_Summerland_ and Society (was Re: Yet Another Enforced Absence)

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Wed Feb 26 13:51:00 EST 2003

I hope this doesn't seem like an argument from my end, since Hallie clearly
appears to be wavering on the event horizon between life and death, and I
would feel guilty if I pushed her over.

On Wed, 26 Feb 2003 09:59:34 +0000, hallieod at indigo.ie wrote:

>>I think the question of "what if someone doesn't like baseball in a world
>>where baseball is the source of all magic?" is overly realistic.
>>_Summerland_ is defined as a world in which people simply *are* interested
>>in baseball.  To me it seems the kind of novel where...well, if it were
>>quest fantasy, it would be the kind where women never menstruate.  Which is
>>odd because there are so many realisms woven into the story--Jennifer T.'s
>>family situation, for example.  Ultimately, though, it all comes back to
>>high fantasy, where the symbolism is meant to be explored rather than
>>questioned.  At least, this is how I read the book.
>Fair enough.  It probably wouldn't have bothered me quite so much if 
>there hadn't been the scene in which Jennifer T. said something along 
>the lines of "oh, that's why I don't like her" when the one whose 
>name I've forgotten said she didn't like baseball.

Well, Jennifer T. is obsessed, so I wouldn't call her the voice of the novel
on this subject.  Of course, her obsession with baseball--something she is
good at and can control--reflects back on all the things about her life that
she *can't* control, so something else is going on there.

>>As to the bad player becoming a good player...this is profoundly different
>>from the fat becoming thin transformation. 
<snip my brilliant comments> :)

>I'm not at all sure that the two things *are* necessarily profoundly 
>different.  Firstly, of course there's nothing "wrong" with becoming 
>better at something - any more than there's something "wrong" with 
>someone losing weight.  The problem arises, as you've indicated in 
>1), when society dictates that thin or good at sports equates with 
>better character.

But within the construct of this book, I don't think "society" has anything
to do with it.  The fat vs. thin attitude is almost always unconsciously
expressed, hence the problem--it either reinforces a societal norm, or
reflects it unthinkingly.  With _Summerland_ you have an overt exploration
of overcoming personal problems that's wrapped in the baseball metaphor.
It's that overtness that makes the difference--that and the high fantasy
elements, since I tend to give those a lot more weight when it comes to
overlooking reality.  Certainly there are books in which excellence at
sports takes on the same unspoken weight that becoming thin does.  For this
book, I don't think it's the same thing at all.  Just as there might be
books in which someone DOES become thin after being fat that don't buy into
the cliche.

>As for 2) I also believe that society has a fairly unhealthily skewed 
>notion of the value and worth of athletes.   You don't have to look 
>too hard to find a lot of people who are treated with absolute 
>adulation, and whose athletic abilities (and yes, of course, they 
>have to put in a lot of hard work) are far from indicative of 
>anything I, at least, would consider personal worth. Just as they are 
>far from indicating a healthy approach to life (drugs, most 
>obviously, but also inappropriate dieting, right round to brain 
>damage in sports such as boxing).  

I agree with you completely, but again, it's the whole idea of what society
thinks that I have a problem with.  If it's true that society's vision of
athletics has warped the expression thereof, then why must it follow that
athletics was inherently warped to begin with?  There's nothing evil about
sports that isn't put there by people.  (Except maybe boxing, but Jacob will
have to argue for that one--I can't bring myself to that point.)  What I see
Chabon doing here is exploring the root of his love for baseball, not by
eliminating all the things that make it painful--there are still winners and
losers, there are still bad players and good ones--but by eliminating the
things that have accreted around it as it became more commercialized and
more influenced by the imperative to win.

My attitude about society is that it's essentially just a lot of people who
sometimes think like a mob.  Society has no power over us unless we aren't
paying attention--or unless we give that power to it.  And I believe that if
we condemn an institution rather than the inaccurate image society has given
it, then the mob has won.

> And the win at all costs attitude 
>trickles down to the schools, where most PE teachers seem to have no 
>clue that it might be good to encourage the fat/slow/un-coordinated 
>kid who really tries and is a good sport - but only appreciate the 
>kid who gives results.

We are NOT discussing PE.  Ick.  My worst memories of school come from
junior high and high school PE.  If I had the power, that would be the first
aspect of school I'd change.  What a waste of time--and it's not even like
it makes you physically fit either....

>Admittedly, I know nothing about baseball, as no one I knew well was 
>a fan when I lived in the US, and maybe it's totally free from the 
>types of problems that seem to go hand-in-hand with many competitive 
>sports.  Which would make some difference, though I'm not entirely 
>sure how much.

I wouldn't think so.  It's just like any other sport.  (I'm not a baseball
fan either; the one time I saw the Rangers play, I had Dr. Pepper spilled
all over my lap, and it sort of ruined the enjoyment.)  But I played soccer
as a kid, with my dad as the coach, and he chose not to allow those problems
to enter our games.  Everyone played equal times--even the not-so-good
players--we had to behave respectfully to the other team, and he insisted
that we focus on playing well regardless of winning. Which isn't to say that
we didn't try to win, and we were a pretty good team.  And yes, we weren't a
professional team, so there's that difference as well.  The point is that
all of those flaws come about because players and coaches are more concerned
with winning than anything else.  You can play even competitive sports
without getting overly caught up in that--it's just very difficult and
usually not worth the trade-off when you get to the levels where you can
make money from playing.  On the one hand, bags of money; on the other, your
personal honor.  I wonder how often the choice goes in favor of the cash.

>>I'm also of the opinion that if we didn't have this bizarrely skewed notion
>>of weight in our culture, the way weight gain and loss are represented in
>>fiction would not be nearly so laden with meaning.  Which is too bad,
>>because physical changes have always been used to convey symbolic change, to
>>great effect.
>I agree totally.  But personally I consider the skewed notion of 
>weight to be part of a general skewed over-emphasis on achievement 
>over most everything else - including effort and concern for others 
>and fairness and enjoyment, and appreciation of the variations in 
>gifts and interests people have.

Well, don't you think that's something each of us has some control over,
some decision about which voices to listen to?  I mean, yes, it's hard to
fight the tide when all the sheep are stampeding the wrong way.  And I agree
that this is sort of a general idea that it's more important to succeed than
it is to be kind.  But at the same time, my preference is to act, and to me
once the problem is identified, I want to do something about it.  So given
that there's this overemphasis on achievement, what do we do?  Talking about
what "society" says or does is just the first step in choosing how to react.

I think that last paragraph started going in another direction.  It's a
topic that's been bothering me for a while now, in conversations on literary
taste and buying power in our local community.  I mean, so what if Society
thinks or acts a certain way?  Big fat raspberries and hand gestures in
their direction.

>Hallie, who is NOT starting or continuing any kind of a battle here - 
>are we all clear on that?  I'm too tired and fuzzy-brained, even if I 
>ever did feel inclined for warfare!  ;-)

Do you wonder why it is that you and I are the only ones who have to post
disclaimers about the non-aggressive nature of our posts?  Is there
something wrong with us?  I never was so antagonistic before you came along.

Melissa Proffitt

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