The Examination (aka The Game)

Foucault again, discussing the disciplinary mechanism of the examination:

The examination combines the techniques of an observing hierarchy and those of a normalizing judgement. It is a normalizing gaze, a surveillance that makes it possible to qualify, to classify and to punish. It establishes over individuals a visibility through which one differentiates them and judges them. That is why, in all the mechanisms of discipline, the examination is highly ritualized. In it are combined the ceremony of power and the form of the experiment, the deployment of force and the establishment of truth (Discipline and Punish, p.184).

The Body-Object Articulation

Michel Foucault writes:

Over the whole surface of contact between the body and the object it handles, power is introduced, fastening them to one another. It constitutes a body-weapon, body-tool, body-machine complex. One is as far as possible from those forms of subjection that demanded of the body only signs or products, forms of expression or the result of labour. The regulation imposed by power is at the same time the law of construction of the operation. Thus disciplinary power appears to have the function not so much of deduction as of synthesis, not so much of exploitation of the product as of coercive link with the apparatus of production (Discipline and Punish, p.153).

The New Water Bottle

A story on CBC notes that pedometers are "the new water bottle, an exercise accessory to help people log kilometres travelled."

On Monday, Finegood launched a research project called Canada on the Move. Canadians with pedometers can go to a website, enter some information and help researchers learn whether tracking steps helps people get fit.

"Just handing a pedometer to anybody on the street isn't necessarily going to be an effective use of funds," said Finegood. "One needs to understand who are the people who are going take advantage of this and receive benefits?"

In about six months, the CIHR hopes to have enough data to analyse. They want to see if pedometers provide the extra motivation to get people out of cars, off the elevator and on their feet.

The water bottle comment has another (unintended) significance: in the age of cybernetic information flows that penetrate the body, electro-data feedback becomes as necessary to the would-be exerciser as H20.

The Art of Sport in the Age of Mediated Simulation

What is the act of sport in the age of mediated simulation? It is to take the sport experience and turn it into a series of data fields to be stored in a spreadsheet or database. Consider the data fields that correspond to the statistical categories for basketball — PTS, REB, AST, BLK, TO, etc. — as well as athlete demographic data such as height, weight and age. This data constitutes an extremely valuable asset for the NBA, which sells it for usage in videogames, fantasy sports, and other downstream media products.

Capturing that data completely changes the sport experience, however. Consider the spreadsheet program, which is used to manage and manipulate vast tables of data. It is interesting that each data field or unit of information in the spreadsheet array is referred to as a cell, which takes on two different meanings in the context of capturing data flows from the sporting uncertainty-of-outcome process:

First is the notion of the cell as a method of confinement, as a technique for segregating athletes (or components thereof) into certain categories; for one can only consider the capture of athletic performance into data fields — or cells — to be later revisited, recombined or repurposed, as a form of confinement: produce numbers, in these predetermined categories, or be relegated to the trash heap.

Second, and perhaps more important to the discussion at hand, is the cell as the digital manifestation of this data originally produced in organic form. With information technologies continuing to insinuate themselves into the body (in both its individual and social/collective forms), the human is becoming increasingly uploaded into virtual space, leaving behind only a carcass that continues to exude bits of data long after its relevance has disappeared. In essence, the decomposing meat of the human athlete metamorphoses into the digital cells of the posthuman athlete, and then shrivels into non-existence.

Consider it a pseudo-Foucaultian disciplinary technology: the digital manifestation of the athlete is confined in the carceral space of the categorical cell boundaries, while the panoptic gaze of the spectating public disciplines and conditions the athlete to perform appropriately within said categories. The athletes are further disciplined by the rank of the categories: in this case, PTS are valued more highly than AST or REB, which are themselves valued more highly than BLK or TO.

The athlete's artistry — the interstitial fluid that holds these cells together — is bled dry in such a digital environment.

Perhaps interstitial fluid is extending the metaphor of corporeality a little too far, however. As the body disintegrates into ones and zeroes, what is truly lost in the process is art as the quintessence of the human soul.

The Precession of the Model

ESPN.com reports that the Carolina Panthers have won Super Bowl XXXVIII, which is scheduled for Feb. 1, 2004, by downing the New England Patriots 17-13.

How did this happen? In what is becoming standard Spectacle Industry practice (since Microsoft first called the Pats Super Bowl upset 2 years ago), ESPN.com simulated the game. For the game at hand, they had WhatIfSports.com simulate this year's matchup between the Panthers and Patriots; a 10,000-game sample saw the Panthers victorious 53 percent of the time.

Much like what I did here, ESPN.com then wrapped a narrative around WhatIfSports' statistical output:

"'I don't know what happened,' a tearful Vinatieri explained in the Patriots somber locker room. 'Maybe they opened the doors on the south end or something. I just don't know.' — this after Vinatieri "missed" two field goals in the simulation.

How long will it be until we have virtual athletes playing virtual games? How long until that filial recombination of television, console videogame, T3 broadband connection, and fantasy sports league cannibalizes professional athletes out of existence?

More importantly in the short run, how does the generation of these simulated outcomes affect the real outcome that will be played in over a week's time?

[H]ere it is a question of a reversal of origin and finality, for all the forms change once they are not so much mechanically reproduced but even conceived from the point-of-view of their very reproducibility, diffracted from a generating nucleus we call the model. … Here are the models from which proceed all forms according to the modulation of their differences. Only affiliation to the model makes sense, and nothing flows any longer according to its end, but proceeds from the model, the "signifier of reference," which is a kind of anterior finality and the only resemblance there is (Baudrillard, Simulations, p.100).

This is ESPN for chrissakes. Are you telling me that the Pats haven't seen this news story or heard about it through friends? Is it not possible that the slightest element of doubt enters the minds of Vinatieri or the other New England players leading up to the game? What about when the simulations get even better than they are right now? What about when the teams themselves use simulation software to an ever higher degree than they do now — could an adverse ESPN story at that point shake the faith of those increasingly reliant on simulation feedback?

The entire mindset of the athlete must change when placed in this situation. The game that ends up being played on Feb. 1 will just end up being one of 10,000 or 100,000 or 100,000,000 that were already simulated in a database somewhere. It is complete chance as to which one will be picked that day.

Where is the art form in that?

D'Oh = Dough

From ESPN.com's Page 3 column on the top 100 Simpsons sports moments of all time (italics are mine):

25. 'Topes move? 'Topes move? Homer tries to call attention to the Duff Brewery's cover-up of a plan to move the Springfield Isotopes to Albuquerque by starting a hunger strike. Not even his friends believe him, insisting that they certainly would have heard something on a talk radio show "like 'Sports Chat' or 'Sportzilla and the Jabber Jocks.' " Chained up outside the stadium, Homer starts cutting into the ticket sales, so the owners move him to the batter's-eye behind center field and turn him into their new mascot, "Hungry Hungry Homer." When offered a new Isotope Supreme Dog — with mesquite-grilled onions and jalapeno relish — Homer realizes this is the kind of "bold flavor they enjoy … in Albuquerque!" The truth is revealed, and the team is saved.

Bonus fun fact: This episode aired in 2001, and two years later the Calgary Cannons relocated to Albuquerque and were renamed the Isotopes. The name was chosen by a fan vote.

Another example of intertextuality cropping up in sport.