck” in time. Pilgrim’s life plays out randomly, the normal linear progression of events mixed up and occurring haphazardly. One event does not lead to the next, but could, in fact, circle back to a prior event. Normal cause and effect cease to have any meaning.
What we appear to be witnessing today in Baltimore is the progeny of a business-law enforcement alliance where privatized public spectacles are now shielded from the public itself. Corporatism in America has become “unstuck” from the citizenry. Normal cause and effect no longer have any meaning. Business decisions are unmoored from the real world concerns of local municipalities.
Banks are bailed out, but not people. Corporations magically become citizens, while much of the citizenry lacks the basic necessities of life. The Dignity of Work is summoned to shame those who’ve lost their jobs to overseas competition. And people who lack the ability to buy shoes for their children are lectured to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
In many ways, this is not a new development, but is, in fact, the inevitable outcome of what happens when a political system is entirely consumed by corporatism, leveraging the power of law enforcement to corral, contain and coerce those elements of the citizenry written off as undesirable, irredeemable and politically powerless.
Many, perhaps most of the chattering class and the interests they serve will describe the current unrest in Baltimore this week as primarily a law enforcement issue. After thirty years of a War on Drugs, Zero Tolerance Policies, and Three Strikes and Your Out legislation (the irony of which will certainly fail to find fertile ground in the imaginations of those who decided to play a baseball game today to empty stands), and over a million African-American men and women having been incarcerated at one time or another in their lives, it appears that American society remains more comfortable providing them with a ticket to prison than a ticket to a baseball game.
Last year, an elderly rancher named Cliven Bundy and his Gang-That-Couldn’t-Think-Straight were heralded by many in the media as heroes for individual liberty, property rights, and the idea that no white man, however delusional, should be denied his moment of public heroism, even as some of his supporters aimed their weapons directly at law enforcement officers.
That law enforcement officers were deemed “jack-booted thugs” when attempting to enforce the laws of the land in that situation out west, while the “thugs” are now the young men and women of Baltimore armed with bricks, and the police have been magically transformed once again into the thin blue line separating respectable society from those that would do us harm is familiar territory here in America. Yet familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt, and contempt is the jet fuel of social unrest.
All of which brings us back to a baseball game later today in Baltimore. Camden Yards and the area in which it is situated was the product of the sort of palatable corporate urban renewal that has become fashionable over the past quarter century or so, where gentrification (the removal of the undesirables) in favor of public and private investment that overwhelmingly favors the upper middle class has become the only politically expedient investment in existence.
Will it make money for a fortunate few, perhaps even at the expense of others? If so, that’s a price that has been deemed acceptable, once you are able to hide the losers from view.
But now the “losers” are in full view on our round-the-clock cable news networks where the well-fed and well-groomed simultaneously engage in hand-wringing analysis that mimics concern while also condemning the inevitable rage that burns wherever people are marginalized. But the system must be allowed to continue operating under any and all circumstances, because the system, after all, is its own reward.
So a professional baseball game will be played today for the first time in baseball history without a single fan to witness it. The human element has finally been rendered obsolete. The beast has eaten its fill.
In America, people are the raw material that feeds the system. When the system no longer requires your contribution, or even your existence, the expectation is your silent acquiescence to a permanent state of invisibility.
Thus, in a stadium in downtown Baltimore, in a park that seats 45,971, ushers will serve no one, ticket takers will stare out at empty parking lots, and players will hit doubles that no one will cheer. No one will stand up and stretch in the seventh inning, and the Great American Game will reflect the emptiness at the heart of a broken system where to be invisible is the price you pay for being born poor and powerless.