Ecstasy

<!– Field notes for becoming Fitter Happier –>

Bike Playlist:

"Guanxi" — DJ Spooky
"Walkie Talkie" — DJ Shadow
"Space Melody (Extended Mix)" — Avex Trax
"Lose Yourself" — Eminem
"I Against I" — Mos Def and Massive Attack
"How High Part II (dirty)" — Method Man and Redman
"Kybernetics" — DJ Spooky

On the bike again, at a setting of 9, ready for the challenge.

Midway through the program it begins to get more difficult. I try to focus on keeping my body still and simply pumping my legs, but the beat of the music prevents me from establishing a perfect cybernetic symbiosis with the machine. My head bobs back and forth in time with the music, rather inefficiently in terms of the biomechanic coupling, but pleasantly uncertain in terms of my coupling with the mp3 player. It is the beat that drives me, seemingly industrial, yet imbued with an aesthetic that transcends simple machinery. I think of the underground rave scene in Matrix Reloaded and Pini's (1998) work on the role of raves in producing ecstatic bodies.

As I look around me, I see other cybernetic couplings, albeit halfhearted ones. Why do they even bother?, I ask myself.

The music slows down from its frenetic pace to launch into Mos Def and Massive Attack's "I Against I". I figure that Mos Def's clever lyrics will more than make up for what I will lose to the song's slower pace, but I am wrong. Pedaling … becomes … drudgery. This is supposedly a downhill. Where is my energy?

All of a sudden the music reaches a crescendo as it begins the chorus, and at the same time I reach a hill:

I-ya, I-ya,
I against I,
flesh of my flesh,
and mind of my mind,
two of a kind but one won't survive.

RUSH! I am filled with adrenaline as my heightened pedaling coincides with the heightened emotion of the music. I am ecstatic!!

This is the ecstasy of Pronger (1998), who wishes to wrest athletic performance from the "sport-industrial-techno-science-nationalistic complex" (p. 286), although I would like to add one caveat: what I am suggesting, perhaps more specifically than Pronger, is the initial moment of ecstasy, or what one might call a phenomenology of the ecstatic moment. This moment is more precise than Baudrillard's tripolarized ecstasy of bodily annihilation. The ecstatic moment, the first rush, is available to all, and cannot be incorporated into the simulacra — it is this moment that offers one a brief respite from the crushing blow of the machine, that offers one a spacetime of uniqueness and non-solidarity, that offers one a glimpse of humanity.

"The ecstasy of the primordial body stands out from the limits of its socio-cultural boundaries. The postmodern turn here, lies in letting ecstasy position us as complicitous critics of the modern project" (Pronger, 1998, p. 292).

In my ecstatic moment, I criticize the biopolitical discourses of Foucault's modernism.

References:

Pini, M. (1998). Peak practices: The production and regulation of ecstatic bodies. In J. Wood (Ed.), The virtual embodied: Presence, practice, technology (pp. 168-177). London: Routledge.

Pronger, B. (1998). Post-sport: transgressing boundaries in physical culture. In: G. Rail (Ed.), Sport and postmodern times (pp. 277-298). Albany: State University of New York Press.

Evolution of the Medium

Electronic Gaming Monthly has a fascinating article featuring kids of today playing such console gaming classics of yesterday as Pong, Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. Some of the kids' funniest comments:

"What is this? [Picks up and twists the Pong paddle controller] Am I controlling the volume?"

"My line is so beating the heck out of your stupid line. Fear my pink line. You have no chance. I am the undisputed lord of virtual tennis. [Misses ball] Whoops."

"Mario dies way too easy. Oh, grab the umbrella. Those are cool. Unfashionable, gay, but cool. Oh, 300 points. That's it? All you get is points? That's lame. Can't you do something with the umbrella?"

"It's strange that fire moves in this and has eyes. Oh no, the fire's coming. It's going to eat you. Are these barrels alive, too? Everything's alive. And Donkey Kong's mouth is made of pluses. Look: Plus, plus, plus, minus. They're trying to teach you math by brainwashing you."

"I think mushrooms are like steroids in this. See how you get bigger and stronger?"

"I don't see how this has anything remotely to do with football."

"I'm sure everyone who made this game is dead by now."

Tetrahydrogestrinone

The "biggest doping conspiracy in sports history" is beginning to unravel, as a U.S. federal grand jury investigates Balco Labs, a supplement and nutrition company run by Victor Conte. Balco Labs client list — none of whom have been implicated at this time — includes Barry Bonds, Bill Romanowksi, and Olympic stars Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery.

The substance in question is an underground "designer steroid" known as tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), a relative of the banned steroid trenbolone, which has been described as a "very sophisticated designer steroid created by some very sophisticated chemists" who are now under federal investigation. THG is not injectable: athletes place a few drops of the oil-based steroid under their tongues and then expected it would be processed quickly enough through their bodies to avoid detection.

My guess? One, while there will be some initial shock at the beginning of the investigation as names are revealed, sports fans really won't end up caring one way or the other in the end. Furthermore, tomorrow's generation of young athletes won't really understand what the brouhaha was all about to begin with: the pharmaceutical industry bombards us daily with messages about how we can get a performance advantage in our battles against headaches, PMS, allergies or aging. Why should athletes be held to a different standard? The illusion of modern sport holding some inherent Truth will have long disappeared by then.

Two, tetrahydrogestrinone will make it through the collective consciousness extremely quickly, and an underground economy will be born overnight. As of today, Google does not have a listing for THG, but it will soon join the likes of Vicodin, Viagra and Zoloft in the junk email boxes of the world.

Docility and the Sportscape

From Dave Lindorff's article on Salon.com, entitled "Keeping Dissent Invisible" (emphasis mine):

Oct. 16, 2003 | PHILADELPHIA — When Bill Neel learned that President George W. Bush was making a Labor Day campaign visit to Pittsburgh last year to support local congressional candidates, the retired Pittsburgh steelworker decided that he would be on hand to protest the president's economic policies. Neel and his sister made a hand-lettered sign reading "The Bushes must love the poor — they've made so many of us," and headed for a road where the motorcade would pass on the way from the airport to a Carpenters' Union training center.

He never got to display his sign for President Bush to see, though. As he stood among milling groups of Bush supporters, he was approached by a local police detective, who told him and his sister that because they were protesting, they had to move to a "free speech area," on orders of the U.S. Secret Service.

"He pointed out a relatively remote baseball diamond that was enclosed in a chain-link fence," Neel recalled in an interview with Salon. "I could see these people behind the fence, with their faces up against it, and their hands on the wire. It looked more like a concentration camp than a free speech area to me, so I said, 'I'm not going in there. I thought the whole country was a free speech area.'" The detective asked Neel, 66, to go to the area six or eight times, and when he politely refused, he handcuffed and arrested the retired steelworker on a charge of disorderly conduct. When Neel's sister argued against his arrest, she was cuffed and hauled off as well. The two spent the president's visit in a firehouse that was serving as Secret Service and police headquarters for the event.

This reminded me of John Bale's observation that "the stadium is regarded as such a secure form of containment that it is, intact, actually used as a prison in times of national security or repression."

Another Note on the Permeable Membrane

The Chicago Cubs, who have not won the World Series since 1908 and who have not competed for it in the past 58 years, were five outs away from returning when Florida's Luis Castillo hit a foul ball down the left-field line. As it drifted into the bleachers, Chicago's Moises Alou had a chance to make the play when a Cubs fan reached for the ball at the same time and knocked it away from Alou's glove. Castillo then proceeded to walk, and the Marlins, who entered the top of the eighth with a 3-0 deficit against Cubs ace Mark Prior, went on to score eight runs in the inning and win 8-3 to force Game 7 in the NLCS.

Naturally, the fan became the lightning rod for the loss, despite the fact that there were at least two other errors during the Marlins' offensive outburst: an error by Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez, and questionable decision making by manager Dusty Baker. Nonetheless, it is far easier to blame an anonymous fan than two heroes of the sportocracy for the disastrous turn of events.

But the fan did not stay anonymous for long. His name is Steve Bartman, and he was "outed" by the Chicago Sun-Times, his hometown newspaper. He didn't show up for work on Wednesday, and has already disconnected his home telephone. He has already received death threats, which are certain to intensify if the Cubs lose Game 7.

Two things are interesting about this story: the first is the continuing social "debate" regarding the permeability of the membrane between spectator and participant. In this case, Alou felt perturbed that he was unable to catch the ball and make the out — despite the fact that the ball was clearly over the wall and into the crowd. MLB rules state that if a fan reaches into the field of play and prevents a catch by touching the ball, the umpire can rule fan interference and declare an out. On the other hand, if the ball travels over the wall, then the ball belongs to the fan — though an out can still be made. That the fans sided with Alou even though Bartman was clearly in the "right" as a fan is testament to the confusion surrounding the membrane.

The second interesting aspect of the story is how quickly it spread through the collective consciousness of the social body. The electric technologies of television, radio, weblog, newswire, etc., took the meme of The Fan (aka Steve Bartman) and thrust it to the top of the sporting mind, thus thrusting Bartman into the sportocracy's panoptic gaze. While Warhol famously declared that television made everyone famous for fifteen minutes, the time horizon is shrinking: Bartman's fame/infamy, although intense, will be much more fleeting.

The question is whether Bartman can survive his time in the panoptic gaze, and I am asking this quite literally. Professional athletes learn to grow up in front of the camera so that eventually they can perform on the biggest stage. 26-year-old consultants that coach Little League have no such training, however, so when they are dropped into the gaze — nay, the glare — it can be quite terrifying. If the Cubs lose Game 7, Bartman will need to survive his time in the glare; physical violence or suicide are quite possible outcomes to this sad, yet predictable story.

Update: Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood just cracked a full count 3-run homer in the bottom of the second inning to deadlock the game at 3 apiece. Somewhere, Steve Bartman hopes …

Update No.2: The Marlins won the game 9-6, and knock the Cubs out of the playoffs. Stay tuned …

Signs, Space and the Nike Empire

An interesting item today in the blogosphere: athletic footwear multinational and post-industrial giant Nike has formed a partnership with the city of Vienna to rename Karlsplatz, one of the city's main squares, to Nikeplatz. To commemorate the name change for Vienna — the first city to be so transformed in the new NikeGround campaign — a 36 meter long by 18 meter high Swoosh monument constructed from "special steel covered with a revolutionary red resin made from recycled sneaker soles" will adorn this historic public space.

Courtesy of 0100101110101101.ORG

Of course (?), the entire campaign is a hoax, perpetrated by the art collective 0100101110101101.ORG (I first found out about the hoax via Lying Media Bastards).

Not long ago, I wondered about potential responses against the sportocratic apparatus with regards to the rise of Logos. I suggested that illegal means must be used, if necessary, to assert the fundamental human right to communicate, if such right is threatened. NikeGround is an interesting response.

But its not the only recent high-profile response to Nike. Adbusters, the media activist foundation, has recently decided to get into the shoe manufacturing business as a culture jamming exercise to promote their anti-logo, the Black Spot.

Courtesy of Adbusters