Monday, 28 May 2018

Stadium Crimes (1): Fenway Park in The Handmaid's Tale & the history of stadium atrocities

Some of the most memorable, joyous and life affirming moments are to be had in sports stadiums - the concentration of the crowd on the action unfolding in front of it, the noise, the physical proximity, the energy and emotions...

Watching the new second series of The Handmaid's Tale got me thinking though about the flipside of this.  As I'm sure you will know the premise of the series, and Margaret Atwood's novel that inspired it, is that in a near future USA power has been seized by a religious fundamentalist/fascist/patriarchal elite. In Gilead, as the new republic terms itself, women are excluded from public life and  subject to all kinds of horrors. [Spoiler Alert] At the start of series two a group of women are being punished for refusing orders to stone one of their friends to death. They are taken to an empty stadium where mass gallows have been set up, and we see from the signage that it is in fact Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. The baseball diamond is overgrown,  it is now a field of nightmares rather than dreams.

Of course this is fiction, but mass executions and other atrocities have taken place in sports stadiums across the world. The use of the Paris Velodrome in the rounding up of Jews in 1942; Estadio Nacional, the Chilean national football stadium where many were tortured and killed during the 1973 military coup;  the football stadium in Bratunac where Bosnian Muslims were held during the 1992 masscares; the mass killing at the Cyangugu football stadium during the 1994 Rwandan genocide...

If sports stadiums have lent them themselves to bloody repression as well as collective joy it is because of their design. The architectural form of the modern stadium has been developed to serve two purposes. Firstly to be able to concentrate as many people as possible into a limited space in sight of the playing surface, secondly to restrict access so that only those paying an entrance can get in. It is not difficult to see how these same features can be readily utilised for incarceration  - the concentration camp as the malignant twin of the sports stadium.

I see from Malcolm MacLean on Twitter that there were some papers related to this theme at the North American Society for Sports History conference this week (May 2018), will be interesting to see some of this research.

See previously at this blog: Running in the Handmaid's Tale

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