Major League Baseball has been extremely tone deaf when it comes to how its audience consumes its product. The generation of younger fans are glued to their cell phones, making it silly that MLB cracks down so hard on GIFs and Vines that make their product seem more appealing to a generation viewing everything through a smartphone screen. No one leaves home without their cell phone these days, and those phones are used to instantly create memories with a camera at sporting events and around everyday life.
The older generation seems to think this is somehow detracting from the natural enjoyment of life and take the time to criticize the practice at seemingly every opportunity. It's a generational divide that comes across as bitter and superior. Couple that generational divide with a stereotype that young women are at games to be seen for Instagram, or because their boyfriends dragged them there against their will instead of "being a good fan" by hanging on every pitch and you have the fuel for a mean-spirited rant. Arizona Diamondbacks announcers Bob Brenly and Steve Berthiaume decided to perpetuate this stereotype when they took two minutes to mock a group of women taking selfies at the ballpark during the fourth inning of Wednesday's game.
Having a group of women taken to task by the broadcast booth during a meaningless game in late September for enjoying themselves is pretty silly. Presumably these women paid for a ticket, just like anyone else in attendance, and didn't seem to be bothering anyone by snapping photos with their phones of their silly faces and giant churros, yet the television booth decided they were worthy of ridicule because they happened to be on their phones instead of using that time to watch every single minute of a nine-inning game. Welcome to 2015, gentlemen. Everyone is on their phone all the time. Baseball is a game with a lot of breaks and using that downtime to capture a fun moment with your friends shouldn't make you the topic of a two-minute call-out. It just makes you a human in the 21st century.
Ironically, this mockery took place right as the broadcast team was pitching the T-Mobile Fan Photo promotion that encouraged fans to send in their pictures from the ballpark to be used on the broadcast. The promotion exists because people take their phones to game and snap photos of themselves, their friends, and their family enjoying the game. This group of women were doing just that. They paid for their ticket and seemed to be having a great time with one another. That's what everyone should get out of a baseball game. Why would anyone want to participate in this promotion if they know they might be mocked for it?
I asked some of my colleagues in the sports world what they thought of the video. This is what they had to say.
Crapping on the interests and habits of young women is such a tired practice. Young women's interests are so often regarded as silly, frivolous, and worthy of scorn. Women are taught to feel shame in such a broad variation of ways, and it's frustrating that last night's edition was over something most everyone I know does: Take a damn selfie at a baseball game. God forbid someone of any gender or age create documentation of a social event.
What I think is complicated, though, is that I can't seem to sort out how much of this broadcast segment was about gender versus generation. I think they're inextricably wound up in this case, and I can't make up my mind if young men doing the same would have earned as much attention from the booth. On its face, the image is pretty funny: A handful of teenagers just being teenagers, exemplifying one small facet of adolescent life in such a saturated way.
My first reaction when I saw the video was exasperation because I knew what the response would be from the masses. And they have not disappointed me in that respect.
I do not like how it is now assumed that groups of young girls only go to games to take selfies of themselves and of their food, and that they don't pay attention to baseball. I also don't like that the broadcasters were mocking the girls. It seems like the easy thing to do and they probably should have taken the high road. And finally, I'm almost positive that if a TV camera found a bunch of frat guys doing the same exact thing, they never would have been shown or mocked on TV.
Young girls and women are always the target of attacks, saying that they’re vain or obsessed with their phones. I feel like that’s completely unfair to them and lumps them into this "ditzy, carefree, shallow" mindset. Yes, they’re at a game — shouldn’t that be enough for some people? They went to a game! They’re having fun! Why take away from young girls and women having fun at a game? If they want to take selfies, that’s totally their thing and they should be able to do it. Maybe they want to remember the game with a selfie — who’s to say they shouldn’t?
Well, it's creepy how the camera pans back and forth across the girls for what feels like forever. Secondarily, there's a really patronizing tone to the comments - "300th picture they've taken of themselves today" what? They paid for those tickets. They paid for those (probably absurdly overpriced) food items. Why not take a picture with it? Why not send that photo in to the Strongest Fan Photo? Do these announcers not know that a lot of the submissions they get for that are selfies? (Of course they do, but it's more fun to make fun of college-aged young women, because HAHA look at these girls and their self confidence). I'd like to know how many times they made their photographer re-shoot the headshot for the team website.
People have been creating images of themselves for the entirety of the history of people and images. If Vincent Van Gogh could have made a self-portrait in seconds, any time he wanted, he probably would have. These young women may not be taking in a ballgame in the same way as a die-hard fan would, but so what? They're at the game. They could have celebrated sisterhood anywhere else, rather than a late-September game between two eliminated teams. Judging by all the empty seats around them, plenty of people made that choice.
"Look at the one on the right," we're instructed, in a command that sounds like we're looking at pumpkins rather than humans. It is 2015; perhaps the time is right to stop treating selfie-takers like a side show. Also it does not help your case when your problem with selfies is that "I can't even get my phone to take pictures!"
MLB seems to have trouble connecting with young fans, who like to use their phones. Our SB Nation friends (at Beyond the Box Score) wrote just this week about MLBAM's backwards efforts to stamp out fan-generated game clips, and this selfie-bashing commentary is cut from the same cloth. I don't feel outraged by this commentary, per se, but I do feel tired of the old guard of baseball industry veterans refusing to yield any piece of their space to a generation that doesn't act or look like them.
The thing that strikes me most when watching the announcers for the Diamondbacks poke fun at the women taking selfies at a baseball game is that it's just plain mean spirited. It's got a touch of "get off my lawn" and a hint of "girls are preoccupied with looks", put together to mock a group of women who are having fun and not hurting anyone. Have some of us mocked people doing silly things like that at sporting events before? Sure. And that was mean too, but we're not on TV. And now this group of women, who just had a great time at a baseball game, will see a video that mocks them when their only crime was having fun in a different way than the older men in the broadcast booth. With every study agreeing MLB needs to find a way to engage new, younger fans, that's a shame.
What do they think they’re accomplishing here? That’s what I keep coming back to. I wish that the camera serving as an obvious proxy for the male gaze was new. I wish that announcers and color commentary guys ogling women, sometimes of disturbingly ambiguous ages (read: they look very, very young), as a team comes back from a half inning or a pitching change, was remotely arresting. But it just isn’t at this point. These women (can we please stop calling them girls?) transgressed some line of proper fandom for the men in the booth. They were trivial or disinterested or silly. Was the booth trying to make a point about having our noses buried in our rather than watching the game? Maybe. But if they were, they very quickly pivoted to a conversation made up almost entirely of gendered understandings of vanity. So what were they trying to do? I’m not sure. But I know what they did, and what they did was shame a bunch of young women for enjoying the game the way they wanted to, in a particular moment, because it offended them.
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Times have changed and it shouldn't be a big deal for people to be capturing fun moments of life with their cell phones. Taking time out of the game to mock them and imply that they should be doing anything other than having a good time is just another example of the older generation of MLB being out of touch with the game as it exists in 2015.