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  • Modern Coliseum: Stadiums and American Culture by Benjamin Lisle
  • Peter Marquis
Lisle, Benjamin. Modern Coliseum: Stadiums and American Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017. Pp. 321. index, 76 illustrations. $34.95, hb. $25.98, eb.

After the pioneering works by Sullivan and Zimbalist in the 1980s, issues of stadium subsidizing and sport-related downtown redevelopment have featured in mainstream publications [End Page 424] like Field of Schemes and even on Jon Oliver's news satire, often to voice concerns about the misuse of public money. Modern Coliseum uses photographs, architectural blueprints, commercial leaflets, and journalists' and fans' quotes to identify three stages in the history of U.S. sports stadiums. First, the pre-WWII "ballpark," intimate and embedded in neighborhood life, asymmetrical and often uncomfortable, was a symbol of interclass and interracial communities, as exemplified by Brooklyn's Ebbets Field. Second, the multipurpose modernist stadium, built from the 1950s onward in white suburbs, replaced the "old" parks, torn down on account of the socioeconomic deterioration of their surroundings. Third, starting in 1992, with Baltimore's Camden Yards, the "retro ballpark," hints at America's industrial past, blends into the cityscape, and, through its historicist purpose, reinjects a sense of place in the stadium experience. Lisle argues that these shifts reveal larger trends in American culture, especially the changing meaning of what "the public" signifies in terms of race, class, and gender (8).

In Chapter 1, Lisle describes Ebbets Field in the 1940s as a place with "some sense of common purpose that could at least momentarily overcome boundaries and segregation by ethnicity and race" (30) and complements the well-known narrative of "white flight" suburbanization with a 1946 National League report expressing concern over "the decline of the value of franchises if African-Americans made up of sizable portion of the audience" (28). Lisle concludes that "the (former) unification was grounded in a shared whiteness" (37). Chapter 2 is devoted to Dodger Stadium, built at Chavez Ravine in 1962 after an anticommunist campaign obfuscating the spectacle of evictions of Hispanic communities. This "Taj Mahal" designed for the suburban driver was "the tame version of Ebbets Field as Disneyland had cleaned the carnival experience of Coney Island" (99). In Chapter 3, Lisle argues that, while the Polo Grounds in Harlem had been a place where "there are no strangers, no one is private" (R. Angell), Shea Stadium (opened 1964) was characterless: the bleacher seats disappeared, pricing out the working class and its eccentricities. The suburban stadium offered the comfort of home-away-from-home via restaurants, premium lounges, and gigantic screen-boards. Fan culture, no longer spontaneous, was now produced by prompts from the stadium announcer (143).

Lisle devotes Chapter 4 to Houston's Astrodome, "the eighth wonder of the world," where year-round climate control and synthetic AstroTurf reveal the technocolonial project of the 1970s whereby man becomes the helmsman, masculine and mastering, to defeat the "organization man," bureaucratic and living a safe, feminized life (171). Chapter 5 examines the demolition of St. Louis's Sportsman's Park, located in an African American neighborhood, to build Busch Stadium, which is interpreted as a whitening and managerial reclamation of downtown (194). As public monies were used to assemble and clear the land, Busch Stadium suburbanized the city, sanitized it, and drew consumption dollars back into the decayed city "to make the urban consumable again" (228). The last chapter is devoted to the demise of the modernist stadium in the 1990s, based on Americans' fatigue with placelessness and rising interest for historical roots and authenticity (231). Postmodern stadiums like Camden Yards reinjected the notion of place by speaking the idiom of the old neighborhood (257) through some signifiers like brick, an irregular playing field, and a nearby warehouse. To Lisle, the formula of the retro ballpark amplifies the modernist stadium's logic since the game atmosphere became overproduced, premium seats increased, [End Page 425] and public money was diverted from more useful purposes in order to profit to developers, corporations, and owners (260–65).

Ultimately, Lisle berates the lack of diversity in the retro ballpark, thus leading to a reshaping of the sport public and the American public in...


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pp. 424-426
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