The 'Lot' of the Working-Class NFL Fan

Q&A with Jonny Mars, 'America's Parking Lot' docmaker

The 'Lot' of the Working-Class NFL Fan

Around the world, state-of-the-art sporting arenas are being built, replacing treasured stadiums and displacing working-class fans who can no longer afford ticket prices. Austin filmmaker Jonny Mars documents that painful shift in America's Parking Lot.

The film chronicles the ups and (mainly) downs of Tiger and Cy, leaders of the devoted Gate 6 Tailgaters, as they move from their beloved spot outside of Texas Stadium and into the billion-dollar Cowboys Stadium. The economics of this new era of high-dollar stadiums is destined to forever change the landscape of the fan experience for generations to come. Will blue-collar fans be pushed out of the stadium parking lot and in front of their HD TVs? Mars shares his thoughts with the Chronicle.

Austin Chronicle: What inspired you to spend five years of your life on this project?

Jonny Mars: Man, that's the million-dollar question. Well, first off, I think ignorance has a big part to do with it. [laughs] I don't know that I really understood that it was going to take five years at the onset, but I knew that … I'm into subcultures, I love documentaries, I knew these were some people I had never seen before onscreen.

Austin Chronicle: Tiger and Cy, the Gate 6 Tailgaters?

Jonny Mars: Not just the Gate 6 Tailgaters, but the way life existed outside of Texas Stadium. I had never really seen that before at other NFL stadiums. First and foremost it was interesting, this life that existed outside of Texas Stadium, but then on top of that, the Gate 6 Tailgaters, that to the Nth degree, you know that interesting element, times 10. To me Cy and Tiger are great characters. Those guys exist in a way, on some level, I'm jealous of. They are honest about who they are and what they want to do and they celebrate it 10 times a year in that parking lot. And I felt like, you know, it was worth documenting, but I also knew that it was going away. So there was kind of like this urgent need to document it. To be a part of history in that way, to lend the lens to history, if you will. …

I remember the first time I saw "Heavy Metal Parking Lot." I've never forgotten it. That movie – it's 21 minutes, I think – is amazing because it's like it's this time capsule, right? It doesn't really age well, but it only gets sweeter. That's just a fascinating piece of American culture to me. [The Gate 6 Tailgaters] existed in that same way. These people are driven specifically by one thing, like those kids at the Judas Priest concert. What I began to see while I was at Texas Stadium was this is about family. And so in a lot of ways as we're going through the whole mortgage crisis, and the biggest economic collapse in recorded history outside of the fall of Rome, a lot of people's families are being attacked, if you will, from the outside, and this to me was like a parallel to draw at the same time and that's not something I knew consciously as I made it, but I definitely knew I was angry about what was going on with the economy.

Austin Chronicle: Do you feel that the culture that you refer to outside of Texas Stadium, do you feel that that's pretty much going the way of the heavy metal parking lot of the Priest heyday?

Jonny Mars: Yeah. I mean, it was definitely a jubilation like that, you know. It was definitely like this youthful exuberance about something and celebrating its existence at all costs. It parallels in that way.

Austin Chronicle: It seems like such a pure and sincere kind of love.

Jonny Mars: Absolutely. And when you multiply that times 20 years with the same people, you begin to develop these familial bonds, you know. And you begin to have a love that you share amongst these people and these friends and literal family members when you have this celebration so many times a year for 20 years. I knew it was going away and that is inherent conflict. So once you cut off access to that thing they love, I was really curious to see how they would respond and react to it. So in a lot of ways it's kind of just set up as a science experiment. A hypothesis of what might happen and I needed to film how the organism was going to react once its food was taken away. Once that thing that makes it live was taken from it, how was it going to respond?

Austin Chronicle: Tiger divorced his first wife because she didn't understand the Cowboys thing. It almost seems like a separation when they moved to the new stadium – a separation from his Cowboys family.

Jonny Mars: I think you really get a sense of how two people deal with loss. There's Cy whose reaction to it seems to be to handle it on the spot. I know he tears up a bunch of times, but he's dealing with it in a way that I think Tiger isn't. I think that's what you see as the film progresses. I don't want to say it's denial, but I feel like one of them deals with the loss in a way that allows him to then take control and respond to the new situation in a way that gives him the power and control to build the tailgate the way it used to be and the other one doesn't seem to do that per se. ...

Austin Chronicle: It seems like Tiger was just kind of winging it there and once the regular season started he got pushed further and further away.

Jonny Mars: Yeah, I mean for me in a lot of ways the movie works kind of like a Greek tragedy almost: You know, be careful what you wish for. Tiger got what he wanted, but then he didn't. He kept getting pushed further and further away. Tiger has built his entire life around the Dallas Cowboys. Having said that, his wife and him have a relationship that I tried to show as much as I could in the movie. It's a relationship on some levels that I'm jealous of. I think they have a really great relationship, they are very much in love. Mary is awesome, she is a lot of fun. She gets it.

Tiger is more complex I think than just a love for the Cowboys and that's something I hope is realized by the end of the film. It's about identity in that way. These guys completely identify themselves all through this thing that they do 10 Sundays a year, and then it's taken from them. And then it's like, what is their identity now, right? And that's what's really interesting about that last interview in the RV. He's being so introspective and really thinking about who he is all the way back to childhood. It's rocked him to the core. It's taken his identity, and he's trying to re-evaluate his purpose and place in life. That's what it seems like to me anyway, but at the same time he still does have a loving family to go back to. ...

Austin Chronicle: So what do you think the fate of the blue-collar NFL fan is? Are they going to move to tailgating at home? Maybe go to one game a year …

Jonny Mars: That's a great question, for lots of reasons. I'm a fan of sports. I enjoy going to events. I enjoy people rooting for the same team. But it's just too freakin' expensive for me as an individual. So when I watch, I watch from the house and I try to get together with friends. I am not as into tailgating as those guys. But I think at the end of the day it's going to come down to what are you more into – the team or the tailgating? I think maybe that's where the allegiance lies in terms of those who will put their money where their mouth is and go to the games and tailgate because I do think you are going to see an exodus. I do think you are going to see more people staying home. Especially with the advent of the big-screen TV. I say this a lot but football is kind of easier to watch on television than it is live. It's just better covered and you see the plays unfold. So I think at the end of the day, times are tough, the middle class is getting squeezed out and this is the concomitant of that. Gas is almost $5 a gallon. Bread is almost two bucks, three bucks a loaf. At some point people just won't be able to afford to go. It's free on television and on the radio. As [Chris] Berman says, generations of fans can't take part in the live sporting event. Why would they ever miss it? They are just not going to go if you can't afford to take your kids. It's going to die with this generation. And if it's just a corporate event, it's not going to be the same anyway.

America's Parking Lot screens Saturday, March 17, 11am, at the Alamo Lamar.

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