The Bridge II

January 9, 2007

Posted by Jay Livingston

The Geico Washington Bridge deal (mentioned in the previous entry) is dead. The Port Authority cancelled the gecko-at-the-gate arrangement. The New York Times article does not specifically mention the Montclair SocioBlog by name, but it does refer to “the loud and swift response to the contract.” Still, we’re proud do have done our part.

The incident reminded me of a proposal some years ago to defray costs at the Statue of Liberty by charging visitors a dollar. I don’t recall how long ago this was, perhaps in the 1980s. My searches on the Internet, including Lexis-Nexis, couldn’t find any reference, probably because the proposal got nowhere fast. I do recall one politician saying something like, “It’s the Statue of Liberty. She says, ‘Give me your tired, your poor.’ She doesn’t say ‘gimme a buck.’”

What’s also interesting in this issue of the interplay of public and private is that Geico, the private corporation, may have been more responsive to public opinion than was the public institution (the Port Authority). Geico was worried about its image in the public eye. But for the Port Authority, it’s not clear whether public opinion was the decisive factor in this case of multi-causality. Even in today’s statements, it’s hard to tell whether the Port Authority really shares the view that the Bridge is a public piece of architecture not to be prostituted as an advertising vehicle. In fact, one of the arguments against the deal was economic — that the PA was selling too cheap. It’s like the old punch line, “Now we’re just haggling about price.”

A Bridge Too Corporate

January 6, 2007

Posted by Jay Livingston

The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl was a close one, so was the Meineke Car Care Bowl played in Bank of America Stadium, unlike the FedEx Orange Bowl or the Citi Rose Bowl and the Allstate Sugar Bowl (formerly the Nokia Sugar Bowl).

OK, you get the idea. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you have to be of a certain age to remember when these games took place without the benefit of corporate sponsorship and in stadiums named for cities or universities or heroes, not businesses, and with no corporate logos painted on the grass.

Maybe we are becoming more and more tolerant of corporations trading their help to “public” institutions in exchange for the right to use those institutions for their own publicity and profit. Schools, always underfunded, are natural targets for Coca-Cola and Pepsi. The school gets some money; the companies get an exclusive for their sugar-water and snack machines. “Public” television, similarly starved for funds, turns to corporations, who in turn get to have their names announced in connection with an honorable cause.

Now we have the Geico George Washington Bridge. For about $1.6 million a year (a bargain according to advertising experts), Geico will have billboards over the tollbooths at the Bridge, signs on the approach ramps, and their logo on the Port Authority’s Website and mail.

In another era perhaps, this encroachment of corporate profit-making and image-mongering might have been unthinkable. Roads and bridges were the responsibility of government. Now as I drive, I see signs telling me that some stretch of highway is being kept clean thanks to Donald Trump. I wonder how far the privatization of once public facilities will creep. All we have to do is keep starving our schools, museums, libraries, and other public institutions. Where else can they turn but to corporations?

I look forward to the approaches to the Lincoln Tunnel in New York and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington with ads for the Lincoln Navigator. The National Gallery brought to you by GE, the Bank of America Grand Canyon . . . .

A (North American) Hockey Game Broke Out

January 3, 2007
Posted by Jay Livingston

File this one under Sport and Culture.

Over at Blue Monster, Dan Myers posts a photo he took of an American flag made of hockey sticks and pucks. It’s on the wall at the ESPN Zone in Chicago. Myers adds, “the irony of a hockey-themed American flag doesn’t escape me given that it is the most international of our major sports leagues.”

There's also the irony of the association of the American flag and a sport noted for its violence — slashing, high-sticking, and of course, fighting. European hockey, apparently, is a different game, cleaner and less violent. The experience of European players in the NHL provides a study in socialization and acculturation.

Chris Gee, a grad student, compared penalty time for North American (US, Canada) and European-born players and found that while European-born players in the NHL averaged 39 minutes in the box, the average for North Americans was 53 minutes. And Europeans accounted for only about 11% of the penalties for fighting.

Position might have something to do with it if Europeans are underrepresented among defensemen. But Gee thinks it’s cultural, and as they spend time in the NHL, the Europeans become socialized to North American ways. Europeans with three or more years experience were far more likely to get caught charging or high-sticking.
Fighting and aggression are revered in Canadian hockey, but in Europe it’s a very different story. But after Europeans arrive here they learn what’s successful and normal; they see the crowds rise to their feet during a fight and they become Americanized.
Gee’s research appeared last September in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise. I found a report via Lexis-Nexis in the Ottawa Citizen, Sept. 28, 2006.

Happy New Year

January 2, 2007
Posted by Jay Livingston

I don’t generally care for the televised versions of celebrations. Even on a forty-inch, high-density TV, the Tournament of Roses or the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade or New Year’s Eve in Times Square leave me cold. The whole idea of a celebration is to be a participant not a spectator, to feel the energy of the crowd surging through your own body. And you can’t do that from thousands of miles away sitting on a couch with the remote in one hand even if you have a glass of champagne in the other and a silly hat on your head.

But Sunday night as I watched the TV screen in a quiet Florida condo, there was one moment that got to me — a quick montage of celebrations in cities further east that had already rung in 2007: Paris, Berlin, Sydney, Seoul, etc. Durkheim was right about rituals: they reinforce the feeling of commonality, of sharing. He was also right that rituals define a group. If you’re part of the group, you participate; or maybe it’s more accurate the other way round: if you participate, you’re part of the group.

In some cases, this group-defining function of rituals sharpens differences among us. It’s at the root of the “war on Christmas” flap, with people like Bill O’Reilly ranting about the secularization of Christmas and the evils of saying “Happy Holdiays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Whose ritual is this anyway? If it’s a Christian ritual, non-Christians are excluded. If it’s a more inclusive American ritual, the Christ-centered religious elements have to be muted. (Of course, some extremists want it both ways, so that Christmas is a national holiday and yet still very Christian, a designation that would promote their definition of the US as a “Christian nation.”)

New Year’s is the only holiday I can think of that draws no such boundaries between groups. As one of my students put it, it’s the Earth’s birthday. So everyone who lives on this planet is part of it. We celebrate locally, but the images from around the world prod us to think globally.