In case you missed it, CBC’s Ron MacLean painted himself into a corner yesterday in his misguided attempt to compare Rangers and Caps players to the heroes of 9/11.
As you might expect, there were plenty of people who raised an eyebrow. [...] So of course MacLean and CBC issued a statement about the incident on Thursday, not apologizing but instead clarifying the intent.
“Washington and New York. The two cities united by the tragedy of 9/11. I, like everyone on the planet in his or her lifetime, saw beyond the horror, the single greatest testament to the strength of the human spirit in the efforts of the first responders”, says Ron Maclean.
“We never know if we’ll have that spirit. The bravery, the resilience. As I made clear, the hockey games in no way compare. However Sports has proven a worthy training ground in nurturing the qualities which beget that spirit. To say he plays like a firefighter or a policeman would instantly conjure the traits an athlete most desires, especially in New York and Washington. There could be no higher praise of a player, no greater choice of a role model.
“But as I said of first responders, ‘Our worst day is their everyday’. They stand alone.”
I see what he is saying, but man, it just wasn’t the best comparison to make.
Clarifying the statement is fine, but I thought it would have been nice to see a little admission that it was a regrettable thing to say.
What I think is the most remarkable (and hilarious) about MacLean’s comparison is how halting and bumbling his delivery is. The hilarious part is all the pregnant pauses, which I imagine are caused by the sound of his producer in his earpiece screaming “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU SAYING SHUT UP ABORT ABORT!”
I don’t think MacLean’s comparison is offensive. It’s ridiculous. Literally: it is worthy of ridicule. I’m guessing he noticed that New York and Washington D.C. were both involved the incidents of 9/11/01, and decided to use this relationship in his Rousing Sports Intro. This is standard operating procedure. We’ve all heard this kind of thing a million times. If it’s Philadelphia and Boston, they do something like: “The home of the Liberty Bell and the birthplace of the Revolution have a shared history as old as the nation they built together, but tonight ALL BETS ARE OFF….” Capitals vs. Devils: “In 1776, Washington crossed the Delaware seeking independence. Tonight, Washington crosses the Delaware seeking a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals, as the Capitals yadda yadda…”
All such analogies are stupid, almost by definition. Parodies like mine above are barely sillier than the real thing. The key ingredient is that the comparison is goofily self-aggrandizing, always elevating the athletes to the rank of warrior, superhero, or miscellaneous great figure of history. The message is: THIS IS A HISTORIC BATTLE YOU ARE ABOUT TO SEE. DON’T CHANGE THE CHANNEL. Listen to the music that underscores the intro, all intros of all sporting events. They’re all militaristic, they’re marches. They never play The Bob Newhart Theme.
MacLean’s intro is not wrong so much as wrong-headed. He didn’t invent the casting of athletes as heroes, or the identifying of cities with incidents of history or culture for which they are famous. But the desired response is presumably that the listener hears the intro and is roused to a heightened state of sports-ecstasy. Whatever has led the viewer to this place, it’s amplified now. The viewer is into the story. In narrative, we call this suspension of disbelief.
MacLean’s intro has the opposite effect. Eyebrows are raised not because what he has said has sullied the memories of the fallen, but because the audience’s participation in the fantasy — that these athletes are heroes and this sporting event is actually a historic battle — is short-circuited by MacLean’s dopey comparison. As the saying goes, they can’t “go there.”