The International Journal of Urban Labour and Leisure Book Reviews
 

 

Book Reviews.

We are now instigating a book review section. In light of this we will post the books available for review on the web site.

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Schmidt, R. J. (2005) This is the City : Making Model Citizens in Los Angeles. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press. (148 + xxviii) $18.95


It starts with the summation (pXi) of a city built on greed and deception, corruption and morality and never gets out of the metaphor.

Not a comprehensive history of LA, this is more a narrative of authority that has shaped and moulded epochs in the history of LA from the 1980s newspaper period, the 1940s era of Hollywood up to 1992 and the era of policing the divide between rich and poor.

In some ways a treatise on the role of citizenship in modern society and how it was lost and found. This history of the city from the fight to construct it in the likeness of the American Dream, to the fight for pubic morals and definitions. This is a text that correlates war, fighting and struggle with the dreams of justice and corruption.

Every citizen is every chance, but also every fodder for the elites to construct their version of citizenship that would last to the present day.

Chapter 1 is a study of Harrison Otis, self made man and seeming ‘warmonger’ who created LA by fighting organised labour to allow capitalism to flourish. His was a war of words as newspaper owner determined to construct LA his way.

Chapter 2 illustrates how the 1940s film industry strove to add to the vision by describing the ideal citizen through representing weakness and redemption with large city life. It also messaged a return to the local village or small town life that Hollywood’s financing icons wanted to portray to the rest of America - a project ultimately doomed to failure. With emphasis on redemption, America itself was viewed as immoral and fallen and in need of examples to emulate.

Even the war didn’t stop that; just slightly changed the focus for moralising. Morality made the city and in this process created the celluloid genres we still enjoy today. However, despite greater depth, Schmidt fails to bring his point to focus, as he gets lost in the subject he knows best and loves - cinema. This is unfortunate, as the wealth of information provided does not illuminate the role of politics and money in the process of creating models of cities and ultimately citizens.

Chapter 3 examines policing and the city. In LA policing was viewed as an ideal form by the police department and by the influential medium of television, despite widespread corruption.

Police violence was rife and this chapter tells the story of William Parker, the evangelical police chief who crusaded for better morals, but relied on the citizenry to follow his lead. Parker ran the police like the military with racist undertones as he resisted societal integration, closing down black culture in white areas.

The chapter also illustrates how Parker used Hollywood and Dragnet in particular to shamelessly promote his view of policing and citizens. In some ways Parker came to hate ‘his’ citizens, seeing them and blacks in particular as inherently evil. In response policing was seen by the LAPD as a war of attrition with good fighting hard to overcome evil.

In chapter 4 Schmidt argues that the film Blade Runner epitomised the role and need for imitation in the city; that the city would only be saved if it imitated the art laid down by the police department and the political elite, that itself controlled all. Here he sees the views of LAPD chiefs as viewing citizens inherently as replicants of themselves, in need of guidance. Latterly the power exorcised by police chiefs was curbed by the mayor, but only at the cost alienating the police from the citizenry.

All in all, a good read that keeps your attention throughout. I would like to have seen more analysis in terms of theory and concepts of power and race, which were crying out for examination. With that in mind I cant recommend this book for teaching, but in providing some background to the way the Los Angeles police department was run for 60 years I can thoroughly recommend it.


G. Coates.

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Anderson, S. C., Tabb, B. H. (eds.) Water, Leisure and Culture : European Historical Perspectives. Oxford : Berg. £14.99, 256pp.

Water, Leisure and Culture is a very interesting book. It examines the myriad ways of delighting in water and the cultural meanings therein. The sixteen contributions take us through spa towns, ice skating, to saunas and through economic, political and environmental issues involved in the enjoyment of water.

Within the book a number of perspectives present water as class based, as communal social experience. The second section uses work from art historians and landscape architects to focus on the role of water in transforming social and political perceptions of Europe. The final section focuses on water as a marketable product.

I found each chapter easy to read and engaging in a way history should be, but at the same time I learnt how ‘water figures in notions of hygiene, health, the sacred, and sublime’ and how this constructs leisure experience. Water is viewed as a means of shared leisure experiences which are spiritually gratifying. The use of water has helped forge bonds between people whose paths would not otherwise have crossed. Jill Steward specifically makes reference to the flirtatiousness of mingling with the ‘lower orders’ in spa towns - much like 18-30 holidays today.

Despite the multi-disciplinary and national focus, I found that the editors had pulled these different strands together into a coherent argument for the historical development of water in European society.

This volume thus presents both a multitude of meanings ascribed to water and leisure in Europe as well as a variety of ‘European’ and ‘American’ approaches to European cultural history.

We learn that Europeans bathed in mineral waters in the belief that they could cure disease or improve fertility - providing an aura of sacredness, drawing pilgrims to visit for both spiritual and physical regeneration. Then spas were built around the waters reserved for the wealthy travellers (Walton). This market for health was constructed around Enlightenment ideas (Blackboum) such as health clubs today (Steward). This view of water sees Europeans interconnected through a medical, philosophical, social and religious discourse.

Water can also construct a national identity such as ice in Holland. Here ice skating had a democratising function refuting elitist attempts to create exclusive skating rinks based on class or gender differences (Fumeť). Such was the national identity and stereotype of the Finnish sauna tradition (Leimu).

The 19th century design of the environment for water also contains political tensions, which contain ‘possess an ideological dimension affecting notions of political affiliation’. Art and literature reflected and propagated ideas about the English and Swedish seaside as symbol of freedom (Payne) (Facos).

All this use of water requires an industry to market and exploit it; hotels, restaurants, rental equipment, swimwear, etc. Water has become a recreational commodity to be marketed, advertised and sold. Holidays appear disconnected from the realm of work only under the careful supervision and planning of the tourist industry, and the success of tourism threatens, through pollution and overcrowding, the natural assets that attract tourists in the first place (Marinov and Koulov). This tourism also prices residents out of the market for water leisure experiences (Vodenska) and causes pollution (Battilani). In this class has reasserted itself as holidaying furthest from pollution is a factor of wealth.

Water, Leisure and Culture is a fascinating book illustrating the lack of a single European concept of recreational water. However, this is not a problem because we can see how water is intimately linked to culture, region, ideology, etc., which discloses ways of thinking and living in specific places and times. These explanations allude to broader changes in European society displaying facets of the ‘fluctuating, interactive relationships of people, cultural discourses and marketing practices that comprise modern Europe’.

G. Coates.
 

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Wilcox, R. C., Andrews, D. L., Pitter, R., Irwin, R. L. (eds.) Sporting Dystopias : The Making and Meaning of Urban Sport Cultures. New York : Sunny Press.  292pp + vi.

 

Sporting Dystopias is an edited volume focusing on America and Canada that encompasses 14 contributions from varied disciplines in the the examination of how sport has become a metaphor for urban life. In some ways this book follows the rise of the city as main living area, but it also illustrates the disillusionment that can be caused by the misappropriation of sport. The intention of the book is also to address how the images of sport have been used to create division and integration by turns. Sport in this sense can be seen as all things to all people. As such the chapters in this book seek to examine the ever-changing relationship between sport and the city, 'place and process and physical structure and human experience'. It also seeks to examine the critically engage with the idea of sport and the city being intimately and dependently linked to benefits for the city, which far from being utopian end up being dystopian through manipulation of powerful participants.

There are no sections in the book and so the individual chapters run into each other without necessarily taking the argument further. However, this is not too much of a problem as the chapters are self-explanatory and provide insight into a number of different areas.

Chapter 2 examines the relationship between representational sports and their distant consumer 'communities', by first examining ideas of community and its relationship to sport, issues of gender are also highlighted here as crucial for our understanding of how sport has been used within the city. The power of large organisations to influence sport and the consumption by fans is laid bare as we examine the role of finance in sponsoring sport 'products'. The chapter provides a good overview of the influences affecting sport in the contemporary city society. The issues of financial power are resonated across the world; large organisations seek to influence sport as a means of presenting themselves. Sport merely seeks to exploit this with executive boxes forcing real fans out of the stadia. Chapter 3 adds to this argument by examining the role of the local civic society as it moves to exploit the power of sport to represent itself int he wider national and international scene. The adage sport is power could have been written for this purpose. Sport is seen to regenerate areas and provide an identity for all within the area. It is this pride that gives people the identity with which to reach out with confidence to other communities and feel confident in themselves. The rituals of support for local teams and sports is accentuate here through an analysis of how writers have associated sports personalities to certain cities and used them as icons of the local area. This allows both to merge and provides again that essential identity for locals. Ingham and McDonald also argue that this is a fickle identity as American sports clubs are usually owned by people outside the area who are seeking the best deal for the team they own. This means they are willing to reduce the association with a city to dust at a moments notice as they seek better tax breaks in another city. This breaks the link with teams and cities as both fans and cities know that what was once their local team could become a rival at any time. And although not posed by the authors, the question remains why do so many people in America still support their 'local' teams? What is the attraction to sport that still keeps gates high?

Chapter 4 takes a different aspect of this 'sport as identity' theme and examines the role of sport personalities statues. These are seen as representations of the achievements of the city and are placed accordingly in public places to be seen by the local populace on a regular basis as their own identity. I would like to have seen this chapter deal with fieldwork and ask the locals how these statues influenced them in their daily lives and how it affected their civic pride. It is at this point that I feel the book veers off course slightly as chapter 5 by Matby deals with the issue of homelessness during two major sporting events in one city. While an excellent ethnography of the protagonists, he does not make it clear how this is affected by the role of sport and why this is the case, nor how sport could be seen as a way to regenerate the city, even for the homeless.

Chapter 6 continues this ethnographic theme in an excellent piece in the style of Ditton. Atkinson examines ticket 'scalpers' or 'touts'. The detail is good and the writing style lucid, the reader has the feeling of falling into the scene that is so necessary for ethnography. The whole culture revolves around scams, byung and selling and generally forms a community of touts that seeks to subvert the role of genuine fandom by selling tickets for the highest price before they ever go on sale to the public. This will ultimately change the nature of sporting events as they are populated by people who are there not for the sport but for the chance to say they were there, or indeed to experience corporate hospitality alone. The way of life of the tout is explained in detail including the characters and their relationship to each other. Depth like this gives the reader an excellent idea of how crowds are made up at major sporting events. It also provides an example of the complicity of society in this process as promoters, ticket employees, etc are all involved in corrupting true fan experience.

Chapter 7 provides a history of horse racing/gambling in turn of the century Chicago which illustrates how the urban setting was changed and constructed around the activity of gambling and how complicit the city was in this for a price - corruption. The following chapter can be seen in relation to this as it deals with the role of sport in providing cohesion to a Jewish community in Toronto. It illustrates how sport was used as a means to integrate young Jewish Canadians into their adopted society, including going on to be represented in major sports arenas. Rosenberg's work illustrates how sport is an inclusive activity in its setting and can be and still is used for this purpose by government's throughout history. The following chapter moves us away from Canada but remains focused on issues of race in a local youth club. It examines the empowerment of youth through physical exercise and sport. Wilson and White argue that this process of sport through youth centres gives youths their identity and allows them to be bound together with a common identity when their world outside is not so bound.

Chapter 10 breaks up again the flow of ideas with an examination of sport provision via a survey of three cities attempts to put on sporting activities for the local populace. The attempt by Clark to construct a outline proposal for best practice provision, does not go much further than a quantitative exposition of sport provision for youth. It would have done better to have focused on why such provision is not forthcoming, particularly as it makes a small case for the lack of provision for girls and women.

The remaining chapters focus on the perception of sport both in the community and further afield. Andrews et al, focus on soccer (football for europeans) and its role as a grass roots sport for young people. They suggest that soccer has become a great community binder due to its inherently less violent (or physically rough) requirements. It is also cheap to fund as a ball and four coats are all that is needed in order to have a game - though 'little league' clubs will have more than this. In this resepct it is a sport of rthe masses, an inclusive rather than exclusive sport. It also provides more of a team spirit, allowing girls to take part, which impresses moms. The chapter details how and why middle America has taken soccer to its hearts.

The following two chapters by Cole and King and Abdel-Shehid examine the role of film in promoting and supporting stereotypical image of society. Here we can see that sport is used by film-makers as a means to represent issues of race and power within society. It is also used as a means of escaping situations compounded by race. However, in doing so, they argue, we merely extend the grasp of stereotypes and press the idea that black and Asian people are better at sport by default, when academically speaking, this is the role left open to them and still resembles a 'slave-like' pandering to white perspectives.

The final chapter by Thornton is another excellent ethnography of a major basketball event that extends this issue of race and sport, illustrating its role in the identity and culture of black men in public places. It also examines how race, the media and local politics excoriate society and how sport is used as a message to those outside the community. It it also a regaining of self pride in a racialised society where power belongs to those outside the inner city urban communities.

Overall I enjoyed reading this book and feel it will be of use to researchers and students of sport. Despite the sole use of North American examples, the ideas that construct sport and its role in local and national society, are important ones for the whole world.

G. Coates.

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If you wish to be considered for the reviewing of books, please email your name, affiliation and interests to E Jones.

If you would like to submit a review of a book please email it to the editor.

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