I attended EMU’s season-opening football game against Morgan State on Saturday evening. Along with a colleague, I made my way through the ticket line, paid $15 for a general admission pass, and found seats on the aluminum benches on the south end of Rynearson Stadium well enough before kick-off to see some of the pre-game activities. Through a summer rebranding effort, which included the addition of gray astroturf (er, synthetic grass substitute), Rynearson now doubles as The Factory, a designation promoted publicly by the program’s new head coach. I was seated at the most distant end of The Factory away from where our football players made their entrance onto the field, an entrance I did not notice as special or distinctive at the time, but one that later made its (justifiable, embarrassing) rounds because of a peculiar wall-buster of an idea that involved several players wielding real sledge hammers as they attempted to knock over a loosely stacked wall of cinder blocks. The rally-cry might have been something like, “Some of us will move brick walls together.”
Have a look for yourself.
The game itself played out as an even match. EMU took a slight lead into a fourth quarter lightning and ominous weather suspension. After an hour, the suspension lifted, and the game played out as a victory for the Eagles by the same score, 31-28.
Yet, in its aftermath, observing as I have some of the strained exchanges about the wall smash episode, the status of the program, attitudes toward extravagances in what are felt elsewhere around campus to be lean times, I remain stuck on The Factory and the labor metaphor it calls, stuck because it has been summoned in haste and perhaps a bit too strenuously.
True, EMU sits in so-called automation alley; factories (many closed, left behind) are thick across the area landscape. And a fantastic, idealistic notion of factories does–for some, I guess–conjure up images of coordinated human-machine brilliance, hard work, sweat, pride, toughness, overtime pay, and camaraderie. Else: chronic fatigue, robot workers, union busting, environmental hazards, sore hands and backs, funny smelling air, indoor lighting, machinic-ambient noises, and so on. This is all just to acknowledge that factories are not so easily envisioned in a warm, soft pillow of feel-good enthusiasm. Factories don’t rally for me much sense of a bright and promising future; instead, I think of my neighbor in college who could barely pay bills while making seats for Ford on third shift. And as such, coupled with the gray turf, The Factory is a marketing frame that becomes memorable, though not always favorably memorable.
I don’t mean to take pot-shots on the campaign. Not at all. But I do think it is setting up a fascinating case of metaphor and its limits. I.A. Richards in The Philosophy of Rhetoric wrote about dead metaphors, and he used adequate as a verb to pinpoint the metaphor’s all-full capacity to excite the interpretive leap from one familiar frame (e.g., football stadium) to another whose pairing would amplify the significance of the first (e.g., factory). That amplification reaches its limits when two become one (i.e., when stadium and factory align). Richards says that the metaphor, once adequated, is dead. It stops exciting those leaps and instead grows weary, tiresome, banal. Wan metaphor. Dead metaphor.
Dead metaphors can re-awaken. And I don’t think it’s quite right to say that The Factory is a dead metaphor. Not yet. But adequation might be useful in helping us grasp what’s going on with our football program’s attention-hungry campaign. For instance, I lost count of how many times the work whistles blew–whoo!–during Saturday’s game, not because they were infrequent but because they were torturously too many, too many for my taste, anyway. Somebody would make a play, and the stadium would ring (chirp? bellow? cry out?) with a couple of toots of a work whistle. This along with the gray turf and along with the wall smash constitutes a tropical hybrid between metaphor and hyperbole–such an effortful blast that the metaphor has gone from invoked to something like hyperadequated since June 19 when The Factory was first announced. By hyperadequated, I mean that the metaphor is extra dead, groping zombie-like and unselfaware for attention that risks making reasonable people–prospective fans–turn away, cover their ears. Maybe this is what becomes of metaphor when it is grandstanding, straining so hard to take hold that any purported significance is eclipsed by its trying too hard to take hold and to circulate.