Baseball card collecting carries with it images of idealized boyhoods in the sprawling American suburbs of the postwar era. Yet since the mid-1970s, it has grown from a pastime for children to a big money pursuit taken seriously by adults. This work employs interviews with collectors, dealers, and hobbyists to ask what this hobby tells us about nostalgia, work, play, masculinity, and race and gender relations among collectors. These interviews reveal the hobby's alienating, lonely and unfulfilling aspects, and demonstrate the nostalgia experienced among collectors for the ideal childhood world many middle class white males experienced in the postwar years, when baseball card collecting was a form of play, not a money-making enterprise. The work links this nostalgia to anxieties about de-industrialization and the rise of the civil rights, feminist, and gay rights movements. It examines the gendered nature of swap meets as well as the views of masculinity expressed by the collectors: is the purpose of baseball card collecting to form a community of adults to reminisce or to inculcate young men with traditional masculine values? Is it to establish "connectedness" or to make money?
Are collectors striving to reinforce the dominant culture or question it through their attempts to create their own meaning out of what are, in fact, mass-produced commercial artifacts?
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(234mm x 156mm x 10mm)
University of Minnesota Press
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
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US Kirkus Review »
A study of baseball-card collecting in the upper Midwest becomes "an ethnographic account of a local fan culture" by dint of Bloom's wearisome academese. Bloom (American Studies/Dickinson Coll.) latches onto the perhaps obvious premise that "white middle class men were the primary constituency that comprised the core of the baseball card collecting hobby" and never lets go. His study covers the late 1980s into the 1990s, after the hobby had been thoroughly commercialized by home-shopping shows on cable television. A hobby with its origins in "the nostalgia for innocence located in symbols of white middle-class boyhood" became a big business back in the mid-1970s, when the number of serious collectors grew from 4,000 to 250,000. The Fleer Corporation's successful antitrust suit against Topps opened the door for other companies to produce cards. That, Bloom argues, set off the direct-marketing boom of the late 1980s; baseball cards became the product rather than the incentive to buy a product, such as cereal or gum or cupcakes. Bloom goes on to examine the dynamics of sports memorabilia shows, finding a class structure among the dealers and collectors in their baseball caps and beer-commercial T-shirts. Those he studied "attempted to make a mass-media form meaningful within their collecting subculture." Numbing statements unfortunately blot out astute, ironic observations, such as Bloom's noting the annoyance show dealers have with children: What was once a boy's hobby now has little patience for childish enthusiasms. Not a collector himself, Bloom refers to his interviewees by first names only ("I first learned of Dave when I was interviewing Bob . . ."), thus giving their statements a confessional edge, like testimony at an AA meeting. Bloom's occasional cogent observations would be better served by levity and clarity. (Kirkus Reviews)
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