A Note on 'Virtual Fandoms'

An extended sample from sports geographer John Bale's Virtual Fandoms: Futurescapes of Football that really seems to tie a lot things together for me:

"In The Transparency of Evil, Baudrillard (1993) devotes several pages to the Heysel disaster and other aspects of football stadiums. At Heysel football was perverted into violence. In Baudrillard's words, 'there is always the danger that this kind of transition may occur, that spectators may cease to be spectators and slip into the role of victims or murderers, that sport may cease to be sport and be transformed into terrorism: that is why the public must simply be eliminated, to ensure that the only event occurring is strictly televisual in nature' (Baudrillard, 1993). In Baudrillardian sport, however, the expulsion of spectators from stadiums also serves to 'ensure the objective conduct of the match, … in … a transparent form of public space from which all the actors have been withdrawn' (Baudrillard, 1993, emphasis added by Bale).

The gradual territorialisation of spectators has been progressively enforced in British stadiums during the course of this century. From relatively open spaces to enclosed, all-seat stadiums, the football environment has become increasingly panopticised, subject to an increasing number of hierarchical and disciplinary gazes. Televised sport continues the general trend. The banning of spectators furthers the domestication and the spatial confinement of the spectating experience. In an empty stadium, the world could watch on tv 'a pure form of the event from which all passion has been removed' (Baudrillard, 1993). The shape of the future is recalled by Baudrillard in his allusion to a football match between Real Madrid and Naples - a European Cup match in 1987 when the game took place in an empty stadium as a result of disciplinary measures against Madrid from a previous game. This 'phantom football match' is described by Baudrillard as

…a world where a 'real' event occurs in a vacuum, stripped of its context and visible only from afar, televisually. Here we have a sort of surgically accurate prefigurement of the events of our future: events so minimal that they might well not need to take place at all - along with their maximal enlargement on screens. No one will have directly experienced the actual course of such happenings, but everyone will have received an image of them. A pure event, in other words, devoid of any reference to nature, and readily susceptible to replacement by synthetic images (Baudrillard, 1993).

Television sport produces a sport landscape of sameness. Drawing on the writing of Virilio (who, in turn, drew on the writing of Marcel Pagnol) we can note the difference between spectating at a sports event and watching it on television (Virilio, 1991). At a football game no two people see the same event (because no two people can occupy exactly the same place) whereas the game on tv is exactly what the camera saw. Spectators see this wherever they sit. Television re-places spectators. More significantly, however, Virilio and Baudrillard draw attention to, and provide the solution to, one of the problems of the sports landscape already alluded to in this chapter - that the intrusion of spectators transforms what should be a sports space into a sporting place - sometimes a sport place of disport. Virilio (1991) notes that the potential exists for the placelessness of sport to become literal - stadiums can be abolished and live performers be replaced with televisual images that would be shown in a video-stadium without sports players, for consumption to tele-spectators. To some extent this already exists: the presence of jumbo-tron video screens inside stadiums, which relay slow motion replays and the fine detail of the action, has become the defining reality for many sports fans - a postmodern condition where the image is superior to the reality. It is also uncannily predicted in the recent television advertisement for Adidas, the sports clothing firm, which displays a futurescape of football in which the game is 'played' in a tightly enclosed concrete box with what appear to be simulated spectators, programmed, presumably, to applaud skill but lacking in any partisan sentiments. This also reminds us of the commercial imperatives of modern sports for which sanitised and safe places, combined with a synthetic environment which, as far as possible, should be 'weatherless', are highly desirable. It would not be totally inappropriate to describe the scenarios I have been outlining as the 'mallification' of football.

The one thing that Baudrillard and Virilio do not recognise (or do not make explicit) is that such scenarios would also satisfy perfectly the norms of achievement sport - the 'surgical' space in which this event takes place provides the placeless environment insisted on by the achievement and fair play norms of sport. Virilio's prescription that the architecture of sports places 'would become no more than the scaffolding for an artificial environment, one whose physical dimensions have become instantaneous opto-electronic information' (Virilio 1991), is the dystopian milieu but one which is predicted by my sport-geographic model."

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2 responses to A Note on 'Virtual Fandoms'

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  1. sportsBabel » Gestures Sacred and Profane says:

    [...] to become an object of information for the integrated spectacle? Do we see that in the "surgical space" of the stadium, the fist bump meme has been rendered a carefully-controlled vector of [...]

  2. sportsBabel » Pixel to Pellicule to Projection says:

    [...] the stadium in favour of the strictly televisual. John Bale locates in this a fulfillment of his "surgical" model of the sportscape, a sterile space free of spectators and in which only the athletic operations themselves are [...]