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Mexican wave ban reflects sponsor tyranny


Mexican wave ban reflects sponsor  tyrannyI was not sure what surprised me more, the agitated reaction of the public to the ban on the Mexican wave at the MCG, or the fact that the managers of the 'people’s ground' thought it necessary. At first sight the issue seems trivial. Yet the whole incident tells us something revealing about contemporary sport watching in Australia, and perhaps something about contemporary Australian cities.

Of course, like violence at soccer games, the Mexican wave at the cricket may just be a symptom of crowd boredom. But there is also a sense in which contemporary stadium design encourages concerted crowd activity. In the old days, when smaller stadiums had large amounts of standing room (or even at the MCG, which once had substantial standing room areas) the idea of the Mexican wave was superfluous.

At the MCG the wave always represented a confirmation of what, or so we are told, Australian sport is supposed to be about – a good natured assertion of equality and rejection of the privileges of class. As the wave swept around the outer, the refusal of the members to participate was greeted with loud boos – a ritual demonstration of the stuffiness of those who think themselves above the mass, but also precisely exposing the falsity of the claims that sport is a social leveller.

It is highly unlikely that the manager of the MCG decided to ban the wave to protect the members from embarrassment. But what did motivate the decision? It seems to me that the answer lies in the transformation of contemporary sport into something that is no longer just sport, but rather entertainment. It also reflects current trends in urban space.

Given that, more than ever before, sports supporters are encouraged to participate in the entertainment, not just watch it, the decision to ban the wave seems to embody an egregious double standard. Cricket in particular has developed the concept of sport as entertainment. One could be excused for confusing 20-20 cricket for a cricket match in a disco. Horse racing, notwithstanding its always problematic status as a real spectator sport, has been deliberately transformed into a large-scale fashion show/B&S Ball. Even during the AFL football season television stations and advertisers continually run promotional gimmicks to involve crowd members.

People are encouraged to see going to the football or cricket as a day out, an entertainment activity to rival going to the movies or shopping. Sports managers have painted themselves into this corner, telling us for years that sport has to compete with other entertainments.

Mexican wave ban reflects sponsor  tyrannyPerhaps if management types accepted that sport isn’t just another form of entertainment we would not have to make up some silly pretence that sport needs to be a complete entertainment experience. With this pretence, we wouldn’t have to put up with continual noise, advertising and distractions. At half time we could talk to each other about the first half of the game, rather than being told to sms the name of the player we think most likely to kick the first goal of the second half, or be distracted by some roving buffoon trying to find a spectator drinking a particular soft drink in order to award him or her with a prize.

The real issue with the wave is about proprietary control over the entertainment taking place inside the stadium. Entertainment organised by the stadium managers, which they and their sponsors can make money from, is OK – but spontaneous entertainment, even something as tame as the Mexican wave, is forbidden.

The construction of new stadiums has been accompanied by increased surveillance and control over the spectacular space. The unruly, unstructured space of the old outer has been consigned to history, along with the old suburban football grounds. The result is the destruction of localised meaning. Stadiums are now named after corporations rather than places.

Contemporary sports stadiums reflect contemporary urban spaces – beneath the rhetoric of choice and variety there is an increasing homogenisation of space and place.

Each Melbourne suburban football ground once had a character of its own. Everyone except Collingwood supporters spoke of Victoria Park with a mixture of contempt and fear. Moorabbin had a strange, free-wheeling, sometimes mad, feel that was distinctly St Kilda. Now the MCG has junk food chain stores, while Telstra Dome seems like a shopping mall with a sports field in the middle.

I’m not just writing as a pathetic nostalgic. It is the lack of diversity, the corralling of us all into a public behaviour pattern determined by advertising executives in cahoots with stadium managers that really gets me. The low-tech unruly suburban grounds didn’t allow for the tyranny of advertisers and ground managers. The best that could be managed was a half-time announcement of the cheer squad’s winning raffle ticket over a scratchy PA. Now, with electronic score boards and booming sound systems we are captives to corporate messages from the moment we enter a ground.



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Existing comments

Colin, as someone smarter than me once said, when you see through everything, you are no longer seeing. The idea that the banning of the Mexican wave is somehow a corporate conspiracy is ridiculous. The fact is if you go to the stadium to watch sport then the wave will disturb you. You write "the corralling of us all into a public behaviour pattern determined by advertising executives in cahoots with stadium managers... really gets me".
If the wave is not the corralling of a public behaviour pattern I do not know what is.
I do not usuallly sit in the members but each time the wave goes past I remain seated and make a loud bleating noise. I cannot think of any greater exanple of humans behaving like a mindless herd.
Perhaps we are both curmudgeons of sorts but really, Colin beware of the mob. There is nothing more frightening, less reasonable, uglier. Try reasoning with the mob: " OK you can do the wave but do not throw half eaten pies and drinks into the air". Good luck.
It might just be Colin that the wave is being banned because people watching Ponting, Warne and the rest have paid good money for exactly that spectacle and not for the back of a stranger's head.
That said if you can teach the herd to do the wave only between overs then I will be entirely at peace with it. Again, good luck.
Baaaaaa humbug.

andrew coorey | 06 March 2007  

i agree with you on the manipulation of our senses ie tv ads crap that masquerades as films with no plot and (at subiaco oval)more security people per square yard than at a terrorist meeting
regards STUART

STUART | 06 March 2007  

Andrew Coorey...U are lame!!!
Mexican wave = sweet as entertainment
u = boring old man

bahh humbug!

Jake and Kim! | 18 April 2007  

"I’m not just writing as a pathetic nostalgic. It is the lack of diversity, the corralling of us all into a public behaviour pattern determined by advertising executives in cahoots with stadium managers that really gets me."

Hi - I'm the guy that did the save the wave campaign, just want to say I really enjoyed this article. It's well written, and articulates perfectly thoughts that were bumping around in my head trying to make enough sense to get out.

Obviously that kind of line (as you wrote) isn't a nice sound bite for the news so I have to use more populist language, but I really think you have captured the spirit, if not the mentality, of stadium governance in Australia today.

Matthew Newton | 03 November 2007  

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