When a Crowd Becomes a Mob

It was Victoria Day in Canada and the Toronto Blue Jays were hosting the Rays of Tampa Bay. The word “hosting,” however, hardly applied to the treatment that one Yunel Escobar, the Rays shortstop, received, who was lustfully booed each time he came to the plate.  When he homered in the 9th inning, he was booed again for employing his signature gesture as he crossed home plate—stretching his arms out to indicate the “safe” sign. Cuban-born, Escobar does not speak English. Through a translator, he expressed his astonishment: “It’s something I do every time I cross home plate.” But that is not the reason for Escobar’s status as a pariah.

Crowds are usually forgiving to athletes and are willing to put aside any number of offences ranging from DUI, PED, torturing animals, sexual promiscuity, siring numerous children out of wedlock, and involuntary manslaughter. What was it that Señor Escobar did that was so grievous and unforgiving?

Prior to a game back in 2012, Escobar inscribed three Spanish words on the black tape that ballplayers place under their eyes as a shield against the glare of the sun: Tu Er Maricón.  According to my Spanish dictionary, this means, “You are a sissy.”  It was not directed to anyone and did not imply a particular sexual orientation.  Spanish players have admitted that they toss this phrase around with each other in a joking and non-offensive way both in the clubhouse and on the field.  Miami Marlins manager, Ozzie Guillen, avers that he and his children use it around the house all the time.

Yunel-Escobar_pressconferenceNo one noticed the words and it would have had a quiet death as a non-issue.  But a fan noticed it when he looked at a picture he had taken of Yunel Escobar. He immediately interpreted the words as homophobic, and contacted the Blue Jays organization. Action was swift and punitive. Instead of explaining to the shortstop that this kind of thing is unacceptable, the organization suspended him without pay and forced him to donate his lost salary of $87,000 to two homosexual organizations.  He was obliged to attend sensitivity-training classes and was traded before the season ended.  Escobar’s weak defense was that the words he used “were not meant to be offensive.”

When does a crowd become a mob?  For that matter, when does the public become a mob?  Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931) was the first to study the phenomenon of the crowd.  In his classic work, The CrowdA Study of the Popular Mind, he borrowed from Freud and likened the crowd to a “libido” acting without a “super-ego.”  He found that the actions of the crowd correspond to three dominant features:  anonymity, contagion, and suggestibility. The first, anonymity, combines a feeling of invincibility with a loss of responsibility, thereby leading to behavior that is primitive, emotional, and unreasonable.  Contagion refers to how easily this unreasonable behavior spreads within a crowd.  The third characteristic indicates how the crowd becomes homogeneous and malleable to suggestions made by influential sources.

Blessed John Paul II has made a comprehensive, powerful and timely contribution to the notion of the person as an integrated human being who thinks, knows, loves, understands, and behaves intelligently.  The authentic person is assuredly not part of a crowd.  For John Paul, the person is at the very center of culture.  The papacy has never been interested in turning Catholics into members of a crowd, but has always encouraged, with undiminished enthusiasm, the importance of thinking and being an authentic person.  The study of theology and philosophy is intended to produce strong individuals who are able to resist the lure of the popular mood.

In his book, Man Against Mass Society, Catholic convert Gabriel Marcel states that “the masses are of their very essence—I repeat, of their very essence—the stuff of which fanaticism is made:  propaganda has on them the convulsive effect of an electric shock.”  Marcel lived at a time when dictators were propagandizing people into the equivalent of a crowd, stripping them of both intelligence and love. Today, the Mass Media has, to a certain extent replaced the dictator. At the same time, political correctness had replaced Christian morality. The persuasive power of the Media to turn individuals into members of a crowd is painfully evident with regard to the abortion issue as well as the promotion of the homosexual agenda.  T. S. Eliot noted this power of the Media to standardize people, in one of his poems when he wrote:

The readers of the Boston Evening Transcript
Sway in the wind like a field of ripe corn.

The Escobar incident is not about three words in Spanish that were directed toward and offended no-one.  It is about the power of the Media to assist in rendering people anonymous, homogeneous, and suggestible. This surely bodes ill for democracy. Political correctness, the morality of the Media, is not enlightening, but controlling. Its promotion of tolerance as a virtue is obviously a sham. The Toronto crowd was not displaying any tolerance for Escobar’s conduct;  it was exhibiting its own intolerance, and in a way that was cruel, merciless, and unforgiving.  It may be the very definition of hypocrisy to demand tolerance while offering none.

The Media and the Catholic Church are at opposite poles with regard to the development of the human being. The Media urges those dominant characteristics that were outlined by Gustave Le Bon. The Church urges personal authenticity. Jacques Maritain expressed it well when he said, noting the indispensable importance of truth:  “It would be foolish intolerance to label as intolerance any affirmation of truth which is not watered down with doubt, even if it does not please some of our democratic fellow-citizens. I insist as forcefully as T. S. Eliot that the Christian leaven is necessary to the life and integration of our culture.”

Donald DeMarco

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Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus of Saint Jerome’s University and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He is a regular columnist for the Saint Austin Review and the author, most recently, of Reflections on the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Search for Understanding.

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