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the objective conduct of the match, … in … a transparent form of public space from which all the actors have been withdrawn' (Baudrillard, 1993, emphasis added by Bale).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."

(Simulated) Olympic Sexuality

So now the Olympics, with its collection of sleek, muscular, and nubile bodies — the 99th percentile — is being billed as the world's "most exclusive VIP club", where those without a chance to win or who have already been eliminated from competition engage in a carnal form of bacchanalia in which sexual escapades with one another — or others — occur with regularity.

Once freed, many athletes simply cannot control themselves. They are slaves to an irresistible physiological force called "tapering" that works like this: many competitors in endurance sports consume as many as 9,000 calories a day at the height of their training cycles. But they swim or run or pedal seven hours a day to burn these off. In order to peak for the Games, however, they reduce their training time to mere minutes in the days preceding their events while keeping the calorie count virtually constant. Thus an athlete is spring-loaded for his or her moment in the sun: lots of rest, lots of energy - boom. The results, particularly within a large, like-minded population, can be electric. "When you have 10,000 people walking around who are amped up on their own glycogen you can almost see the sparks flying off their skin," says BJ Bedford, the American backstroke gold-medallist at Sydney.

The 70,000 condoms provided to athletes at the Sydney Olympics disappeared so quickly that organizers had to order 20,000 more. Two years later, 250,000 condoms were handed out at the Salt Lake Olympics, despite the city's predominantly Mormon base. And 130,000 condoms will initially be given out to open the Athens Games, the largest Trojan onslaught there since Antiquity.

Our sporting deities, then, though steeped in the Hellenic tradition of the Games, do not cavort on the bedrock of Mount Olympus in their post-sport play. Instead, they engage in their festivities, prophylactic layer intact, in the ever-shifting nomadism of the Athlete's Village, a rootless existence that parallels both the placelessness of hypermodern production and consumption, and the essentially disposable nature of our sporting deities.

For the global village congregation of spectators, meanwhile, the Olympic mythos and its simulated sex serve as a catalyst — via the digital prophylactic of the screenal economy — to release the tensile bondage between the libidinal and the lipidinal, and the circulation of capital continues anew.

Penetrating The Olympic Membrane

The CBC, one of many broadcasters covering the Opening Ceremonies of the Athens Olympics, innovatively breached the membrane surrounding the procession of athletes and other team members by phoning Canadian wrestler Christine Nordhagen and interviewing her during the ceremony. I will guarantee that she becomes one of the Canadian feel-good stories over the next two weeks.

The Sports Information Market (or Jimmy Hits a J)

Hoosiers, 1952: Hickory versus South Bend, Indiana state finals. 20 seconds left to play. Hickory runs a clearout for Jimmy Chitwood, who calmly watches the clock run down, takes two dribbles and buries the game-winning jumpshot. The crowd goes crazy, and Jimmy is carried off the floor as a hero.

Now, if Jimmy lived today, what kind of ripple would that jumpshot have caused?

Let's begin tracing the polyvalent effects here by looking at Jimmy's line from the game, and the sports information market in general. (For the purposes of this analysis, let's pretend that there is some sort of congruency between the high school and professional basketball worlds, and that the data flows would be shared between them. Game statistics are from The Sports Guy's Hickory vs. South Bend projected box score.):

Player	Min	FG-A	FT	Reb	Ast	Stl	Pts
Jimmy	32	14-18	2	6	0	2	30


Hyperreal representation: Information imported from the "real" leagues, then paired with virtual likenesses of the players themselves (the pseudonimage) >> the model of the game is hyperreal; that is, it is created in such a way that the most exciting elements happen more frequently, or that negative elements (ie. injured athletes) occur less frequently or perhaps not at all >> athlete fear: having a poor rating when season begins (or when product is released), rookie not being signed before the game release date — though these fears will be mitigated as real-time statistical updating may offer the athlete relief from previously poor performance.

Hoosiers outcome: Jimmy's incremental player rating increases slightly. Kids are more likely to use his identity when they are playing the latest pro basketball videogame title. Due to the increased exposure, Jimmy is able to command higher endorsement dollars.


Cybernetic information flow: Professional sport contest has ceased to be about winning or losing, but rather the market correction that places the two teams on an "equal" footing in order to re-establish the determinance of Truth: the spread >> athlete fear: not covering the spread.

Hoosiers outcome: South Bend was heavily favoured in this game, so Jimmy's shot would have sent a spasm through the sports gambling market … bettors would be cashing in and out, and the house would be revising its initial line for the next Hickory game.

Fantasy Sports

Genetic proliferation: Each professional league generates the code, the genetic material, to produce other leagues >> the logic is recombinant, however: no two leagues are alike, except by pure coincidence >> athlete fear: being waived/traded in virtual space.

Hoosiers outcome: The "owners" of Jimmy Chitwood in their fantasy pools would be happy with his output from the night before: even if they hadn't actually witnessed the game, they would have done very well in the PTS, FG%, and REB categories.

* * *

Much like the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings chaotically, then, Jimmy's jumpshot triggers a maelstrom of events globally, the sum of which serve to sustain the sportocratic apparatus.

Still True in the Age of C4I?

"Our growing softness, our increasing lack of physical fitness, is a menace to our security." — John F. Kennedy, The Soft America

Addendum on Security

A note to follow up on yesterday's post about Olympic security: If it is such a big risk to all those involved in the Olympics, then why not just cancel the event? I mean, <tongue-in-cheek> it is just a sporting contest, right? </tongue-in-cheek>