A Stately Pleasure-Dome: The Entertainment Arena as Panopticon
In one of his stories, Borges tells a tale of a circular ruin in which an old man comes across a temple, long since abandoned, set in the middle of a malarial forest, where he begins to "dream a man: he wanted to dream him with minute integrity and insert him into reality." He dreams this boy, sends him off to work his way in other temples, having "instilled into him a complete oblivion of his years of apprenticeship." This dream-hero goes on to conquer what he was dreamed to conquer. Meanwhile, his creator recognizes that he, too, is someone else's imagination, that all the heroics were mastermined, even himself. "All fathers are interested in the children they have procreated (they have permitted to exist) in mere confusion or pleasure... he too was a mere appearance, dreamt by another." The vestiges of the circular ruin are destroyed by fire.
Toronto's Pleasure-Dome is still standing, barely four years old. But it was imagined by others who were themselves imagined. Situating ourselves in a post-Dome era, some years from now, when the concrete has crumbled, let us reconstruct the meaning of the Dome.
In the early 1980s, Canada was a Liberal-Democratic society (or group of societies) which seemed to guarantee freedom and speech for the individual or collectivity, hope for the helpless, home for the homeless, and art for the artful. The struggles of the 1970s had, more or less, been collected into a legalist world into which the rights of all kinds of Canadians would be secured by a constitutution or Bill of Rights which would guarantee their autonomy. The law ruled, or did it? What the Trudeau era did was to constitutionally enshrine the importance of technique in knowing how to access the law in order to claim rights. Thus ethnicity and gender were rights only in so far as they could be resurrected as the lietmotifs of an alternative culture, not yet born. How to claim them? The State might provide the technical means, but also might not, depending on who represented the state. It might also define the terms under which the technology might be used. The crucial issue was that the State, in cohort with its conspicuous allies, might have a design on technology and civil responsibilities (as well as a regimented idea of play) which was much wider than a mere Bill of Rights.
The end of the 1980s and early 1990s demonstrated how the State chose to use its power in order to employ technology, economics and the law in a particular direction.
The idea of a Dome in Toronto had been around since the end of the 1960s, centrally because, if Canadians were to compete with Americans at their own Sports, they needed to create a comfortable milieu where Texans, Californians and Georgians could compete without getting wet or snow-bound. The Canadian National Exhibition grounds, though drenched with Canadian folklore, wind and snow, were clearly not equipped to deal with "World" league baseball or football. A large-scale igloo, wrapped in concrete, with a blinking eye trained on the elements to give spectators a sense of being one with nature, might just do the trick.
In 1976 Toronto was awarded an American League baseball franchise, the Blue Jays playing their first home game at the CNE in April 1977. In 1982 the Provincial Premier watched the Grey Cup Canadian Football game in pouring rain and decreed that there had to be a Dome. From 1983-1985 the provincial government debated how much, where, when. The province and Metropolitan Toronto council committed $30million each & various private corporations another $125million. The decision to build the Dome on former CN railway lands near CN Tower, that monument to phallic communications, was announced in 1985. Ellis-Don was awarded $184million contract to build the Dome in 1986 (designed by Robbie/Allen using a crustacean principle of an armadillo's back: four segments, three of them moving together to open and close). It was completed by 3 June 1989. Estimated costs by November 1992 were $590million, of which $380 million were incurred by the provincial government. In November 1991 the provincial government signed a letter of intent to sell its share in the Dome to a private consortium for $110 million in cash and $270 million in debentures. In January 1993 the Toronto Star reported that an agreement had been reached in which Ontario would sell the stadium for $110 million in cash with debt securities totalling $250 million to Stadium Acquisition Inc. It had earlier been stated that lawyers fees on behalf of different litigants had come to $70 million, a figure which was independent of the construction and furnishing costs.
The Dome was constructed at a time when 20,000 people in a city of 2.5 million were homeless and 100,000 used foodbanks (the figure was to double three years after the Dome opened). At the same time the City was planning to build an Opera House at the cost of $300 million (never realized), pioneered by a millionaire who is now Lieutentant-Governor of the Province, and was spending millions in an unsuccessful bid for the 1996 Olympics, which would have resulted in even more mega-projects. The Dome was completed six months before that other ribbon of concrete, the Berlin Wall, came down, which had lasted about as long as the CN Stadium. Its Corporation boasted that it had enough concrete (210,000 tons) inside it to pave a sidewalk from Toronto to Montreal (285miles), or not quite as much as it took to construct the Wall (102 miles long and fifteen feet high). In the 1980s the Rock group Pink Floyd played beside the Wall and made a film about it: in the 1990s they played outside the Dome, in Exhibition Stadium.
Apart from Concrete, the Dome had a series of other goodies. Bitove Investments of Toronto and McDonald's of Canada grabbed oligopolies on food supplies, including four counter-service restaurants, three regular restaurants, 19 "SkySnack" stadium-fare concessions, 48 beverage stations, 9 vending kitchens, and adding, for the first time in any North American outlet (McFrance sells wine and McPrague sells beer) draft beer and wine coolers. One of the restaurants had a seating capacity for 504 customers (a trial run for the one in Moscow where the McPushkin seats 500 but serves no McVodka). Canadian Pacific Hotels organized a 'secret' deal to include a 348-room hotel with 70 of them (at $1000 a night) overlooking the field (at an early stage a couple were viewed in 'flagrante delicto' by the eager spectators, not expecting to see the Toronto Sun's pin-up girl doing what they had always imagined her doing). The Hotel, apart from all the usual accoutrements, offered four private SkyBoxes, a 'Corporate' connection with the Metropolitan Convention Centre (next door) and L'Hotel (also next door), and a SkyDome Fitness Club which only the rich (or the rich-for-one-night) could afford.
The Dome also offered Media, in several forms and surprises. Something called a Jumbotron (at $17 million "the world's largest video display board in the world measuring 33.6m x 10.00m (110 ft x 33ft)...1/12 of an acre and could accommodate a house with a swimming pool on the lot") allowed the population to connect back with home, that heimat which gave them a sense of continuity to the culture that made immediate sense: they could see themselves, or their friends, on the screen, could connect with the rest of the world as spectacle as this mega-tv set made them feel part of the action. They were actors in virtual reality. Beyond this, the media offered them Dome Productions, the "host broadcaster for SkyDome providing broadcasters from around the world with the latest in digital facilities" with 'state-of-the-art' broadcasting facilities, all owned by The Sports Network and Controlled Media Corporations, two American-based TV conglomerates. The Toronto Sun, whose President, Paul Godfrey, had once been chairman of the Metropolitan Toronto Council, was listed as one of the SkyDome Consortium members: those who missed out on the bid for corporate space had to buy their way in as advertisers.
But the Dome also presented media in another way. Once set up as an ongoing (successful) system, the Dome became the palimpset of what the culture of play should be read as being about. It was not so much that the Dome invented media culture (obviously it did not) but that in its centrality in Toronto it became the light that lit up the sense of what play should be about. Two Toronto writers (one left wing and therefore looking for a populist image (against the elitist one of the Opera House), and the other critically architectural, and therefore looking for a play-space that worked) were ecstatic about the Dome. Rick Salutin wrote: "Now that I've been there, the place is, as they used to say about promising ball players, a phenom...It certainly does more for people than any bank tower." Adele Freedman wrote, "All round, this is a building to be lived up to. The dome isn't a sculpture. It's a place of public assembly that, with luck, will generate new forms of social interaction and public life. In pre-revolutionary Russia they would have called it a 'social condenser' - a building designed as a catalyst for desired consciousness. In conservative Toronto, we'd call it an enormous arena in a tight urban space. Here's hoping for the unpredictable." (Was she asking for the external concrete walls to be painted over, as miscreants decorated The Wall? One doubts). The two writers, frozen in the dialectics of their own prose and political positions, were sucked into the media interpretation of the space they were invited to view. The SkyDome media (via its PR officers) had managed to persuade two of the most critical writers in the city that the Dome was what the city needed. It was a formidable achievement, but because both of these authors were intelligent and thinking about the social life of the city, they left a few questions dangling.
In Xanadu, prior to the Dome, the collective sense of what the country might be about was essentially an open question. Xanadu was essentially rich, if one lived in Tanzania or Botswana or Israel. It was a society that seemed to be content with itself, but worrying constantly about what it was: a fragment of a dead Empire? Two countries? A country which accommodated 100 races, religions, nationalities? The Greeks to the American Romans? The hope of the hopeless, the hope of the Free? Xanadu tried to bring a constitution "home" (it is still trying); to heal the wounds of the "two solitudes" (trying again); affirm that the Group of Seven and Norval Morisseau were creating something different to anything anywhere else (but no-one outside saw this as being any different from what had happened long before in Russia or Oregon); that it could win the Nobel Prize for Literature (Layton? Atwood? Davies? etc); that in one flash of a puck-shot it could beat the Russians at Hockey? Some other people in Xanadu tried to make it in the Big Leagues of the World. Millionaires in Xanadu started the long, slow climb to becoming wealthy elsewhere while destroying what had given them a sense of heimat in Xanadu: Steve Roman, the Reichmans, Campeau, Conrad Black, the Thompsons, Gerald Bull. In Xanadu, prior to the Dome, everyone seemed to want to be wanted.
There was, inevitably, another Xanadu. Most of the people who lived there struggled from day-to-day to make their living. They had their own forms of play and work. Some people, two or three decades ago, had had the sense to give them the space, money and time to create in an environment that they called home. The CBC, the Canada Council, the various provincial Arts councils, the Trade Pact with the USA, the various monies that came from Federal funds to allow native people, women, immigrants to claim their own rights and to make their own work were all ingredients to help support an identity that was clearly of their own making. In the 1970s and 1980s Xanadu was creatively vibrant, not because it wanted to go anywhere to prove itself to the others, but because it was able to be true to itself. This other Xanadu treated the international carpetbaggers (if it thought of them at all) as of no particular consequence. It was, of course, wrong in such an assumption. The other Xanadu was waiting to take from them everything that they had. Its operating symbol (though it had been tried out before in the Montreal and Vancouver Expos of 1967 and 1986 and the Calgary Winter Olympics of 1989) was the Dome. The Dome was the measure, more than the Free Trade Pact or NAFTA, of the ultimate snub to the other creative members of Xanadu.
If $590million was poured in concrete and labour costs to build the Dome, the real financial implications were much greater. A Water pumping station had to be moved (at a cost of $18million) to allow construction to develop; the entire road system around the Dome (including the rebuilding of a bridge) had to be replanned and built; a skywalk was constructed to link the CN tower with Union station; a light transit line was built along Harbourfront and projected to continue up Spadina Avenue; ultimately the entire focus of downtown Toronto was relocated from the apparent centre of the city (around City Hall) to the Canadian National Railway lands. Already in place before the Dome were L'Hotel and the Metro Convention Centre, the Roy Thompson Hall, the Royal Alex Theatre. Planned were the Broadcasting Centre, the Metro Toronto Council building and a 70 acre CityPlace to house offices, retail shops and 5,500 residential units. The former development of Harbourfront to the South and beside the lake were miniscule in comparison, but now become an essential adjunct to the Dome space. As a contributor to Total Baseball wrote in 1989, when viewing the development of baseball parks in the USA after 1960:
Since Dodger Stadium opened in Los Angeles in 1962, there have been eighteen new stadiums opened for major league use, and the construction or renovation of every one has been undertaken with public money. Oftentimes, that public involvement has taken place as one part of a larger urban-development effort, with the new park situated on once-blighted or underdeveloped land near the city core and forming the centerpiece of a massive development project. This has been the case in cities like St Louis, Seattle, Minneapolis-St Paul, and Pittsburg...
The development of the Harbourfront area and the Railway lands had been debated in Toronto from the early 1970s and had alternated between providing public housing, community centres, parks and general recreational facilities to market-driven commercial development. With the siting of the Dome, the die was irrevocably cast in favour of a development that was entirely commercial, though some publically-funded co-operative housing was established at the East end of Front Street (the Dome is one mile West) in the early 1980s. Public money, on the American model, was to be used to pump-prime commercial development on terms which the private sector could not refuse (the money could never have been borrowed from a commercial bank). The government, apart from putting up much of the working capital, also guaranteed to cover all losses should the venture not prove to be profitable. In order to pull this off, the government persuaded 25 (or was it 29?) companies to contribute $5million each and to have "preferred supplier status" (that is, a monopoly of provision in their designated fields) as well as advertising and promotional rights and boxes, worth tens of millions of dollars per year.(In fact the corporations donated much less than $5million: "The corporations [were] able to deduct $4.2 million of the $5 million as a cost of business, saving up to $2.1 million on income taxes. (Thus the Federal government's contribution to SkyDome was, indirectly, the $60.9 million saved by the corporations on taxes). For providing as little as 15% of the equity, the corporations get 70% of the profit. If there are any losses, Ontario will pick up the tab, at least initially." As the costs on the Dome itself escalated from $184 million to $590 million, the government wound up bearing the brunt of this deal, although the major taxes (personal, corporate and property) from the project would (in 1992) yield $42.3 million to the provincial government and the city. Meanwhile some of the monopoly suppliers (eg McDonald's, which has the exclusive fast-food rights for 97 years) themselves brought in $40 million a year from the start.
The basic reason for the Dome, however, was the baseball team. Baseball was, of course, the ultimate all-American game, in spite of a long Canadian (and particularily Toronto) history of involvement. And in 1992 (the year that 'celebrated' Columbus's 'discovery of America), for the first time a team wearing non-US colours, won the World Series. Such heavy symbolism! 1992 was also the first year in which baseball appeared at the Olympic Games - in Barcelona, no less. As an observer wrote, "Whereas the World Series has always been contested within North America, in 1992 a different sort of world series will be, for Americans, all away games. The meaning of baseball, then, may lose much of its meaning; rather, the cipher may become less available as an inscriptive space in which 'America' is repeatedly written." It is therefore tempting to see Toronto's victory in big-league baseball as a strike against American hegemony in this particular field, and, doubtlessly the Japanese, the Taiwanese, the Cubans and the Nicaraguans may all see it in such a light. The immediate history of baseball, of competitive sports in general, and also of rock music might, however, put all of this in a different light. 1992 was also the year in which the Seattle Mariners were sold to a syndicate headed by Hiroshi Yamanchi, President of Nintendo of America; the year in which Olympic athletes were caught between their alleigances to the Sports outfitters Nike or Reebok as sponsors; the year in which the rock musician George Michael took to court Sony, the Electronic Hardware company, in order to break his contract because "he felt he had been transformed from someone who was viewed as an artist to 'little more than software.'" 1992 was the year of multinational globalization and of the ultimate mechanization of culture.
But when baseball was appropriated by Toronto in 1976 it was clearly seen as being an American institution, in spite of the fact that Toronto had had an earlier professional team and that Montreal had had one since 1969. The debates on what kind of American institution it was had preoccupied baseball fans, judges, journalists and academics since the early days. (In fact what were the early days became part of American mythology and political rhetoric). A. Bartlett Giamatti, former president of Yale and later Commissioner of Baseball, wrote, before he died in 1989 that baseball, "in all its dimensions, best mirrors the conditions of freedom for Americans that Americans ever guard and aspire to" because "it embodies the interplay of the individual and group that we so love, and because it expresses our longing for the rule of law while licensing our resentment of law-givers." The journalist George Will argued on the contrary that baseball simply exemplified the Protestant ethic, "the pursuit of happiness through excellence in vocation." Thus baseball was woven into the fabric of Americaness, the one extra-legal (baseball as a continuity of Cowboy America) and the other a corporate work ethic. There was a different part of America that neither of these two versions addressed. Until 1947, almost 100 years after the end of the Civil War, the United States practiced Baseball Apartheid. The history of the various Negro leagues ran parallel to those of the White leagues. If baseball integration came a few years before the confrontations in Little Rock, it was only just. And forty years later there were still no black managers, though by 1993 there were four, one in Toronto. The other social part of baseball's history that was relevant to Canadian appropriation was its conscious imperialism and sexism. During the Second World War able-bodied men were called up to fight in Europe and Asia. To keep the baseball industry going, two strategies were adopted. The first was to recruit players from the Caribbean, particularily Cuba, a process that gathered momentum when the war ended. The second was the establishment of a women's professional league which, although the league continued after the war, was relegated to the status of a minor sport. Thus, although the major Leagues were happy to bring in players from the Gulf of Mexico to play for American teams, they never considered the option of having teams based in Havana or Panama or Managua which could comptete for the World Series. As for sexism, Well...That Montreal and, later, Toronto were granted expansion teams in 1968 and 1976, in spite of the fact that there were virtually no Canadian baseball players of professional status, indicated that Canada was already a part of the USA. What mattered was not so much the calibre of players, but that the industry could be sure that there was an adequate business, media, and real estate infra-structure. The cultural capital could be imported.
The business side of baseball was changing almost daily by 1976. When Toronto obtained its franchise (for US$7 million, 45% each held by Labatt's breweries and the Webster (Globe & Mail) estate, and 10% by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce), baseball had already become a profitable business. But by 1991, after the Websters had sold their 45% to Labatt's for US$60.3 million, the Blue Jays were valued at US$178 million (fourth among all baseball teams, though Montreal topped the National league at US$60 million), with an operating income (profit) of US$13.9 million per year. The two features which changed the face of baseball were the involvement of the media and savage labour disputes that affected the industry from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. At the end of the 1991 season, 47% of the owners' revenue (or US$730 million) went on players' salaries and by 1993 each baseball team was scheduled to receive US$15.4 million in television revenue (in 1991, radio and television revenue ranged from as low as $3 million for the Seattle Mariners to $45,5 million for the New York Yankees, with the Jays making the median $14 million). Meanwhile in 1992 attendance was down slightly, but the spread of attendance was more interesting. Eight clubs had increased attendance (including the Blue Jays which, for the first time anywhere, topped 4 million for the year) while thirteen clubs were down by more than 100,000. It was a case of to those who have, more shall be added. Toronto had joined the mega-buck league.
The impact of labour organization in baseball has been well-documented, particularily by Marvin Miller, Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, who lays out the long, brutal negotiations in his autobiographical account, and by Quirk and Fort who provide economists' interpretations of the
implications for salary distribution and competitiveness. The upshot of these developments was that, on salaries, "income inequality in the rest of the US economy, although high relative to other countries, pales in comparison to the inequality in recent years in baseball salaries." With the introduction of Free Agency in 1977, "a disproportionate share of the benefits went to the top players, who were the big gainers from free agency." On the other hand the introduction of a competitive labour market to baseball had no noticeable effect on the competitive balance in the leagues. The well-endowed teams won and the less-endowded did not, before and after 1977.
[More here on Baseball, on the business of the Jays in particular, and also on the CFL and the implications of 'Americanization' for Canadian football. Conclude this section with the Political Economy of Sport under Free Trade]
In the 1970s and the early 1980s pleasure had taken to the streets and to love-ins and fist-fights. Soccer stadiums were collapsing around the world under the weight of belligerent fans, and rock bands enjoyed international travel in privately-chartered jumbo-jets accompanied by entourages of groupies, managers, lawyers and ample supplies of dope and liquor. In many ways it looked like a social movement, snubbing its nose against authority, by establishing a new authority of popular culture. But Woodstock was followed by Altamont; the drug-related deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janice Joplin were followed a decade later by the assassination of John Lennon. By the 1980s Rock music had turned into a multi-trillion dollar business, making baseball in comparison, small potatoes: by 1978 World sales for rock music totalled $7 trillion. The studio costs of making records had tripled in 3 years and the massive expansion of independent recording companies had come to a stop leading to a return to a few large monopoly producers. The recording industry and the sports industries wanted to preserve their investments, ensuring that only "stars" got recorded or were manufactured in guaranteed locations. The architecture of pleasure was a crucial ingredient in this process.
The true purpose of Haussmann's work was to secure the city against civil war. He wanted to make the erection of barricades in Paris impossible for all time. With such intent Louis-Philippe had already introduced wooden paving. Yet the barricades played a part in the February Revolution. Engels studied the technique of barricade fighting. Haussmann seeks to prevent barricades in two ways. The breadth of the streets is intended to make their erection impossible, and new thoroughfares are to open the shortest routes between the barracks and the working-class districts.
Walter Benjamin's sense of the importance of street architecture as a means of containing social protest must be coupled with Michel Foucault's interpretation of the idea of the Panopticon as a device for establishing control in a large interior:
By the effect of backlighting, one can observe from the tower, standing out precisely against the light, the small captive shadows in the cells of the periphery.They are like so many cages, so many small theatres, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible. the panoptic mechanism arranges spacial unities that make it possible to see constantly and recognize immediately. In short, it reverses the principle of the dungeon; or rather of its three functions - to enclose, to deprive of light and to hide - it preserves only the first and eliminates the other two. Full lighting and the eye of the supervisor capture better than darkness, which ultimately protected. Visibility is a trap.
With its access ramps, the SkyDome directed the audience directly to their appropriate level, so that 'cross-overs' to other levels was impossible. Everyone was seated. Steel barriers separated off each seating row, while the entire performing space was separated from the audience by a fifteen-foot concrete wall. The only areas of public concourse were around the food and concession areas, where people were expected to buy, consume or excrete. Within their seats, by day or when the arc-lights were trained on them, the audience was not only visible to the numerous guards and ushers who stood guard at the top of each of the aisles, but also to each other because of the JumboTron which periodically cast its eye over the crowd to reveal to everyone else their casual pleasures. By night, when a musical or theatrical performance was taking place, the lights came from two directions. From the performing space, which allowed the guards to see the entire audience in sillhouette, the light radiated up to the stands. From behind the guards the lights from the concession areas allowed the audience to see the guards in sillhouette at the top of the aisles. Pleasure was consummately mechanized.
This architectural mechanization of joy, the militarization of the pleasure principle, revealed something of the schizophrenia embedded in capitalism's sense of territoriality. To have, but not have pleasure, to consume happiness in a virtual reality where nothing could be touched but where everyone was a visual participant, to be seen as being happy, to be consumed, to consume - surely in societies where people were dropping dead of AIDS, Junk Bonds, assassin's bullets, anorexia, drug overdoses, migratory dispossession, to be virtually happy through any form of mechanized culture was more important than being unhappy?
The Blue Jay hitter Roberto Alomar's photograph appeared on an advertisement outside the Dome which said: "Don't Drink and Drive: I always find a designated driver." Roberto Alomar stayed in the SkyDome Hotel when he was playing in Toronto and flew to other games. With a salary of $2million a year he also probably drove everywhere else with a chauffeur. This barefaced lying in a moral cause was typical of the schizophrenia that was at the heart of Toronto's pursuit of pleasure. Although four major liquor and beer companies helped to set up the Dome, the idea that drinking was essentially pleasurable was not only countermanded by the serious restrictions placed on what could be drunk where at the Dome, but also the moral injunctions that accompanied entering and exiting from the space. Similarily, the City Council, while eager to gobble up any revenues it could get from all the nasty habits of the people in the Dome, decreed that from 1 January 1993, there should be no smoking anywhere in the stadium (they had ensured that there should be no future "conflicts of interest" by vetoing Tobacco companies as potential sponsors early in the negotiations).
The State, which helped to put this edifice together, therefore spoke with forked tongue. "Do" also meant "don't." "Have fun!" also meant "Feel Guilty!" Along with a linear version of progress which saw the Dome in 'State-of-the-Art,' unidimensional, terms was the fractal sense that every line could be broken into different planes, very much as the architects of the Dome had done with the building. That there is a different intention between the policies of the corporate sponsors and those of the State should be clear, with the policies of the mini-state (the City) concerning themselves with petty moral issues and questions of safety. The linear account of progress was very much with the corporate sponsors, who saw things in terms of "the bottom line," with guaranteed returns. At the time the Province probably had a similar view (how else would it have guaranteed so much?) though its view of "World City" status (Austin? Cincinnati? Cleveland?) suggested a hexagonal vision that had less to do with linearity than with the power of circuses elsewhere as the measure of "excellence." The City, pressured by the power of the other two, could only use the power of negativity, to ensure that bad things did not happen, itself a use of the past and the future with the present as a void. The ideational structure that spectators entered was therefore fractal, like a snowflake, and, like a snowflake, it had inbuilt elements of dissolution. The competing lines as they bent and reformed provided contrasting points of desire, and hence of pleasure. The Canadian National Railway, on whose old roundhouse the Dome was built, had long abandoned an interest in taking people anywhere in favour of making them comfortable in varieties of real estate, and otherwise it concentrated on transporting commodities. Canadian Airlines, born of a similar momentum, was in early 1993 to sell itself to its major American rival. Olympia and York, which guaranteed $5million in 1987, was bankrupt by 1992. Imperial Oil, burned after the Gulf War fiasco, decided to withdraw its investment. The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, caught up in the Olympia and York fiasco, laid off 2,500 employees in 1993. The commercial involvement, miniscule as it was, looked looked like a patch-up operation by 1993. When the 'privitization' of the Dome was completed by 1993, seven companies remained in the consortium (Bitove, The Sports Network, Coca-Cola Ltd., Controlled Media Communications, the Ford Motor Co. of Canada, Ainsworth Investments and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) though the president of Stadium Acquisition Inc. was George Taylor, President of John Labatt Ltd. which had a 90% stake in the Blue Jays.
Thus to watch a ball-game or a concert was a hazardous enterprise. This was, ultimately, one of the last great Keynesean experiments anywhere, but all levels of government were at heart ashamed of their Keyneseanism. To nationalize the Dome and live off the profits was, in spite of the State's enormous investments, considered an antiquated political philosophy. Thus the State's guilt at its own involvement was displayed by the total monopoly of non-state advertising (apart from "Don't Drink and Drive" and State Lottery ads) that greeting spectators as they settled in their seats. This was symbolized most directly by the involvement of the Toronto Sun. The Sun's advertisements were everywhere, and yet this newspaper had argued strongly throughout its history against government involvement in any commercial enterprise. The visibility of such ads gave the impression that the Dome was a triumph of Free Enterprise. In fact, Corporate Free Enterprise, including the buying and selling of players and musicians that characterized the baseball and rock industries, was being kept alive by the State. The visibility of advertisements was a trap that lulled the public into acceptance of a Corporate abstract mechanism.
But, ultimately, the Dome was a gigantic television studio, in which the spectators felt that they were being active participants in the spectacle. If this was a Trojan Horse, a present from NAFTA, it didn't matter much because the spectators were inside it. The physical space, however regimented and militarized, gave everyone a sense of being There, part of the simulated culture that appeared daily on television. And it was universal, global, making all Canadians feel part of a wider world through optic fibres and sattelite dishes.
In the Global Village - the immaterial new Imperium - there is no public art, and therefore no messages that are widely transmitted. Thought, which for colonial artists is everything, has now been relegated to a minor role in the artistic formula, its applications either academic or vulgar. It is a secondary commodity, used chiefly as a personal subjunct to the acquisition of a primary commodity, which is consumer experience. Life in the Global Village is not meant to be understood and it is not meant to be interpreted. It is only meant to be experienced. And even then the experienced medium is not life but the Global Village itself. (Fawcett, 1986: 168-9)
The importance of the Spectacle and the illusion of participation thus ensures both an awe at the nature of the Creation and a feeling that, even though there must be many secrets attending the Act of Creation and the Performance of the Actors, everyone is in on the secret. Thus the Open Secret of the construction of the Dome, the sponsorship of the project, the Lives of the Media Saints, the Meaning of the Events, constituted an extension of Home, a Home where the gossip of everyday events in immediate relationships had to compete with the gossip of the Secrets revealed from television and the Happennings in the Dome. "Secrecy dominates this world, and first and foremost as the secret of domination." The Dome was and became Home for those whose home had already become the Global Village, with its verisimilitude of global happennings, its dependence on electronic hardware for meaning, its cloning of reality. But the language of Domination was absent in the accent that was used in unveiling the secrets.
All of this might lead to the comparison of the Dome with the construction of Cathedrals, one which will be developed later in this piece. The surface comparison is obvious enough. The Catholic church took the meetings of primitive Christans, pagans, gnostics and turned them into a literary spectacle (only priests could interpret the Bible, and the Vatican had previously decided what of the Bible mattered), into a theatrical spectacle (the play took place round the altar, with its cast of hand-picked actors), and into an architectural construction which allowed all this to happen. The primary socio-political institutions (the Catholic Church, the Feudal system) programmed the Cathedrals so that they could send and receive the appropriate messages. And, even though sometimes the messages got mixed up (the assassination of Becket in Caterbury or the execution of Joan of Arc, or even the sculptors leaving grinning gargoyles on the facade), ultimately (and a thousand years is a long ultimatum) the fit between Cathedral as text, architecture and religious dominance has been very tight.
The Dome could be seen as the Cathedral of the 20th century, but then so could the the Ford or Citroen Car if we take collective labour as a indication, and so could be the museum, which freezes culture in a particular moment, or the Disney phenomenon which masterminded the collective history of a people into the absolute authentic fake. All of these, taken together, could be the Cathedral of the 20th Century, if we do not want to wrap ourselves into a single edifice. To take the Dome as the 20th century Cathedral would be to show how it stands out against all of these other spaces where the
Such a space, therefore, was acoustic, in Edmund Carpenter's sense ("Perspective translated into visual terms the depths of acoustic space)" but an acoustic space which was over-written with political-economic teleprinting, something which both Carpenter and McLuhan missed, because they chose, like Baudrillard, to by-pass the political and economic in favour of the simulation. The Global Village contained in this one spherical shell the ability to erase all the personal histories of the spectators, all 'minor' cultures in favour of the one great simulated narrative of television. That the 'Stars' of Baseball, the 'Stars' of Rock and the 'Stars' of the movies were all paid in similar coin made the show that much more exciting. Even the mundane activities of little Johnnie at the Diamond could be validated by taking him to the Dome to show him that he was a clone of a 'Star.' But, of course, little Johnnie would never be a 'Star' nor even a particularily good ball-player: his space had been pre-empted by a Game where even the score-cards looked like the printout for the Toronto Stock Exchange (but don't look for the Blue Jays or George Michael on the Stocks: Labatt and Sony had successfully buried them in more general accounts). The shouts and cheers at the Dome were an extension of telemarketing. [See section 8]
All public monuments to culture draw on a Cultural Capital which is generally established outside them, but over which they ultimately come to have dominance. The cultural capital is derived from other working sites, where the aesthetics of pleasure has its own sets of distinctions. Thus the working sites for baseball's cultural capital were in the formative years, in the Negro Leagues, in the university leagues, and in the schools. Progressively that site has moved in two directions: to the depressed economic regions such as the West Indies and Central America which provide the manpower, and to the Temples of Popular Culture, such as the Dome, which provide the Spectacle. The definition of what baseball is, and will be in future, therefore comes from the place of the Spectacle, while the cultural capital comes from an aesthetics of consumption defined by (mainly passive) spectators, and of skill from (mainly) expatriate practitioners. But an effective cultural capital comes from a reciprocity between the producers and the consumers, unless the producers are to be seen entirely as products, artefacts of an abstract mechanism. "We weren't playing for Canada. We're Americans. We wanted it for ourselves." Blue Jays player Joe Carter.
Joe Carter was asserting something of himself, that (against the odds) his cultural capital was being appropriated by an alien body. It was, of course, only momentarily being appropriated by Canada which used it as a symbol for something else (a fragile symbol of national unity against the probability of a 'No' referendum? ). But other Joe Carters had long been the software for major electronics consortia in Japan and Germany, the simulacra in a Super-Nintendo game whose persona was defined by a play-strategy that was (almost) beyond his control. When the great statistics were added up ten or twenty years later, some might wonder at his individual life and achievements, but ultimately what would matter was whether he had redefined the Game.
The Game, of course, was War. Sport had always been a simulation of war. Even Chess, that most aristocratic and courtly of games, placed its medaeval pieces on the board in order to eliminate first the pawns, then the knights and the clerics (who played a diagonal game of their own) until ultimately the King and Queen came face to face in mortal combat, but, of course, a structured combat, "institutionalized, regulated, coded... with a front, a rear, battles." (Did I mention Queen? Obviously by post-medaeval society gender had been clearly eliminated from any game of strategy). The ultimate contest was always at the top, in spite of the old exhortations to "play up and play the Game."
But, and it is a big But, the Game was arguably always an alternative to the Big Game of War. Sport was an element in the civilizing process which allowed contest to take place without human bloodletting. There are many arguments on this side, and parents, feeling that their children should be kept fit and should let off steam, have, down the ages, been persuaded that, instead of being lonely joggers or badminton players, they should get up at five in the morning and play hockey or, over the summer, go to baseball camps. Such reasoning has become integral to Western (and particularily Canadian) culture, and it would be redundant to elaborate on that point of view here.
The rules of the Game have changed, however, and the Game that entices the young is not only wrapped up with big business but also with intergalactic wars. Instead of Chess they play the same Super Mario as does Salman Rusdie, hiding from a sentence of Death imposed by the religious head of an oil-rich power with nuclear potentiality. The old Greek idea of mens sana in corpore sano seems light-years away when we contemplate sport in the Dome. Our sports heroes do not have to be intelligent, nor even moral. They are mercenaries hired to do a job which requires physical prowess and some kinetic skill. They are bought and sold according to a formula which is more appropriate to real estate deals, though, like prime real estate, they can command high fees.
But some of this may be put down to inevitable changes due to exponentional factors, factors when one thing is put in place the rest necessarily follows. It is an argument which is used regularily - on Free Trade, the European Common Market, almost every technological agreement that is entered into by anyone,
1. Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths. New York: New Directions, 1964: 45-50
2. The epigraph, such as it is, is, of course, borrowed from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's laudinum-driven poem, the plagiarism of which has been used frequently in extolling the Dome. Throughout this article I have liberally sprinkled Coleridge's words as introductions to the various sections. The sequencing and the contexts are, of course, all my own:
In Xanadu did Kubla Kahn A stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea. So twice five miles of fertile ground With walls and towers were girdled round: And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree; And here were forests ancient as the hills, Enfolding sunny spots of greenery. But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover! A savage place! as holy and enchanted As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted By woman wailing for her demon-lover! [To be continued when the Man from Porlock has left]
3. Jan Morris, Among the Cities. New York: Oxford UP, 1985: 371
4. For two accounts of the CNE see James Lorimer, A Picture History of the Canadian National Exhibition. Toronto: James Lewis & Samuel, 1973; and G. Wall and N. Zalkind, "The Canadian National Exhibition: Mirror of Canadian Society," in G.Wall and J.S.Maesh, eds., Recreational Land Use, 1983
5. Information from Skydome: World's Greatest Entertainment Centre. Toronto: Skydome Corporation, May 1992
6. Toronto Star, Nov 15 1992: "Lawyers Cash in on SkyDome haggling," by Tony Van Alphen: H1
7. Toronto Star, January 15, 1993: B1
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