The problem which chic bars have in marketing themselves is that, however classy they want to come off with their décor and craft beer selection, they have to be approachable… neighborly. Bars, being quintessential Americana, are, after all, quintessentially democratic. So, when a poppin college-town pub in rural America approached us to refresh their image, we knew exactly what to do. A sprawling, critical theory review of The Sandlot – a la Zizek’s copy for Abercrombie & Fitch – would be written, and different excerpts would be printed on napkin holders, take-out containers, and coasters, with the whole thing painted on the wall. It was a home run, man.
It wasn’t easy choosing the typography for the title text. We wanted a ballpark script feel, obviously, but each letter had to be thick enough to be read on its own, because we wanted customers to be able to tell we had misspelled “The Sandlot” (which is part of what makes the text cool). This is what we came up with.
The napkin designs were hardly easier. We only had a very small number of colors which could cheaply be printed in non-toxic dye, and since we wanted to throw some thinner fonts into our mix, and keep the format to a square frame, that basically limited us to scarlet. It’s a shame, really, because we’re not Cardinals fans, but we can’t deny that the excerpt from our text came out looking pretty nice.
If Elsinore had coasters, they would look like this.
Full text of Teh Sndolat below:
“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.
Follow your heart kid, and you’ll never go wrong.”
Babe Ruth to Benny, The Sandlot, 1993.
We might not distinguish between heroes and legends in common parlance. Babe already demands that we do, and sets our tone (legends > heroes). On what grounds? By Babe’s logic, legends exceed heroes, so we should first look for deficiencies. Heroes rescue dying, desperate situations. Situations which would die if exposed to the universe, if left on their own. Heroes artificially preserve something that would die. Does this idea of artificial preservation – which, by an enduring aesthetic born of nature, is necessarily ugly – bear out? Hero ultimately comes from the PIE *ser “to oversee.” Remember, to which hero pairs, already indicates artificial preservation – by etymology, as the duplicative/extraneous re appends to memor (a Latin word with the force of “having remembered”), ultimately from PIE *m(e)m“to remember” (which already has reduplication which is itself re-duplicated, which is duplicated) We can see other words which come from this PIE root indicate anguish (mermeros, Greek), and when we talk about the heart – which is in the sentence – remembering something, it’s often painful. Then we can also wonder – is “get remembered” the reward for heroes? They “get” it. It’s their reward. That is an understanding of the Greek tradition. Kleos, and Hercules (from Greek, Hera-kleos, “glory or bane of Hera”) features prominently in the story (he’s the “gorilla dog kong thing” to quote Benny). And a medal on a war hero is a “gag, a plastic bag on a monument” (Green Day, American Idiot). Remembrance is already an admission of death, and (maybe?) a desire to let the dead die. Here we draw on another hero. Heroin (Bayer synthesized the compound in the 1895 and named it so because of its perceived “heroic” or “hero inducing” effects; let us remember that the principle effect is analgesia). The Sandlot came out in 1993. We have Kurt Cobain, culture hero (how many times does the word hero come up in news reports about him?) heroin addict hero of decay (Gen X), singing about death and about to (at the time of production) commit suicide. We have heroin chic (kicked off by Kate Moss 1993 ad campaign by Calvin Klein). These models are artificially preserved, that’s why we love them. We have lazy heroin users, just floating, just fucking floaters, just Vince Vega from Pulp Fiction (deconstruction, time, and inseparable from America, just like The Sandlot, written at the same time; the culture film of the 90s, so pay heed toPulp Fiction‘s signs). None of these people live.
Which is what Babe seems to oppose. Legends. Living legend, that’s a phrase for one. Follow your heart. The heart feels and both emotionally and chemically heroin is horrible for the heart. The heart is the quintessential symbol ofalive. But does it work? See, Smalls doesn’t know who Babe Ruth is. Maybe that’s where the close reading acts as hero. Babe Ruth isn’t remembered, but he is alive– and he manifests his presence to Benny, at least. But then, legend has its own sordid etymology. It is the passive (go figure) periphrastic (again!!) of lego (Latin, “to read”) and so would mean “things to be read,” or “things which must be read” depending (as always) on the context. And this isn’t just words qua words qua legend. The movie says this. Smalls ended up in the “biggest pickle any of [them] had ever seen” and Benny got them out. You get out of a pickle by thinking, by deliberating, by using a legend (a guideline for a map) but then it’s objectified by use, and also the thought then supports the textual reading, and so a legend is also dead. And just look, when Smalls wasn’t thinking he just walked over a ball signed by Babe Ruth and used it to play a sandlot ball game with. Because he didn’t know “that’s the same guy.” Smalls killed the ball. The reading which tempts, which assumes our prior conclusion and doing the work for the author says “yes, a legend can still physically die but his essence lives on” ignores that the essence was completely squandered in ignorance. So doubly so (ha!) you still must be in your head. The heart does not excuse that. But then the latter half falls prey to what the first half did – re: re re-member(s) only. Is there a more stable differance?
Well what other reason would you follow heart? Follow what follows from it. Heart, heartland, America. Baseball = America’s pastime. Heart, heartthrob. At the time internal to the movie, heartthrob = James Dean, Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley, Gregory Peck. At the time of production, heartthrob = Rider Strong, DiCaprio, JGL (as a kid, and he was in Angels in the Outfield), Joey Lawrence. I have my cousins Kathleen and Bridget to thank for that list. My hours reading Tiger Bob upside down, and debating Corey & Topanga and Zach & Kelly’s love lives were not for naught. We already have a trend from older to younger, we will return to a question of time in time. DiCaprio = Growing Pains (Titanic is more straightforward, but not in time) = America. Elvis = Elvis (re) = Am(re)ica = America (had to do something to make such a simple equation interesting). Come on. Heartthrob = America. Heart, heart-shaped. Baseball diamond = baseball = America’s pastime. Heart, Ma-Ti (about that Captain Planet life, 90-92). Ma-Ti is an orphan (Smalls’ “real dad died when [he] was just a little kid”). So we have heart, orphan-ish. Orphan ~ writing (via Derrida?). Had that really invaded? OK, well we have heart = orphan, who is an orphan? Superman (you knew he was coming), Ma-Ti (the center of Captain Planet, Captain Planet ~ Captain America ~ reSuperman), Smalls, fucking ‘Murica. America is the West’s orphan, and refuge for orphans. And this is the audience, of course. Babe addresses a “kid.” Heart, red, passion, red, heart rivulets, red rivulets, American flag. Come on. Benny’s full name is Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez. So, the Rodriguez is a nod to immigrants (yea! yeah! we’re a melting pot, see?). Think about the voice-over at the end. Timmy and Tommy Timmons invent the mini-mall. Assimilated, consumer, panoply, concentrated/absolved to an extent/in its own world. What is more American? “Bertram, well, Bertram got really into the 60s and nobody ever heard from him.” You need that. The 60s is one of a handful of ways to redeem America for the people who think America is bullshit. Ham Porter became “the Great Hambino.” Really? Fatter, louder, America. Squints marries Wendy, inherits the drugstore, and has nine kids: the 50s preserved (drugstore, for the heart, drug, pharmakon?), a la America. So, do you follow your heart because you’re a good American?
But this isn’t stable. The movie parodies itself as America. We hear – the forced silence to indicate mock shock at the “you play ball like a girl.” We see – the campy werewolf black-and-white drive in film within a film has its campiness hyped up. We perceive – the schadenfreude at how Smalls really does live out his nice 50s go-out-there-and-get-your-hands-dirty-come-home-in-time-for-dinner advice to “get into some trouble” by majorly fucking up. When the movie admits its Wonderbread suburb identity and then shows Phillips & Co, the WASPs among the WASPs, (and DeNuñez, and don’t forget Benny’s last name is Rodriguez) who “play ball on a real diamond.” The WASPs lose to the scrappers, and the Wonderbread crumbles (it actually doesn’t crumble well, with its artificial preservatives; it compresses very well). And after the scrappers win they go to a carnival, chew tobacco, and puke themselves. Real classy. But those are our heroes. Babe Ruth was a heavy-drinking chain-smoking “sultan of swat,” and The Sandlot reminds us of that too.
But this isn’t stable, because the movie abstracts America, creates an American essence, and that essence is not parodied. The most hallowed, time honored contest kicks off the movie. A pennant race between the Giants and the Dodgers. What do we know about the Dodgers and the Giants? They were originally New York baseball teams but they moved, twenty years after the Joads but still for better prospects of growth, West. “Go west, young man” (Horace Greeley). Westward ho, America. OK, so the movie opens up to this world where the pennant race is still as important as ever. And this is the beauty Smalls first notices in the game which Benny plays. The kids in the Sandlot “never kept score; they never chose sides; the game never really ended.” In time we have returned to this question of time. The tale of the pickle and the sandlot and the beast is bracketed by a pennant race in the present. Smalls is the narrator, and we know that from the start. He launches into the “greatest moment in sports history” and recounts the Babe calling his shot in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series. That moment is timeless – and as we said it bolsters American egotism (the World Series? In sports history?). And this is confirmed by Babe Ruth’s manifestation – this essentialized America is timeless, and really alive, not artificially preserved, and we can suspect – recall Tom Joad – that to pursue this essentialized America is a matter of heart, and that is why you follow your heart. And this is bolstered by the timeless friendship – Benny and Smalls, because we see the movie end with Benny and the thumbs up and the smile.
Then there’s that moment, right in the middle of the film, with the fireworks bursting in air and the home run ball hanging over the fence and Ray Charles’ “America, sweet America” resounding through the night. Come on, you felt the patriotism too.
Re: stability re un re stable. But this isn’t stable. The Sandlot breaks down this essentialized America. You see, essentialized demands a trace, and this gets us into the territory of signature. Then, of course, we get to the signature. The pickle, the whole enchilada (this is OK, we have a DeNuñez on the team), is about a ball, signed by Babe Ruth, getting lost behind a fence. The immediate problem: we cannot immediately perceive the trace anymore, and our only hope of recovering it (think about the relevance of this to the trace of America) would be go into ugly, very ugly, territory well beyond the fields we mow and proscribe for play. In this territory we will see a beast, a junkyard dog (“Bad, bad Leroy Brown; Baddest man in the whole damn town. Badder than old King Kong – remember what Benny called the beast – meaner than a junkyard dog” Jim Croce, “Bad Bad Leroy Brown”), and the junk this monster guards is ours, and it is as ugly as the junk. And our fear is, what if we don’t see it coming, because it blends in with the junk, and it sees us, who have thrown these away or at the very least enjoyed them, as intruders – and devours us. What if our ugly dispose devours us? But the immediate problem is overcome. Benny becomes a legend. So what is the timeless problem? It is this. To be a signature, there must be some guarantee that it can’t be altered. The movie alters American history. It forges a palatable signature, for plot. What I mean is – Mr. Mertle is black. No way in hell he had in with those Damn Yankees (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_first_black_Major_League_Baseball_players_by_team) of Murderer’s Row (of 1932). And that’s only the skin-deep problem. Babe Ruth, if he is to live as a legend, must have this trace, indeed the tension in the movie is that the trace has been lost, and this is confirmed by the beast’s owner, but he solves the problem by replacing the trace. The solution = a baseball signed by everyone on Murderer’s Row. And this of courses raises from the dead the problem of life we were talking about earlier. How can a legend (“to be read”) live – even in the sense of eternal presence via memory and affect – if its signature can be replaced? And in this way The Sandlot breaks its own tidy whitewashing. Once we suspect the Babe Ruth is a lie, we realize that Mr. Mertle (and part of the morality which the movie is trying to impart) is as well.
Is there an answer to the Babe? The answer is action. Babe “called his shot,” something nobody believed only because “nobody had ever done it before.” Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez “stole home” to win the never-concluded pennant race between the Giants and the Dodgers. Let’s just imagine these phrases – “steal home” and “called his shot” in other contexts. I will storm your home, steal your car, and call out my shots against the pursuing policemen. Yet in baseball, they’re lauded. They’re good. We only realize in hindsight, or maybe if we have no sensibility for baseball but then you’re not getting the point, how much the context conditions our love of these phrases. That’s what the Babe is getting at. Actually, he already dismisses this trace, his trace. Benny starts rattling off his titles, and the Babe cuts him off “Yeah, yeah, and a hundred other dopey names. Forget about that stuff kid, we ain’t got much time.” We turn to deed. Does the Babe posit a morality of action? Going beyond good and evil is the wrong expression but at least let’s consider Benny “the Jet” (“Benny and the Jets,” suave and moving forward; “jetsetter,” suave and not giving a fuck; a jet is powerful burst, intensely directed). We have action, yes. This is what Babe gets at. The “follow” cannot be the passive sense usually understood. It’s a very active deliberation, and its activity is underscored by Benny’s uncertainty and the affect and rumor of the result. But deliberation of course begs a context within which to deliberate and this is the context – this baseball context, only in this context where of course “stealing home” and “calling shots” are legendary in a good way – in which to act. You act deliberating through your context.
We’ll tolerate Nietzsche or Superman parallels with this understanding, but don’t you dare bring Sartre into it. We all know how that cock-eyed cockroach plays sports.