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The Nonlinear Editor: Hero with a Thousand Faces
Posted Jun 27, 2006 Print Version     Page 1of 1
  

In the world of Major League Baseball, which commands an inordinate share of my day-to-day attention once the season gets underway, most of the media focus thus far in 2006 has concerned two players, one long dead and the other severely hobbled: Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds. As Bonds trudges toward Ruth's one-time career home run record on his ruined right knee, the baseball world looks on with impassioned ambivalence as a fallen hero looks to eclipse a mythic, exalted one.


I've never been a huge Bonds fan—something about the guy was always hard to root for—but even as allegations of serial steroid use have tarnished his image, I've taken increasing satisfaction in his pursuit of Ruth's #2 all-time home run total. Bonds' greatest sin, if he did indeed join the other top sluggers of the last decade in clandestine steriod abuse, is failing to rise above his times.

One could easily—and rightly—say the same of Babe Ruth, and the sins of his time are far greater. Ruth played every inning of his storied career in a racially segregated game, and benefited enormously from the fact that at least one-third of the finest and most accomplished professional ballplayers of his day—Negro League stars Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleston, Andy Cooper, Ray Brown, Ray Dandridge, and Leon Day, among others—were denied access to the field on which Ruth slugged his way to glory. Consequently, to hear Ruth's achievements described as "legitimate" and "untainted" (compared to the allegedly steroids-enhanced Bonds) is sickening. Would Ruth's career batting statistics have suffered if he'd faced Negro League pitchers? Would Josh "The Brown Bambino" Gibson have put the home run record beyond the reach of Ruth, Bonds, and all-time leader Hank Aaron if he'd been permitted to swing his mighty bat in the all-white major leagues?

It's impossible to say. But one thing is clear. However iron-fisted a dictator he may have seemed, then-baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis—an inveterate racist who pledged that baseball would never surrender its color line in his lifetime—was not the most powerful man in the game in the Ruth era. Today's fans love to idealize the 1920s as the beginning of baseball's golden era, but in truth the game's grip on Americans' attention was tenuous at best, and it hinged largely on Ruth's celebrity. If the Babe had stood up and said, "Josh Gibson joins the Yankees next year or I don't play," or made a similar ultimatum for expanding the league to include Gibson's Homestead Grays, the sport's powers-that-be would have been putting their livelihoods in jeopardy not to comply. But they didn't have to worry about it, because Ruth didn't care enough to bother. Or, more likely, he reveled in the supremacy he enjoyed, and saw no reason to disturb it. If Josh Gibson was a better hitter than Ruth—and there's ample evidence he was—Ruth didn't want to know. (Incidentally, Ruth also used performance-enhancing drugs, injecting himself with sheep testosterone until it put him in the hospital. The New York papers buried the story, reporting that the slugger had a "stomach ache.")

Babe Ruth was a magnificent force of nature, but no trumpet of conscience blared between his ears. In that respect he was not extraordinary, but ordinary. Of course we remember the people who rise above their times for their heroism in doing so; but often, heroes of that sort loom so large in our collective memories that we forget how few and far between they actually were.

Does that mean Babe Ruth wasn't a hero? Of course not. For many of us, great athletic achievements engender a sort of heroism that transcends time, character, and just about anything else. It's hard to rationalize, but true nonetheless.

With the introduction of the Adobe Production Studio in January, Adobe launched an advertising campaign based on the concept of "the videographer as hero." This is certainly a notion we've echoed in EventDV, at least in the literary sense of protagonist as "hero." Videographers are and always will be front and center in these pages. But Adobe takes it a step further, and theirs is a cool idea—the producer as the "hero" of the production, reminiscent of Dickens' David Copperfield wondering if he'll turn out to be the hero of his own life.

But I'm sorry to report that videographers don't get the same exemption as athletes; doing what we do with success and style doesn't unilaterally make us heroic in the public eye. Maybe we're just on the wrong side of the camera, but I think it's more than that. Such exemptions are remarkably rare, extended only to sports figures, soldiers, and saints (an odd triumvirate to say the least).

But what's heroic about event videographers, I think, is how we elevate what we shoot when we do it right. Even though few of us shoot conventional sports heroes or celebrities, we do capture celebrations, the parts of everyday lives that are anything but everyday. Weddings are only the most obvious example of that; one area in which videographers can capture little-seen heroism is the quieter regions of the sporting arena itself, which—beginning with this issue—we'll address in a new regular feature called Field of Vision.

Just as social event videography presents opportunities to realize your cinematic ambitions without ever setting foot on a Hollywood set or entering a TV studio, exciting sports-shooting scenarios abound, worlds away from the big-screen bombast of a Super Bowl or the old-guard elitism of a Kentucky Derby. In this month's Field of Vision, our subject is roller derby, with its amped-up theatricality and in-your-face, fast-paced action—all captured while shooting on roller skates, no less. Future installments will look at more conventional sports-oriented productions that nonetheless fly under the broadcast radar, such as high school football video yearbooks and college-recruitment highlight videos.

There's a wide world of sports out there, just looking for new heroes. Who's to say the next won't come from behind a handheld HDV camera?



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