Baseball, Michael:
That’s what matters!

Oct 26, 2004 6:01 AM

C’mon now, let’s stop joking and jerking around.

With the whole place in flames, and two guys battling it out 24 hours a day for the lightweight championship of the world, this is no time for comedy. It is time for serious study and prayer, time to hope that we get out of this alive.

Despite all that, I read over the weekend where scholars from around the world gathered at Yale recently for a two-day academic conference, not on Islam or North Korea or knowing where Osama Bin Laden is but not being able to go get him, or the casino strike in Atlantic City or the boycott of the New York Racing Association simulcast signal by 18 eastern tracks, but about the meaning of Michael Jackson.

The meaning of Michael Jackson?

Are you serious?

The scholars apparently were, spending their time and someone’s money to discuss what Michael means to the world.

They discussed his spiritual power, his sexual swaggering onstage with crotch grabbing and hip swiveling and his shy asexual persona off of it, his homeoerotics, his "historic iconography" about the fate of blacks in the world, his legal problems with alleged pedophilia, his "commodified image," his Neverland mansion, his weirdness and queerness. The classic lines in the summary of this meeting of intellectual geeks was this beauty: a theory that Jackson is ”˜hyper-real,’ where "the self is controlled by, and in fact becomes coextensive with, the aesthetic of its spectacularized image — in Jackson’s case, the image of the superstar."

The account of the Yale conference was written for the New York Times by Thomas Vinciguerra, who started his article quoting Jackson’s line in "Thriller" — "I’m not like other guys" — and ended it by writing, concerning the preceding paragraph about the image of the superstar, "This leads one to ask the inevitable question: does this, in effect, mean that Michael Jackson is impersonating himself?"

The real question, of course, is "Who cares?" And what good to the world can come out of geeks sitting around at Yale postulating about all this?

On the other side of the speculative coin are the goings-on in Boston and St. Louis, where the world’s most boring sport once again grabbed national attention. There was the usual speculation about that in the Times too, deep think-pieces about "the intellectual seductions of baseball — its beauty, complexity and history — that can turn rational men into evangelists."

This kind of hogwash is widespread.

Baseball in general, and the World Series in particular, is neither beautiful nor intellectual. If watching guys pull at their visors, spit in the dugout, scratch their butts, point to the heavens when they hit game winners, chew on their cuds, slam the water cooler, fiddle over and over with their Velcro wrist straps, scratch at the ground, step out of the batter’s box or off the mound, glare at the umpire, and then spit some more, if that is beautiful and intellectual, include me out.

One of the Times articles, by Bruce Weber, wound up — tongue obviously in cheek (or perhaps not) — discussing the comparison between the Yankees and their come-from-behind conquerors, who despite their ragtag appearance finally lifted the burden of decades off their shoulders.

"The Yankees," Weber wrote, "in sleek and tailored pinstripes, are a handsome and graceful bunch, from the matinee idols Jeter and Rodriguez to the elder statesman Tony Clark”¦ The Red Sox are from the other side of the tracks: Terry Francona, the manager, with a sloppy chaw of tobacco leaking from his mouth; Curt Schilling, with his truck driver’s gut; the odd barbering up and down the lineup, peaking, of course, in the Cro-Magnon style of Johnny Damon.

Strange, but as I watched the playoffs unwind, and saw Damon in his agony and then in his ecstasy, with his long locks and handsome features, he kept reminding me of the image of Jesus, as we have seen him portrayed. That was the only thing beautiful I could find in the playoffs or what followed.

It’s terrible being a peasant watching intellectuals in action, whether at Yale or in Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park.