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Baseball Cards and the Fight Against Terrorism

December 10, 2009

by William Szczepanek

War on terror boxBaseball cards have changed little over the last half century.  They still are pieces of cardboard with pictures on them that are collected for fun, profit or loss.  Over that time the hobby has done pretty well in applying American principals to the adoration of sports personalities and the ups and downs of capitalism. Collecting can be viewed as either good or bad depending on the situation, but was pretty much innocuous as far as increasing the likelihood of a terrorist attack or negatively influencing the economy to such an extent that we, as a people, become vulnerable. While baseball cards in a cultural sense have gone from a collectible to a commodity, they still evoke images of the past or present and enhance our love of the game of baseball and its players.

How does this compare to other forms of entertainment that adults, young adults and kids partake in nowadays? Compared to most video games, baseball cards are boring. Compared to most television shows baseball cards are boring.  Compared to most movies baseball cards are boring. Compared to real life baseball cards are often still boring, but not always. Any single instance of violence in the media is not a reason for concern. Violence has always been with us and very likely always will. It is the prevalence of violence in all media that has become part of our culture and should be of concern.

Football has superseded baseball as  the most popular of sports in the USA because it ... (complete the sentence) --- is more fun, has more action, requires more talent, has more strategy or lastly... is more violent.  The first four reasons are those most often given, but are generally false.  The last is rarely stated, but is the closest to the real reason. It's very much like the reason men would give for reading Playboy Magazine... they like to read the articles. The statement is understood to hide the real reason because people would rather not admit the obvious.

We seem to take a great deal of pleasure in seeing violence today.  For many it is deviant pleasure.  Now don't get me wrong.  I like football.  I watch football.  But, for some very strange reason I get a thrill out of watching the strategy play out, but tend to wince when I see a player get hit so hard that they don't get up, while others in the room cheer wildly. Maybe this comes from the fact that the first time I saw a real football game and heard the pads and helmets clash, I really didn't enjoy it.  I got over the menacing sound after hearing it over and over. While playing baseball I have suffered bones broken, and had the side of my face sliced by flying spikes and had to deal with the pain of raw skin scraped from my legs from sliding on fields that had more rocks than dirt, I never got the feeling that I would not live though the experience. Watching friends of mine being carried off the field in high school and requiring surgery to fix legs and hips, made me realize I was not cut out for the game of football. And, even though more and more is being discovered to show that irreversible brain damage can occur due to the collisions, the sport continues to get more violent as players become, bigger, stronger and faster.

Grand Theft AutoOur appetite for violence continues in all areas of our lives.  More people get shot in this country due to accidents or willful violence, because we have a right to bear arms. The United States has always been a violent place to live, but it is bothersome that it continues to get more violent.  Video games in this country  have become more and more realistically violent.  Defense attorneys are now using video game insanity as plea for their young clients. War strategy games have always been popular, but today's games don't play out based on strategy.  They reward the gamer by enabling them to  see characters have their head blown off in more realistic ways. 

1957 Topps #165 Ted KluszewskiSome games put the player in the role of the bad guy, who kills the "badder" guys, or good guys who may not be as useful to them.  These are very sophisticated games with great programming and superior graphics. In other countries, like Japan, these games also exist, but there they still have a demand for the strategy games that push the mind to solve complex puzzles rather than dulling the senses.  Here the demand for violence exists because our culture demands it. We are pretty deranged in our thinking, when it becomes unfashionable for a kid to have a toy gun and fantasize killing bad guys, buts it's okay to have them realistically shoot people with a game controller.  The games are so prevalent they are simply called "shooters".  Did anyone ever think of banning a game controller?   In some ways it is because we like to be afraid.  We like the drama because it is missing in most lives. If I were to pick a baseball player to go up against the violent video game icons of today it would be Ted Kluszewski.  "Big Klu" always looked like he could handle himself against any foe.

I wonder how many men and women who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan enjoy playing these games.  In many ways they have been hardened by their experiences and have become numbed by death and destruction, but for most I would think that they would find it repulsive and a sorry  replacement for the real thing.  If someone really wants that experience they should enlist.

Our television shows now  put contestants in situations where they could quite possibly be killed. It recently happened to  contestant on Wipeout. News has it that the death was the result of a pre-existing condition, so the show will probably continue in its current format until someone gets killed instantly on TV. I knew it would happen eventually, but then  I have this weird sense that when I see bodies flying through the air, I can entertain the possibility that death will occur. Maybe it's just me and my understanding of the laws of physics. For the producers of the show it wasn't a problem because the contestant signed  a release. No problem.

Movies have also done the same for many years, with cataclysmic violence that can threaten the entire human race. 2012 allows us to understand what this will be like in the not too distant future as we see these violent things happen more realistically than ever before.  These movies can be a lot of fun and are actually more like a roller coaster ride, but the level of realistic violence in them continues to increase. I remember many, many years ago when I was in high school, our teacher asked us to describe what would happen if a large meteor or comet hit the Earth.  Everyone speculated that we would hide as far underground as possible and that the United States would send up rockets with nuclear warheads and we would blow up the meteor.  For twenty minutes we formulated possible life-saving scenarios.  Afterward he simply stated, "You all are wrong. All humans would be destroyed and it would be the end of life as we know it. Period." It didn't even sound like it would make a good movie at the time.

Okay, let's get back to the title of the article.  What about terrorism?  To catch a terrorist, we need to think like a terrorist.   If I were a terrorist sitting in my cave in (pick a place with a lot of mountains and not much chance to detect any terrorist activity.  How about Wyoming? ) and I wanted to think of a way to destroy the United States that would be almost undetectable. What might I do?

How about I invent video games that would draw kids into violent actions against other citizens.  Get them used to the environment of a dark and foreboding world.  Wean them away from their books and studies so that they become stupid and become easily influenced.  Make fun of those who are intelligent and call them geeks to discourage them from achieving success. Encourage them to play sports before doing homework because there is a better chance of getting drafted by an NFL team than get a decent job.  Make them look after themselves rather than the common good. Eventually allow them to buy automatic weapons so they feel they can protect themselves.  Threaten them with a violent consequence if they don't take action against those who are causing them grief.  Get them to be so afraid of the coming dangers that they spend all of their money trying to fight the enemy on every airplane, on every train and on every corner.  Weaken their financial system by allowing the greedy to become more greedy.  Spread racial and cultural slurs throughout the country so that all people who aren't of the same cultural background get mad at each other, and then sit back and watch the country disintegrate without having to drop a bomb, blow up a bridge or building, or even have to lift a finger.  How long would it take for this to happen?  We are a good part of the way there already. "We have met the enemy and he is us." - Pogo the Possum, 1971.

Regarding the other part of the title, baseball cards bring people together from almost every cultural background.  They present the images in an equal and humane manner and they contain the cultural history to educate and entertain.  It's so simple.  Boring can be good, especially if you use your imagination.

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