The Panopticon is a model for imprisonment popularized by the philosopher Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish, but Foucault’s 1975 text is influenced by ideas first expressed by British philosopher Jeremy Bentham way back in the 1800s. The Panopticon allows for one centralized guard tower in a rotunda at the center of a circular prison, where all the cells face outward toward the tower. The guard(s) in the rotunda can see out, but the prisoners cannot see in, creating the illusion of constant surveillance.
The design of the panopticon, with the centralized guard-tower, theoretically also allows for surveillance of the guards from the general public, thus solving two problems at once: controlling the behavior of prisoners, and answering the age-old question “who guards the guards?”
Bentham’s idealized vision of the panopticon prison is a model of efficiency born of the early Industrial age. In it, a smaller number of guards—theoretically even one—can monitor large swaths of prisoners. It is also borne of the age of Enlightenment and social progress, a desire for a more “humane” system of imprisonment. Foucault’s text, as part of a larger discussion about the evolution of punishment, investigates the power dynamics of the panopticon more deeply, and cynicly. “The Panopticon is a marvelous machine which, whatever use one may wish to put it to, produces homogeneous effects of power,” he writes.
Being a baseball fan—but being at a baseball game, specifically—is an exercise in surveillance. The players might get a moment’s reprieve to disappear into the dugout, but most of the time, they are on display to be surveilled. Any person in the stands could be looking at any player at any given time; cameras and on-field mics are there to commit one’s actions to tape. Like the prisoners in the panopticon, a player does not know if they are being surveilled for sure at any given moment, and thus, must at all times act like it. It’s hard not to see that giant Jack-in-the-Box head at Petco Park as a stand-in for the guard’s rotunda.
Maybe Logan Gilbert felt a few extra eyes on him, taking the mound for the first game since the Mariners suffered an epic drubbing at the hands of the Rangers. Maybe he sensed the enormous blank-blue eyes of Jack Box’s dismembered head staring down on him, red rictus of a mouth upquirked. Either way, Gilbert reclaimed his identity in the panopticon by tapping in to his trusty alter-ego of Walter, going seven strong innings and allowing just one run on three hits while striking out six.
It wasn’t Gilbert’s sharpest outing—he had a few uncompetitive misses with his fastball, which didn’t garner a ton of whiffs tonight, and walked two—but every time he got into trouble, he worked his way out of it, mostly by leaning on his slider, which was excellent tonight—he threw it for called strikes and whiffs (41% CSW!) and when batters did make contact, it was of the wimpy variety. But the most impressive sliders he threw were ones that got him out of jams late in the game, including striking out Gary Sánchez to end the sixth, stranding two, and another to strike out Rougned Odor to end his outing. They didn’t make Pitching Ninja’s highlight reel—that was his high-octane fastball for a pair of strikeouts—but they were by far the best pitches he threw tonight. Says this surveiller, at least.
With Andrés Muñoz returned from the IL and throwing absolute filth in the eighth, plus a shakier-but-effective ninth inning from Paul Sewald, the Mariners would only need two runs tonight to back up Gilbert’s one-run performance. They got their first run blissfully early, in the third inning, when Ty France did Ty France things and put a perfectly-placed ground ball into left to score J.P. Crawford, who had walked.
Power does not necessarily have to be a force that corrupts, and surveillance doesn’t necessarily have to be negative; perhaps Ty France felt surveilled by the spirit of his old college coach and ultimate Padre Tony Gwynn, as this hit was positively Gwynn-ish.
But the Mariners would need at least one more, and they would get that from Teoscar Hernández.
Well, okay. Teoscar gets the credit for hitting the home run. But he hit that homer not off starter Joe Musgrove but off Brett Honeywell, continuing to try to work his way back from an injury-plagued past and carve out a role in MLB. “No-No Joe” only went five innings tonight, despite striking out eight Mariners, because the pesky Mariners peskily ran up his pitch count to over 100 through five. J.P. Crawford alone was responsible for about a quarter of those pitches; he saw 25 pitches in three at-bats against Musgrove, resulting in a single, a walk, and a flyout. It doesn’t necessarily show up in the box score—the eight strikeouts do a lot more talking there—but hey, to twist Foucault’s meaning some, “disciplinary power is exercised through its invisibility.”
You know what kind of power is not invisible?
Julio has been under an intense kind of surveillance this season, coming at him not from a centralized rotunda but all corners of the media, including social media. Foucault wrote that “visibility is a trap”—apparently, so is likability, so double trouble for the affable young star—but Julio just keeps tap-dancing on the snares like the Road Runner avoiding Wile E. Coyote’s bear trap.
The Mariners didn’t need another run, but another run would be nice to have, and so Ty France—still being inhabited by the friendly specter of his old mentor—would follow up Julio’s blast by scalding a double, followed by Teoscar coming through big again with a ground ball base hit that had just enough length to score France from second and push the Mariners’ win probability for the night across the 90th percentile threshold, also known to 2023 Mariners philosophers as the “exhale threshold.”
Discipline and Punish is full of Foucault’s investigation of the invisible nature of power; he remarks that the “true politician” does not need iron chains but instead binds his subjects with their own ideas. “On the soft fibers of the brain is founded the unshakable base of the soundest of Empires,” he writes, Frenchly. The job of being a pro athlete involves subjecting oneself to those invisible chains—being talked about, being surveilled, being watched, at all times—but, just like the jailers are themselves not able to escape the gaze of the panopticon, so too is being a fan also subjecting oneself to a similar set of chains. The leg irons feel a little lighter on a night like tonight, though. Here’s to the soft fibers of the brain that keep us in Mariners fandom.