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Myth of the Green Monster. Despite expensive, cramped seats and a lack of trendy amenities, Fenway Park is replete with meaning and emotion for Bostonians. According to Michael Ian Borer (GRS’05), a Ph.D. student studying under Associate Sociology Professor Daniel Monti, the myth of Fenway is larger than life. “Even during the off-season or when the Red Sox are out of town,” Borer says, “you get the feeling that you’re treading on sacred ground.”

Borer has recently completed an analysis of the park as a public symbol, an icon signifying the culture of the city. He considers the park within the context of the 5R model, a framework developed by sociologist Michael Schudson.

In the first category, Fenway Park is “retrievable” because it is accessible. For an object to work as a cultural touchstone, people have to be able to get to it physically. Borer notes that even in 1912, when the park was built, two streetcar lines transported people there from downtown, and two years later the subway was extended past the park.

The second R is for “rhetorical force,” meaning that it is both memorable and powerful. Fenway, says Borer, “provided city dwellers with green spaces, beautifully manicured and ardently maintained grass fields.” Such parks -- contrasted with modern stadiums -- evoke associations with small-town rural America and the values embodied therein, helping city dwellers reconcile the differences between their rural past and their urban present.

“Resonance” is the third category. “With the rise in urban life came an increase in leisure and recreation activities,” Borer says, “followed by a concern for how people might spend their time.” Baseball not only allowed urban dwellers to be outside in a park setting, it embodied American values of individualism, hard work, and respect for authority. Ultimately, he says, these values constituted an “aura” that became attached to Fenway and gained strength over time.

The fourth hallmark of a cultural icon, “institutional retention,” is clear. “Average attendance has grown every decade since the 1920s,” Borer notes, “despite the fact that the Red Sox have not won a World Series in over 80 years.”

Finally, there is “resolution,” a cultural object’s ability to animate its constituents, evident in fans’ passionate objections to proposed park changes. “Implicitly or explicitly,” says Borer, “they intuitively recognize that Fenway Park’s symbolic capacity would diminish if the rituals of baseball could not be performed beneath the daunting stare of the Green Monster, the Citgo sign, and the Boston skyline.”

Borer’s initial paper, part of his dissertation project, has been accepted for publication in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Popular Culture. It will be followed with in-depth interviews to better understand why people care so much about Fenway Park.


Surf’s up. In the equivalent to “catching the big one,” electrons in earth’s Van Allen belt are believed to surf magnetic waves driven by the solar wind, accelerating to near the speed of light and carrying enough energy to damage or destroy orbiting spacecraft. A team of scientists led by Larry Kepko, a research associate at the Center for Space Physics, combined observations from NASA’s Polar and Wind Satellites as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite to better understand how these waves are generated.

The solar wind is a constant stream of electrically charged particles emanating from the sun that periodically vary from low to high density. As the solar wind approaches earth, it encounters the magnetosphere, earth’s magnetic field. When the solar wind density is high, it compresses the magnetosphere; when it is low, the magnetosphere expands. The expansion and contraction generate magnetic waves. If the frequency of these waves matches the frequency of the electrons in motion in the Van Allen belt, the speed of the electrons is accelerated, in much the same way that a surfer can catch and ride an incoming wave.

Researchers had believed previously that the phenomenon was generated by mechanisms internal to the magnetosphere. “What we didn’t know was that the solar wind structures can be periodic and drive magnetic waves,” says Harlan Spence, a CAS associate professor and chairman of the department of astronomy. “These new observations may provide a missing link between the two.”

According to Kepko, the mechanism driving the changes in the solar wind are still unknown. “The solar wind density variations are partly controlled by the pattern of magnetic reconnection, the twisting and snapping of magnetic field lines on the surface of the sun,” he says. “There is some evidence that reconnection occurring in a systematic, periodic manner may produce the periodic changes in density, but further research is required to establish a definitive link.”

The magnetic wave research was published in the June 2003 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research. An earlier paper appeared in Geophysical Research Letters in 2002.

"Research Briefs" is written by Joan Schwartz in the Office of the Provost. To read more about BU research, visit http://www.bu.edu/research.

       

15 May 2003
Boston University
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