Media Representations of Fandom: Field of Dreams

It feels like it has been awhile since I analyzed a book, movie, TV show, etc. to determine how it represents fans, fan communities or fandom, in general.  Why did I pick this movie, Field of Dreams?  Simple.  My first fandom, of sorts, is baseball.  I am a lifelong Chicago White Sox fan.  My entire family is.  When I mean my entire family, I mean the fandom goes back a ways as my grandfather used to sneak through the Chicago sewers to get into old Comiskey Park without paying as a kid in the 1920s and 1930s.  I spent many days and nights of my childhood there as well.  Thus, is this fandom of mine genetic or environment?  I don’t know.  What made me think of baseball today of all days?  First, Opening Day of the baseball season is just right around the corner.  The Sox start on Monday.  Second, yesterday, I went to see the Sox play in Milwaukee with my parents, my aunt and uncle, three cousins and their families.  So, then, why this movie?  It is one of my favorite baseball movies.  The main characters live in Iowa and are White Sox fans!

(Spoilers alert):  The movie, Field of Dreams, tells the story of an Iowa farmer, Ray, who starts to hear a voice.  The voice, he thinks, is telling him to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his land.  Once he does, Shoeless Joe Jackson and other players from the Chicago “Black” Sox come to life to play there.  The Chicago White Sox were called the Black Sox when they threw (lost intentionally) the World Series in 1919 in a gambling scandal.  The eight players, including Joe, were banned from baseball after that.  Anyway, after Ray builds his baseball diamond and the players show up, he hears another voice that he believes that is telling him to go see a baseball game in Boston with a famous writer from the 1960s who disappeared from public life.  After watching the game at Fenway in Boston, the two of them travel to back to Iowa together where Ray has to deal with the bank foreclosing on his farm.  Once they arrive, Ray learns that the solution to his financial problems is to sell tickets to people who come to witness the game, despite the fact that not everyone can see the players.  With that, one more ghost appears, his father. 

I’m sure, by now, you are definitely wondering what this movie has to do with fandom other than the fact that there are fans of baseball.  Well, let me explain.  As soon as the movie begins, you learn that Ray’s father was a huge fan of the White Sox and that the gambling scandal of 1919 caused him to “die a little”.  I think that all fans can relate to this feeling.  I think Duranies have related to this feeling for one reason or another.  Some fans might have felt it when Warren left the band and others when Andy left the band.  Some of us felt it when we heard Night Runner for the first time.  We all know what it is like to be disappointed.  As fans, we feel so much towards our idols. They have the power to lift our spirits like no other and can break our hearts in equal measure.  The movie explains this in the very first scene.  Of course, there is more to learn about Ray’s dad and his fandom as the movie continues.  As a single dad, he told stories of baseball.  Thus, Ray, the main character, grew up knowing fandom.  Of course, he, too, became a baseball fan despite the rocky relationship he had with his dad.  About halfway through the movie, we learn that Ray left home after an angry confrontation with his father in which he said the worst thing he could think of.  He said that he could never respect a man whose hero was Shoeless Joe Jackson, a criminal.  Thus, the worst thing he could think of was to insult his hero, his fandom.  This would be like some someone saying something horrible to me about John Taylor just to hurt me.  Again, this shows how emotional fandom is, how personal it is.

Once Ray hears the first voice that he believes is telling him to plow over his corn to build a baseball diamond, he begins to think about his father and about Shoeless Joe.  As he works to make the field, he starts to educate his daughter about him.  Meanwhile, the town looks in on him and declares that he is crazy or a fool.  His wife, while not completely understanding, supports him and his decision.  Truly, I cannot be the only one to see the connection to fandom.  Aren’t we all told we are crazy when do things like go on tour or when we spend hours and hours online talking to other fans?  Many of us are lucky enough to have families like Ray’s wife who might not understand but support us and our decisions with regards to fandom.  For Ray, like some fans, his decisions affect his financial situation since he has less area to grow crops.  This, of course, is what is really deemed crazy to many in the community and even to Ray’s wife’s brother who tells him that he must get rid of the baseball diamond. Again, people who aren’t fans struggle to understand why we would choose to spend money on fandom.  I’m sure there are many who don’t get why all of my vacations and extra cash go to touring.

Once the next season rolls around, Shoeless Joe and other players who have lived long ago show up to play on Ray’s field.  Interestingly enough, Ray’s brother-in-law and mother-in-law can’t see the players.  They missed out on everything because they weren’t believers.  I loved this.  I think this is exactly like it is when it comes to fandom.  Non-fans don’t see what we see.  In the movie, when one of the players, one of the ghosts, come to the aid of Ray’s daughter, the brother-in-law suddenly can see the players.  Isn’t this how it works?  There is one moment when the non-fan sees the light and becomes a fan.  Of course, at this point, they all decide that people will want to come visit and pay money to do so.  They will do it because it is magical.  Isn’t that how we feel about Duran shows?  Here’s a scene from the movie, which really works to explain fandom minus some of the details pertinent to baseball alone. 

The movie also shows two other elements of fandom.  First, it shows the ugly competitive side of fandom.  The famous writer from the 1960s is asked to join the ballplayers, wherever it is that they go after they play.  Ray’s response is much like any fan’s would be.  He thinks he deserves the invitation more.  He has done more to prove that he is a good fan, so to speak.  He built the baseball diamond and brought both the writer and another baseball player with him.  This is a natural feeling that many fans feel or can feel.  One might feel that s/he deserves more attention, more whatever.  Ray, like most fans, realizes that the fact that he doesn’t get to go is okay and that he can be happy for his new friend, the writer.  Second, the movie shows that fandom really is or can be about relationships.  At the end of the movie, Ray’s father comes back to life so that Ray can make things right with him.  What did this fandom of baseball bring Ray?  It brought him new friends like the writer and it brought him back to his dad.  It is what they shared in common and helped to fix their relationship.  Isn’t that what fandom is all about?  Isn’t it really all about relationships that share a common interest, a common passion?  I sure think so.

-A

One thought on “Media Representations of Fandom: Field of Dreams”

  1. I actually feel disappointed whenever my heroes take the wrong decisions, to me.
    I strongly criticize the step they have just taken, I just get mad. After a bit I change my attitude and laugh loud, thinking I was wrong on throwing my anger to them, because I think they’re human and they make mistakes, as many of us.
    I guess we all should learn to laugh more on our actions, we should learn to be less proud: this would calm the competition within each other and we would enjoy the music.

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