chickenhecklers.jpgThe season is young, and yet you can already feel it at Citi Field:  fans’ expectations are high. And patience is not in abundance.

Players are already hearing disapproval.  Even fan-favorite David Wright–striking out at record numbers recently–has been getting his share of boos.

I’ve never booed a player, nor have I booed a performer in the opera house or concert hall.  But I’ve observed many people who are seemingly completely comfortable in doing so.

I guess my hesitation in heckling is that I give the artist or player the benefit of the doubt that he is doing his best.  The result may be less than I–and perhaps the performer–had hoped for or expected, but I rarely have reason to think that an honest effort is not being made.

Also, as an adherent (most days) to the “positive reinforcement” school of parenting, I guess I’m just a little uncomfortable screaming antagonisms at others, whether the venue is the theater, opera house, concert hall, ballpark or playground.  The parenting books I’ve read espouse “catching them being good” and then heaping on the praise.  Berating or humiliating a child, this philosophy holds, is not beneficial, especially if the mistake is one from which a lesson may be learned.

At Citi Field, my sense is that hecklers have been quick to express discontent early this season primarily because of the frustrating way in which the past two seasons have ended for the Mets.  The team’s performance early and midway through both the 2007 and 2008 seasons led fans to believe that it was not unreasonable to expect to see October baseball in Queens. 

A contending team that inexplicably falls off the charts late in the season–and repeats the exercise the following year–leaves a bitter taste that does not easily go away.

Although I wouldn’t do it myself, I can at least understand the fan, frustrated by squandered chances, giving an audible voice to his exasperations.

However, I question the idea, made by some, that money–that earned by players and that spent by fans–somehow entitles one to heckling.

I often hear fans cite the “outrageous” salaries of today’s ballplayers as justification for calling out a player for a poor outing. (Interestingly, while solo artists can earn thousands of dollars per performance, I have not yet heard an audience member mention an artist’s compensation as justification for publicly voicing a personal commentary.  It should be pointed out, though, that unless you’re Renee Fleming or Placido Domingo, even those large per-performance fees don’t approach the salaries of today’s professional athletes.) 

Personally, I don’t think the player who has fairly negotiated a higher salary should be held to higher standards than lesser-paid players.  Nor do I feel that, if those inflated expectations are not met, the player should be booed more vociferously than underperforming players who are not paid as much.

In this time when funds are limited and folks are worried about their financial security, more attention than ever before is being paid to ticket prices.  Both sports presenters and arts organizations are seeing reductions in numbers of series or subscription ticketholders. 

Not only that, this Los Angeles Times piece leads me to believe that more in the audience and in the stands are feeling that the higher ticket and concession prices themselves entitle them to heckle if they are so inclined.

This post is not meant as a personal diatribe against the bood-bird, per se.  Judging from this website, there are apparently some who consider heckling a sport unto itself.

But if some feel entitled to behave in a certain manner merely by virtue of being a consumer, that does make me uncomfortable.

Freedom of expression is a right we are freely given as U.S. citizens; we have not purchased the privilege. 

If equating admission price itself with license to publicly express one’s opinion in a derisive manner becomes a more universally held view and if this recession does not turn around any time soon, I have to wonder what kind of entertainment experiences–both on the field and stage AND in the audience and stands–we could find ourselves privy to.

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