- Baseball and Rhetorics of Purity: The National Pastime and American Identity during the War on Terror
In Baseball and Rhetorics of Purity: The National Pastime and American Identity during The War On Terror, communications scholar Michael L. Butterworth examines the cultural meanings of public rhetoric and discourses connecting “the war on terror” to professional baseball during the George W. Bush administration. Primarily, Butterworth’s work reveals ways in which the Bush administration used discourses surrounding “the national pastime” to justify and define American values and its exceptionalism as “pure.” In his Introduction, Chapter 1" The Church of Baseball” and Chapter 2 “Nostalgia and Public Memory”, the author examines what could best be described as the “fascitoid” character of professional baseball and the peer pressure from other fans and teams to obey baseball rituals as patriotic. Using primary and secondary literatures in tandem with ethnographical observation, Butterworth chronicles how uncomfortable it can be for fans to not engage in nationalistic rituals such as “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch. He also shows that public memory of baseball frequently overlooks a history of inequity in [End Page 496] favor of a nostalgia of rhetorical purity à la the movie Field of Dreams. In Chapter 3 “Purifying Body Politic,” Butterworth argues the “attempt to purify and inoculate the “body politic” against foreign threats was metaphorically replicated by the attempt to purify the bodies within the national pastime by banning performance enhancing drugs” (p. 82). In Chapter 4 “Headed for Home,” Butterworth engages in a critique of the return of a Major League Baseball franchise to the District of Columbia. He points to the unjustified, tremendous public expenditures on stadiums, including the Nationals’ stadium and to tentative connections of national purity and financing baseball. Finally, the author takes his examination globally and points to the longstanding association between ideas of American foreign policy and the export of baseball. Specifically, Butterworth states that the World Baseball Classic of 2006 was a “final exemplar in the use of baseball as a resource in the affirmation of American identity” (p. 136).
As a part of the 9/11 generation of college students, (I was a new freshman in 2001), I will never forget the uplifting spirit of the subsequent weeks after 9/11 when the “United We Stand” stickers adorned cars and a spirit of unity loomed. However, I also will not forgot how many expressed horror at ways in which the event turned to a rationale for wars that pushed America’s armed forces to the breaking point and severely damaged the country’s reputation abroad. While Butterworth’s work is not a history per se, he does provide one interpretation of how professional baseball was used to justify and reify America’s foreign policy during the last decade. Butterworth places his work in a much larger body of sport histories. But he does not include one major work dealing with baseball and changing American memory: Daniel Nathan’s Saying It’s So in which Nathan examines the changing interpretations of the Black Sox scandal over the twentieth century. In this vein, Butterworth does not adequately explain how the Bush administration used baseball in a significantly different way than previous generations, as most of the meanings that Butterworth highlights evolved over the twentieth century, not during the reign of the Bush Administration. Finally, with the hindsight of two years of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, I find his interpretation that the “War on Terror” ended on January 20, 2009, to be tenuous at best (p. 24). But clearly Obama’s affinity for basketball and its metaphorical meanings are quite different from Bush and his relationship to professional baseball. Butterworth’s book provides a worthy interpretation of this relationship. [End Page 497]