What's in a Fence?

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Nothing says All-Star Weekend fun like ... a fence! To celebrate landing one of those big-events-your-city-needs-but-maybe-can't-handle (never a problem with a Super Bowl, somehow), Orlando has decided to build a fence around the perimeter of the Amway Center. Local businesses worried it would keep them from getting in on maximum profits from the weekend, but a judge in Tampa felt otherwise. And hey, he does have a point: At most NBA arenas, once you go in, you stay in, so this fence simply reinforces that perimeter. Oh, and helps with crowd control, in case there is an unruly mob trying to break down the door and watch Jeremy Evans dunk, or tons of people looking to get in on some radio station promo with an inflatable stompin' porpoise.

But it's 2012, which makes it hard to hear about a giant fence being erected in the middle of what should be a celebration of hoops and not come away a little chilled. No city wants their All-Star Game guests thinking about a sealed off border with Mexico, a militarized fantasy that suggests the presence of utter chaos across the breach. Or what about Israel's barriers, which supposedly heighten security but really just screws up commerce and makes both sides suspicious and grumbly? Here's where, as is so often the case, we return to the timeless words of Goodie Mob's "Cell Therapy." To paraphrase, is this fence to keep ticket-holders safe, or make them feel worse about their lives, like in Land of the Dead where Asia Argento is all miserable in the fancy hotel her full-strapped clan is forced to inhabit? Luxury is a perch, but no one wants to feel that it's a precipice.

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Of course, in the back of everyone's mind is the Chaos in Vegas, the 2007 debacle that launched a thousand squeamish, self-congratulatory columns about braving the thuggery and learnin' the blues. Instead of showing that the City of Sin could handle an NBA team despite its obvious handicap, that All-Star Weekend proved a (ahem) black eye for the city and the league. It not only hurt Vegas's chances at a team, it helped launched the whole "sometimes medium-sized cities are the most dangerous" meme and set the league's sanitization plan back a good 2-3 years. All-Star Weekend is very much about the crowds, the shopping, the parties. Some of the events are poorly attended, and certainly, making the trip is more important than ever getting a seat in the arena. The fence says, somewhat obliviously, that Amway is the fortress that must be protected. The truth is, no one angry, unwashed masses are going to bum-rush the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge. All it does it make the city look uptight, and insensitive—and the stuff inside the arena even more incidental than it already is. 

It all comes back to a basic idea: If a city has to put up harrowing barriers to feel like it's cool with hosting All-Star Weekend, maybe it's not the right city for the event. I don't know if the fence is creepy, or just kind of sad. And even if it does keep some crazed stalkers or scalpers from off of the Amway grounds, that's missing the forest for the trees. If a city hosts this shit, they should want the total package. Not just the game, the shopping money, and as little inconvenience as possible from the partying and aimless hanging out. The fence is an unfortunate attempt to split hairs about what Orlando's getting versus what it wants. It probably says more about anxiety, and preparation for the worst, rather than accepting what the city has gotten itself into. My response? In this economy, beggars can't be choosers. Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty. And this weekend, it means turning Orlando into a playground. Hosts don't always get to see their dreams come true. That gig is more about cleaning up the carpet in the morning. 

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