White Lines

Courtesy of powerpointart.comTicket to ride, white line highway
Tell all your friends, they can go my way
Pay your toll, sell your soul
Pound for pound costs more than gold
The longer you stay, the more you pay
My white lines go a long way
Either up your nose or through your vein
With nothin to gain except killin' your brain

Grandmaster Flash, White Lines

The lines in baseball and football illustrate the difference between production and simulation orientations in the social order. While the boundary lines of football dictate where a player may not go, the base paths of baseball dictate where a player must go. This compulsion is the essence of McLuhan's baseball-as-linear-gaming-endeavour:

Baseball is a game of one-thing-at-a-time, fixed positions and visibly delegated specialist jobs such as belonged to the now passing mechanical age, with its fragmented tasks and its staff and line in management organization (UM, p.211).

Move from home, to first, to second, to third, and back to home again — as if on a Fordist assembly line — and one run is manufactured: this is the nature of offensive production in baseball, and the significance of baseball's chalk lines. But changes have become manifest in society, most notably as we change the fashion in which we communicate. As McLuhan continues:

Baseball, that had become the elegant abstract image of an industrial society living by split-second timing, has in the new TV decade lost its psychic and social relevance for our new way of life. The ball game has been dislodged from the social center and been conveyed to the periphery of American life (UM, p.211).

Replacing baseball at the core of American social life? Football, in its truest form perhaps the modern team sport most in touch with its sensibilities of simulation. For the whole premise of football, particularly the spectacular form created by the NFL, is to model the American military-industrial complex — as it exists to fight an obsolete form of war.

It is here that the significance of the lines in football becomes apparent: the first down line, a fiction without any basis in chalk or paint, is the most significant line in football. Indeed, the sidelines are the Foucaultian iron that keeps the grid intact and the athletes focused on their objective: the goal line, which is in fact not even a line anymore but a plane, now that the sport has evolved into the third dimension. It is the first down line, though, that drives the players ever forward; once it is reached, it disappears, only to rematerialize 10 yards further down the field.

The difference between the lines is best exemplified in how the athletes themselves treat them. Baseball players, seeking to retain a sense of myth in the face of the modern rational industrial machine, refuse to step on the base lines for fear of incurring bad luck. Football players, on the other hand, walk all over the first down line, as it is virtually painted on the field. The line itself is the myth, but it is a myth powerful enough to induce great violence in the men who act like it doesn't exist.


One response to White Lines

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  1. Melissa Black says:

    I find this blog extremely interesting. To me, the most intriguing part is the inclusion of the poem at the beginning. When Grandmaster Flash talks about the white lines, he is speaking of cocaine. He talks about getting friends to engage it, about the costs involved, the method of taking it, and finally about the consequences of “killin’ your brain.” When examining the poem with respect to the rest of the blog I find it difficult to pull together similarities. Without any references to the poem in the entire blog, I think it is interesting that the poem was even included in this particular blog.
    Aside from the poem, I also found the discussion about the lines in the games of baseball and football very fascinating. I have never really looked at the lines from this point of view. I think the two types of lines can also be viewed in a similar manor. As mentioned in the blog, the lines in baseball help guide the athlete where to go. Along with this, in football the lines are not necessarily there to run along to get to the next position, but they are there to guide the individual where to go. The athletes have a goal to get to the first down line, and then the second down line etc.; this is guiding them in their goal. I think in all sports the lines, whether they are white, as those in football and baseball, or red or blue in hockey, or lines in a 100m race, all have similarities within sport. Each of these sports can portray a sense of guidance within the sport. Hockey lines guide the players by allowing them on one side or the other of each particular blue line. Lines in a running or swimming race guide the athletes in that they have their own space to run or swim. I think in almost every sport there is some sort of line or symbol that helps guide the athletes.