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Sport Heritage Simulacrum – The Case of Crash Davis and the Durham Bulls

One of the common themes in contemporary heritage literature is that heritage exhibits a particular depthlessness, particularly as it is produced, disseminated and consumed at a global level.  This suggests that not only heritage is primarily concerned with aesthetics, but also that much of heritage is surface and concerned with little more than producing a sign or symbol of a particular idea or ideal.  For example, the feel/aesthetics of a pioneer village (and any village, really, will do) is a sign for “simplicity” or “family values” or “hard work” or something of the like.  It is also interesting how many heritages are endlessly imitate and replicate one another to fit a particular representation – returning to the pioneer village construction, I recall a lecture during my masters degree at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne where the instructor showed seemingly endless photos of “old-time” schoolhouses from pioneer villages from around the world, all appearing to be nearly identical and lacking in any local/place context and for which no “original” schoolhouse exists to compare against these endless replicas/representations.

In any event, the idea of simulacrum – the idea of a copy of a copy (i.e.: a copy for which there is no original); or that a structure becomes a symbolic of a place and set of values (i.e.: Eiffel Tower as a symbol of Paris, or France, or French culture, etc.) – is one that I know is important to heritage but, as the above passage illustrates, I struggle to comprehend. Seemingly, the representation (copy) becomes a substitute for the real (if it actually exists), or the representation (copy) becomes a symbol for a broader range of ideals (if they actually exists) to the point where the real and the representation cannot be distinguished…or, something like that.  As I say, I struggle with this concept.  However, I think we can see examples of simulacrum in sport heritage and may help with our understanding of this topic, with one case in particular coming to mind.

The city of Durham, North Carolina is famous for a few reasons – it was a major tobacco producer for many years, and is home to Duke University, one of the most well-known and prestigious universities in the world.  However, Durham may be most famous for this:


The 1988 film Bull Durham – a well-known romantic comedy about a love triangle between veteran baseball catcher, a hot-shot young prospect, and a a literature-quoting groupie – was based in Durham.  More specifically, Durham’s actual minor league baseball team – The Durham Bulls – were, in essence, one of the characters…or, at least were representative of the strange culture that is small-town minor league baseball (a topic I discussed previously). It is a very famous film (and, might I mention, an excellent, quote-worthy masterpiece, IMHO) and has become, arguably, one of the most famous sports films ever made.

Of course, many destinations use film as a tourism development strategy.  However, the interesting thing about Durham is the extent to which the film is produced and reproduced into the city’s landscape – essentially grounding these fictitious situations and characters into the tangible landscape.  For example, the lead character in the film is Crash Davis – the aforementioned veteran baseball catcher played by Kevin Costner.  “Crash Davis” is a fictitious character who exists only in the film, and yet his number is retired at the Durham Bulls baseball stadium next to the very real former player, Joe Morgan:


Crash Davis is further immortalized outside of the stadium in a public art piece:


Even the stadium used in the film has survived, though the team has long since moved to a more upscale minor league stadium:


Although I did not see a game at the Bull’s new stadium, they apparently even have the bull on the outfield wall, same as the movie:

The film Bull Durham has come to represent a particular slice of American sport culture – maybe even one that has long since passed, if it ever existed – and perhaps the Durham Bulls have come to represent, embody, and self-consciously perform this culture.  Perhaps Durham and the Bulls have also come to represent a particular manifestation of the South, or of small-town America, and of hard-working athletes who are chasing their major league dreams in these places.  Of course, these representations masks all types of contradictions and struggles – by the players, and by these places.  Perhaps this what is meant when critics charge heritage with depthlessness – when places like Durham emulate copies of realities that never existed. 

1 Comment

  1. […] popular culture, and simulacrum are often blended and interchangeable is perhaps most noticeable at the Durham Bulls stadium where the “real” and “fake” baseball heritage of….  Still, I think this case points to an interesting form of dissonant sport […]

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