Day Thirty-Four: Coming out of Sandlot-Based Isolation
by Tom Noonan
Over the past week I’ve been working on a substantial paper that is required for all juniors at Princeton. Since I haven’t been able to post anything new, I’ve decided to put the introduction to my essay up here. It’s on The Sandlot. It might be the best thing I’ve ever written. It also might be the worst thing I’ve ever seen. I have no idea. My eyes aren’t even open right now. Also, it hasn’t been proof-read yet, so enjoy my humanity.
When a piece of popular culture, be it a movie, album, novel, television show, or any other form of populist art, becomes deeply embedded into our national consciousness, a systematic distillation process begins that breaks down the work into a collection of quotes, lyrics, or images. It begins to exist less as a whole piece of art and more as a point of reference, something to be consumed in small bits. This process is a result of two separate forces. The first is the American culture’s proclivity towards forming an all-consuming monoculture that touches on all the furthest reaches of popular art. This is, of course, an impossible task, but our unyielding attempt to do so is what allows for the breakdown of movies such as Sacha Baron Cohen’s highly significant film Borat, which, at its core, is a well-documented investigation into racism, sexism, and other ugly parts of this country’s identity as told through a true outsider’s perspective, to be distilled into a few out of context quotes and a mustache.
The other force working to distill popular works of art comes from the individual who is constantly bombarded with films such as Borat on a regular basis. The sheer magnitude of our country’s body of popular art is daunting to a point where we have come to rely on synopses to keep us updated. When M. Night Shyamalan’s surprising and decidedly quiet hit The Sixth Sense took this country by storm, the knowledge of its ending became something that was more important than having actually seen the movie. Being able to talk about the twist at the end of the film became the defining characteristic of how we related to the work as a whole. Because there is so much to read, listen to, and watch at any given beat of the national culture’s pulse, this distillation process becomes a necessity in order to keep up. It causes Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 slice of life in a dangerously pop-culture saturated world, to be defined in its violence rather than the substantial problems it tries to face. This is a dangerous pattern, and one this essay will attempt to break.
If our culture has become ultra-saturated, then it seems important to revisit some of the most significant and lasting works of popular art that have come out in the past two decades. While this essay may not be the first to take this stance, and, in fact, it is not the first by a wide margin, it will take on a work that has been a particularly severe victim of the monoculture distillation process. This work is David M. Evans’s 1993 film The Sandlot. Only 19 years after the film’s release, it has been relegated to a simplistic genre designation as a kids and sports film, but this essay will discuss its lasting importance as a particularly strong work that tackles issues transcending the somewhat trite tropes of these two genres. Through the investigation of both allegory in modern filmmaking and the symbolic and functional importance of the inclusion of baseball in art, the process of cultural distillation will be reversed, and The Sandlot will be recognized as a forgotten, but not forgettable, allegorical masterpiece.