Remember those times when you walked into an amusement park funhouse, or a department store with angled facing mirrors, or an electronic appliance display of multiple TVs? When you look deep into the distance you suddenly confront something called “infinite regression”, or, a “recursive image”. You look back at yourself in frustration as your alter-ego’s movements exactly match your own as it abruptly looks away.
For centuries artists and creative media professionals have employed similar techniques in novel ways to capture our attention for entertainment purposes, to achieve marketing goals, or to otherwise influence individual and group behavior, etc. A visual and aural landscape consisting of theatrical stages, athletic arenas, and digital electronic and printed media production dispenses a steady stream of images reminding us of ourselves. We find ourselves engrossed, even though at times, we want to look away.
At times, a colorful image of an idyllic past might hint at a future of comfort and plenty. But even more so, the simulated depiction of a smiling Native American girl holding a carton of butter depicting a smaller figure holding a carton of butter, etc., etc. serves as metaphor of how today’s electronic media delivers content.
Philadelphia Phillies All-Star pitcher Cliff Lee plays a game whose origins date back before TV, radio, before modern offset printing even. During Tuesday night’s all-star classic, Lee’s stone faced reaction to a hostile New York crowd appears to have gone “viral”, as we often say in “netspeak”. For New York fans (especially those Yankee fans in attendance at the Mets Citi Field home) it must’ve brought back fond memories of an opposing player’s thrillingly triumphant World Series debut, ultimately giving way to his team’s eventual failure as a whole.
Phillies fans of course experienced yet another TV moment evoking bittersweet memories of what could have been. Denied a repeat championship by the Yankees, the Phillies traded Lee away only to bring him back amid a huge outcry from media and fans, and, with the whole debacle played out against the backstory of Lee spurning the Yankees to return to the team down the turnpike.
In an age where a celebrity athlete’s every gesture, spoken word, printed quote, streamed tweet is parsed over, played, replayed, shared and reshared, Cliff Lee’s demeanor projects an image that’s all about the task at hand, disregarding of any notion of getting all caught up in a “TV moment”. His quote before the 2009 World Series sounds more the stuff of motivational speaker-styled TED Talk then it does of sports talk radio sound bite:
Not nervous at all…It’s been a long time since I’ve been nervous playing this game. It’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. I put all the work in. You do everything you need to do to prepare, and I try not to leave anything to chance. So what’s the point in being nervous? I’ve already done the work. It’s game time. Time to go out there and have fun and execute and let your skills take over.
If he’s part of your own team he projects a strong sense of what it takes to succeed in the arena, whatever and wherever that may be. If you’re viewing his act from afar, through the mega-stage of the NYC and national media, you probably find yourself wondering what his act is all about. But consider this. Some people engineer their path to success by perfecting the act (especially nowadays wherein, as Mick Jagger says, “these days it’s all secrecy and no privacy’). Some, tragically, lose track of when it stops and starts being an act and lose themselves in the process. Fans admire Cliff Lee because action and performance uniformly and efficiently serve each other and perhaps even allow us a glimpse of our own image and dreams in the process.
The other day he had this to say about performance enhancing drugs in professional baseball:
Guys are getting caught…You’re not getting away with it anymore. It’s not like it’s a lingering issue. It’s proven that we’ve taken care of the issue. If you do it – no matter who you are – you’re going to get in trouble and suspended and everyone is going to know. To me it’s a good thing. I hope anyone that does steroids or anything like that, and they’re cheating the game, I hope they get caught and I hope they get suspended. That’s the way it should be.
When his playing days are over, I think Major League Baseball should consider him for a league office position.