Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Indy 500 - Life's Campaign Against the Indy 500

In June of 1959, Life Magazine ran another sensationalist article decrying the Indianapolis 500 as a virtual carnival of death and destruction. It gravely waned patrons of the ever-growing death toll, pronouncing a "growing case against the race" and calling it a "Roman holiday", an apparent indictment of the 20 thousand-strong crowd that flocked to the track to witness racing's spectacle.

Life feigned quoting a 1919 issue of Motor Age, saying that magazine had stated "the cars are getting too fast", but failing to mention that the gist of that article was a call for smaller cars at the track, not the abolition of the 500 as a ghoulish blood-fest.

In 1959, when the article ran, there had been 41 race-related deaths at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That amounted to less than one death a year, a regrettable total, but hardly a bloodbath. Tilting at one of its favorite windmills, though, Life chose to make the Indy 500 out as a horrific festival of death in the American heartland, one worthy of denunciation in a national magazine.  At the same time, the magazine continued to take in revenue from ads featuring the race not to mention selling cigarettes which had been identified as a likely cause of cancer. But, we can stick to sports if we want. I don't have the statistics, but I'm sure more players had been killed playing baseball and football in the nation's gladiatorial arenas by 1959, but nothing appears on the subject in Life's pages. Then again, New York had its own football and baseball teams, it's always easier to tilt at someone else's windmill.

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