If you build it, he will come”. This line has been heard many times, though some do not know where it comes from. The famous quote comes from the movie, “Field of Dreams”. In this movie a man, named Ray Kinsella, struggles to find redemption for the way he left his relationship with his deceased father. A well loved classic, even those who do not find pleasure in the sport of baseball can appreciate the feel good aspect of the movie and the fact that it is routinely aired on network television further exemplifies the raw emotion this movie can invoke. The movie works as a foreground to display the impact of baseball on American culture while the underlying plot of a boy and his father is played out through the history of the sport and a cross country journey. The movie is a civic artifact for its interpretation of the relationship between a boy and his father, America and baseball, and corporate America and the family farm.
Walking around a neighborhood on a warm summer’s evening, a boy and his father playing catch in the front yard while a dog barks at the ball being thrown is staple in American culture. In, “Field of Dreams”, baseball is what brings Ray Kinsella and his father together, but it also what tears them apart. As the Ray grows older, the all too familiar scene of a dad trying to rectify his failures through his son is played out and young Ray begins to rebel against his father. Having failed to stay in the Major Leagues himself, John Kinsella puts constant pressure on Ray to be a superstar baseball player and ultimately forces him to leave home. Leaving his father is bad enough, but Ray says the worst thing he could think of to his father saying, “I could never respect a man whose hero was a criminal” (in reference to his father’s hero, Shoeless Joe Jackson and the infamous 1919 Black Sox) While this may not have happened to everyone in America, it is a fairly common scenario, enough so that many watching the movie empathize with their own strained relationships and grudges they hold against their imperfect parents. The quest for forgiveness that inevitably comes with age and perspective is all too common. Ray is forced to live with guilt as his father passes before he can seek forgiveness. As they say, “Youth is wasted on the ignorant”. Although this movie is from the late 1980s, it is still significant and is very kairotic in that the new generation of parents that are watching the movie, those with young sons and daughters, can take the lesson learned through Ray Kinsella and remember that forcing their children to be the best at something they do not want to excel at, be it math, music, or even baseball, they will only drive their child away. The best a parent can do is let their child find their own way and support their interest as they do it.
“Field of Dreams” encapsulates the impact of baseball on not just the culture of America, but the identity of America. Baseball is an extension of Americans themselves. America and baseball go hand in hand. The impact of baseball on American culture is indisputable. Generation upon generation of Americans have grown up playing, watching, and or listening to baseball. This movie is important because it seeks to expand upon the notion that baseball is essential to tell the story of America. As America goes, so goes baseball. This sentiment could not be captured and articulated any better than when James Earl Jones, playing a widely famous and provocative writer from the 1960s, Terence Mann says, “Ray. People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn into your driveway, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door, as innocent as children, longing for the past. ‘Of course, we won’t mind if you look around,’ you’ll say, ‘It’s only twenty dollars per person.’ And they’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it, for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk off to the bleachers and sit in their short sleeves on a perfect afternoon. And find they have reserved seats somewhere along the baselines where they sat when they were children. And cheer their heroes. And they’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.” This nostalgia, this longing felt for a bye gone era, is still common in contemporary society. “Field of Dreams” shows that through baseball, through the memories of childhood, those blissfully carefree days, you were free to run around and have a catch enjoying the warm summer sunshine. Any baseball fan watching this movie immediately empathizes with the sentiment expressed in the quote. For every fan of the game, they think of their heroes they had when they were a child. They think back to the first professional game they attended, they remember the summer days playing Little League, a pick up game with the kids from the neighborhood, or having a catch with dad while dinner is being made. This nostalgia, this concept, is what the movie is trying to articulate. Baseball and America go hand in hand.
The third reason this movie is still relevant in the ever changing scope of the American sociopolitical culture is the family farm. Agriculture for the longest time was the backbone of America. Americans were proud to be farmers, and most in the country were farmers. Farmers pulled America through some of the toughest times, most obviously, the Great Depression. Most homes in the suburbs today rest on where a farm once was. This film captures the collapse of the farming way of life in the 1980s, by centering the entire story on a little family owned farm in Iowa. Beyond the search for redemption and the cross country journey to find it, Ray Kinsella’s farm is insolvent. What Ray’s wife neglects to tell him whilst he is out to find the meaning behind the mysterious voices, is that the bank is going to take the farm. Hundreds of family farms have become bankrupt since the 1980s, so many in fact that it prompted musician John Mellencamp to pen the song, “Blood on the Scarecrow” which is the true story of his own family farm being taken. Still today American farms are increasingly in danger of becoming bankrupt which is why the University of Iowa wears on their helmet “ANF” which stands for, “America Needs Farmers”. The final thread spun through the narrative of a boy, his father, and baseball, is the quintessentially American profession of being a farmer. Ray had never been a farmer, he grew up in a city. The only reason he took it up is because his wife was from Iowa. Yet, this story would not have been authentically American if it did not center around the family farm. The bank closing in on the farm towards the climax of the movie only furthers the point that America is changing. The family farm, and all the values it stood for: good, honest, hard work, pride in your work, a loyal family man- all these things are being eroded away from American society. Only after Terence Brown gives his dead on interpretation of baseball as an engine that runs in the background of America does everyone stop and take a deep breath and put everything into perspective. The struggle between the bank and the family farm is still relevant today as many farms fall to bankruptcy and the government keeps passing bills to help subsidize farms. The most detrimental policy that keeps coming into question in Congress is the increase of the inheritance tax. While it is true that it only taxes wealth over several million dollars, farmland is so valuable it is generally appraised at millions of dollars. Should these owners of land die and try to leave their kids the land they toiled over for generations, a higher inheritance tax would render that impossible as there is no way the kids would be able to tender the large sum owed to the government and the banks would be forced to take the farm. All this fear and angst felt over potentially losing the farm is delicately played out on screen.
The movie, “Field of Dreams”, has routinely left those watching with a warm feeling the final credits roll. While the movie is no longer considered new, it is still relevant in today’s world for the messages it has. The movie is a civic artifact because still today it is relevant in the relationships between a boy and his father, baseball and America, and corporate America and the family farm.