As We Peer Deeper Through the Looking Glass, MLB is Proposing Pumping Fake Crowd Noise into Empty Ballparks

Just when I think 2020 can’t get any crazier, someone ups the ante and takes us further through the proverbial looking glass.

Or, as the Cheshire Cat would say, “When the day becomes the night and the sky becomes the sea, When the clock strikes heavy and there’s no time for tea. And in our darkest hour, before my final rhyme, she will come back home to Wonderland and turn back the hands of time.”

The latest attempt at fake normalcy and turning back the hands of time in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic, comes courtesy of a report by the Associated Press that Major League Baseball (MLB) wants to pump fake crowd noise into empty ballparks during their shortened season to give the players and viewers an authentic game experience.

I get that athletes are used to crowd noise, and viewers are used to hearing noise when they watch a game, but using fake noise in empty Ballparks is something that even the Mad Hatter would call crazy.

The crowd noise will come courtesy of the video game MLB The Show. According to MLB, sound engineers will have around 75 different effects and reactions to choose from as they try to set the mood like a Ballpark Barry White.

MLB wants to pump fake crowd noise from a video game into empty ballparks during their shortened 2020 season to give the players and viewers an authentic game experience.
Photo R. Anderson

To use a television analogy for the completely made for TV event that the 2020 MLB season has become, instead of filming games in front of a live studio audience, MLB is going to use the equivalent of a laugh track.

Come to think of it, a laugh track is exactly what the 2020 MLB season needs since it is completely laughable that the season is taking place to begin with.

But, if the MLB season must take place in the middle of a pandemic, silent grandstands would be a much better approach to show that this is not just any other season.

Just picture getting to hear the sound of the pitch hitting the back of the catcher’s glove along with the communication between players on the field. That would be so much better than hoping the Ballpark sound engineer selects the correct sound out of the 75 they can choose from.

By choosing the route of fake noise, MLB is missing the chance to allow viewers to hear the action in a way they have never heard before, and hopefully never will again. Ballparks so silent you can hear a trash can bang would truly be something magical.

Sadly, MLB is not the only sports league using video game soundtracks to set the scene. England’s Premier League and Spain’s La Liga returned to the pitch with crowd sounds from EA Sports’ FIFA video game franchise.

The NBA is also considering pumping in the Jock Jams crowd noise when it resumes play in the Walt Disney World ESPN Wide World of Sports Bubble.

Pumping in canned noise gives the appearance of, “move along, nothing to see here” instead of allowing the silence of the event to show that we are in uncharted territory. I mean, are they going to fill the stands with stuffed animals, or cardboard cutouts, as well, like the KBO League in South Korea is doing to avoid the look of empty seats on television?

It is almost like the sports leagues pumping in the fake noise are afraid that if the games included silence people would realize that there are more important things to focus on right now.

One cannot just pump in crowd noise, and fill the seats with life sized Hello Kitty dolls, and pretend that we are not in the middle of one of the biggest crises in over a century. I am not saying that we all need to run around in misery with ash on our bodies like the biblical story of Job, but this rush to reopen everything, and just wish a virus away is not working.

One cannot just pump in crowd noise, and fill the seats with life sized Hello Kitty dolls, and pretend that we are not in the middle of one of the biggest crises in over a century.
Photo R. Anderson

Also, from a journalistic ethics perspective, using fake noise on the broadcasts is right up there with the disturbing trend of broadcasters super imposing advertising on Ballpark elements to get more revenue.

Real life does not happen in front of a green screen. A sports broadcast should give the viewer the exact look that a person in the venue would see and hear. Fake sounds and ads blur the lines, and could lead to a point where reality is distorted in the name of making a buck.

While I know that a sports broadcast falls under “entertainment” and does not always adhere to the same high ethical standards that a news broadcast would, ethics still need to be maintained so that the audience can have confidence that what they are seeing is reality and not a revenue stream centered alternative reality.

To take the through the looking glass analogy further, we are becoming a nation that is not only deeply divided on political issues, but the very response to COVID-19 is divided between those who are taking the virus seriously, and those who have gone through the looking glass and are playing chess with the Queen of Hearts while saying, “Off with their heads, and try the beans they’re delicious.”

COVID-19 does not give a hill of beans about people ignoring it, and trying to hope it away. The only thing that is going to defeat this virus is to starve it of fuel in the form of people it can infect. That involves closing things down, and to use the video game analogy, hitting the reset button.

COVID-19 is spreading like a nationwide wildfire. Some people are putting water on it and controlling it by wearing masks and socially distancing to starve it of fuel.

As MLB plows full speed ahead with trying to have a 2020 season like someone trying to win a perverse bet, Austin Meadows of the Tampa Bay Rays became the latest player to test positive for COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

Other people are saying, “look at the pretty flames,” or worse saying “fake flames” as they play their fiddle and call the virus a hoax.

The entire MLB season falls into the look at the pretty flames category. There is zero reason that an MLB season needs to be played this year aside from owner’s greed, and a misguided desire to make everything seem normal as the world burns.

It would be great for MLB to show that the season is not a giant cash grab by donating all revenue to essential workers who are the real heroes in the middle of this pandemic.

I highly doubt that MLB would do that, but if they did, that would be something I would support in terms of pushing forward with the season. I will not support pumping in fake crowd noise, however.

As 2020 continues to roll forward, one can take some solace in the fact that the year is closer to the end than it is to the beginning. However, based on the lack of coordinated action to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, there is little solace that 2021 will be any better than 2020 if we stay on our current course.

I say that not as a fatalist with my head stuck in the sand, or as someone detached from the reality while standing behind a podium between two trucks.

Instead, I say it as an optimist who sees a path to turning things around and still believes that Americans will realize we are in this together and that masks and social distancing save lives. And, that is not just pumping in fake noise, that is the reality.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to ask Alice if she can make any sense of this at all.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson