Earlier this week, I reviewed Catching Hell, an ESPN documentary about the scapegoating of Chicago Cubs baseball fan, Steve Bartman. Mr. Bartman was wrongly blamed for the failure of the Cubs to reach the 2003 World Series. If you're unfamiliar with the Bartman incident, you should read this post before proceeding.
As I noted in that earlier post, one of the of the craziest aspects of the Bartman story was an event held at a Chicago restaurant:
How crazy did the whole thing get? A Chicago restaurateur paid $113,000 for the missed ball, which was publicly "blown up" by a special effects expert during an event at Harry Caray's restaurant. The remains of the ball were boiled, the steam was captured, and the distilled essence of the Bartman ball was mixed into a pasta sauce to be served at the restaurant. Does that not sound psychotic?
The event staged at Harry Caray's is, to me, the most fascinating aspect of the Bartman story. How in the world, one may wonder, did the event organizers come up with that bizarre ritual to dispose of the Bartman ball?
A couple of years ago, Novalis (Ars Psychiatrica) had an interesting post on the evolution of infanticide. He discussed the case of a schizophrenic woman who murdered then ate parts of her baby. A comment I offered at the time might shed some light on the bizarre, ritual destruction of the Bartman ball.
But what about cannibalism? Here, I find explanations consistent with [Melanie] Kleinian notions of primitive object relations compelling. Processes of projection and reintrojection aren't typically expressed as vividly as they are expressed in cannibalism, but then again, babies being in peoples "stomachs" and feeding off the body of their mothers [...] might have a special way of bringing out the most primitive in a person.
[And] this being Sunday, I'm reminded of just how compelling Kleinian formulations are. Think about the Catholic Mass and the Eucharist. Jesus is murdered in connection with human redemption--he dies as a surrogate for human evil--an external container of the evil in all of us. But he doesn't really die. He lives on and, in Catholicism, is literally consumed as the Eucharist during the Mass. It's very powerful for people and it is not considered symbolic. It is treated as actually consuming the body and blood of Christ.
So scapegoats are the containers designated to carry the unwanted parts of ourselves: our failures, our shortcomings, our troubling desires, our fears, our inadequacies, our ugliness--anything we don't want to be part of us can be deposited into the scapegoat.
In a religious context, scapegoats are containers of sins. After taking on the sins of the people, the original Jewish scapegoats were pushed over the edge of a rocky precipice, their legs shattering as they tumbled toward the ground below. If the goat didn't die as a result of the fall, the priest who performed the ritual would finish it off. The sins that had been projected into the container-goat would die with the goat. Afterward, the priest would eat the remains of the goat. This ritual had to be repeated again and again, given that new sins would accrue to the people.
In Christianity, Jesus was supposed to have been the final scapegoat. God incarnate would absorb all of the sins of the world. He would suffer a brutal murder, and with his death, the sins of the world would be destroyed. His resurrection signaled triumph over sin and death, or at least, the inauguration of a process leading to the final triumph over sin and death. At communion, Catholics commemorate Jesus by eating and drinking what they literally believe to be his body and blood, in effect reabsorbing the good of the living Jesus.
So if we think again about the ritual destruction of the Bartman ball, we can better understand its meaning. The ball was a stand-in for Bartman himself. As the designated container of Cubs failure and, by extension, the failure of fans who identified with the team, the ball was destroyed in an attempt to destroy 95 years of failure, 95 years of wandering the desert, awaiting rescue. Then, like the Jewish scapegoat, and like the scapegoat Jesus, or like a mother who might kill and eat her devil-baby, the container is consumed and reabsorbed. In the case of the Bartman ball, the purified remains were mixed into a sauce to be shared by all. Sounds a lot like Catholic communion, doesn't it?
For readers interested in further discussion of the primitive mental mechanisms behind thousands of years of making, killing and, sometimes, eating our scapegoats, check out Messiahs, Scapegoats and the Madness of Groups, Part 2, the work of Melanie Klein.