"The Michael Jordan of Climbing"

From the Guardian Unlimited, on legendary alpinist Reinhold Messner (emphasis mine):

In the late Sixties and early Seventies climbers were concentrating on new routes up the major peaks, but they could never match these first exhilarating ascents in terms of capturing the public imagination. Until Messner came along.

Having established his name as a fearless big wall climber in Europe, he tore up the rule book for altitude mountaineering in the Himalayas. He stripped the sport to its basic form. He tossed away the concept of oxygen tanks and big teams and camps, and made mountaineering a more equal contest between man and mountain. He wrote about what it was like to live and die where the air is so thin that every breath is a triumph. He became the first real solo rock star. 'Messner set the agenda for mountaineering after all the big peaks had been climbed,' says Ian Parnell, 35, one of Britain's top alpinists. 'He set out the rules that we are still using today.'

The Sportocratic Simulation of Damiens

Quoted in Foucault's Discipline and Punish:

On 1 March 1757 Damiens the regicide was condemned "to make the amende honorable before the main door of the Church of Paris", where he was to be "taken and conveyed in a cart, wearing nothing but a shirt, holding a torch of burning wax weighing two pounds"; then, "in the said cart, to the Place de Grève, where, on a scaffold that will be erected there, the flesh will be torn from his breasts, arms, thighs and claves with red-hot pincers, his right hand, holding the knife with which he committed the said parricide, burnt with sulphur, and, on those places where the flesh will be torn away, poured molten lead, boiling oil, burning resin, wax and sulphur melted together and then his body drawn and quartered by four horses and his limbs and body consumed by fire, reduced to ashes and his ashes thrown to the winds" (Pièces originales…, 372-4).

On 26 February 2004 Bartman the deicide was symbolically pardoned by the floating signifier of one of the great all-time Chicago Cub figures, Harry Caray. In his place, a particular Rawlings baseball was condemned to make the amende honorable before the Harry Caray's Restaurant in Chicago, after the proprietors of the eatery spent $113,824 to bring it to justice.

Courtesy of AP, ESPN

The ball said nothing in its defence. It was offered a sumptuous steak and lobster dinner by authorities before receiving a thorough massage. The Rawlings was then carried through the crowd on a pillow to be placed in a specially-constructed shatter-proof glass box. Still uttering not a single word, either towards the crowd or to Bartman himself, it was blown to pieces by Lantieri, the Hollywood demolitions expert. Its remains were divided into thirds and taken to the three Harry Caray's Restaurant franchises in Chicago for public display.

* * *

As discussed earlier, Steve Bartman's crossing of the threshold of the permeable membrane unwittingly located a strategic weakness in the structure of panoptic power. In this light, we must read this hyperreal torture-spectacle of the Rawlings baseball, though carnivalesque in nature, as a device that allows the panoptic and pantactile to return to a homeostatic condition once again.

This was an operational failure of the panoptic gaze. The continual televisual surveillance of the sportscape creates disciplined athletes and docile spectators, while also maintaining the boundary between the two. But it is the very success of this surveillance that ultimately proved implosionary: having the panoptic gaze incorporate you into the Spectacle by catching a fly ball — a text that, if a sports fan, certainly must have woven itself in and out of Bartman's lifetime media tapestry — is as essentially American as Mom, apple pie, and baseball itself. It was only natural that Bartman should want to reach out and catch that ball, eschewing one brand of docility for another.

As we have noted already, however, this constituted an operational failure of the political and economical outcomes of surveillance: Bartman needed the spectacle of public torture and death. While social control evolves into simulation, as Baudrillard has noted, it at the same time retrieves the spectacle of torture and execution to do so: we cannot kill Steve Bartman, but we can kill a proxy of his. What will people learn from such a public execution? SIT DOWN NEXT TIME (and become docile)! At least that is the intent.

(Thanks to Jeff Scholes for helping develop this particular voice)

Seeds of the End

The final bill for Athens 2004: $11.6 billion.

Romancing the Stone

Football is the singular professional sport in which surveillance is an active part of its operational and tactical strategy. Even baseball, the supposed "American Pastime", does not internalize the gaze to nearly the same degree. This is why football has truly become the New American Sport: it presents a model, not only of the nation's military-industrial complex, but of its cozy affiliation with the political mechanism of surveillance.

Pantactilism and simulation also feature prominently in the model of football, which perhaps even more than baseball is all about numerically measurable conflict situations: 2nd-and-4 or 3rd-and-8; up a touchdown or down by a field goal, at the 50-yard line or in the red zone — the list goes on and on. And the entire time, a co-ordinator sits upstairs and reads percentages and probabilities from a database for the appropriate and decisive end action to take in each situation.

Besides the obvious portrait of professional football's excesses, this philosophical shift in the game constitutes what is the essential motif of Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday: the old-school coach, who smells the grass and the sweat and the pain, makes "gut" decisions immersed in the cacophony of the moment, while the new-school coach, who works in an aseptic space of pantactilism and simulation, makes decisions tightly integrated with his computer surrogate — coaching based on feel versus coaching based on felt.

Romance would have us side with the former, but reason, that niggling voice in the back of our minds, acknowledges the bankruptcy of this position and its path to pure defeat.

The Doctor Speaks On Pain

From Hunter S. Thompson:

Unfortunately, I bet the Colts heavily to win by seven points — and they only won by three — so I was wrong again, and I paid a terrible price. First the presidency, then the point-spread on Monday night. Indeed. Gambling was not a happy experience for me last week.

But so what? I lost, but I am not a Loser. I have long understood that losing always comes with the territory when you wander into the gambling business, just as getting crippled for life is an acceptable risk in the linebacker business. They both are extremely violent sports, and pain is part of the bargain. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Mahalo.

. . .

And so much for football wisdom, eh? Let's get back to the presidential election, which also caused enormous pain and grief to millions of people.

I am no stranger to the anguish of losing a presidential campaign, and this very narrow loss with John Kerry is no exception. It hurt, as always, but it didn't hurt as much as that horrible beating we took with George McGovern in 1972. That was by 22 points, the worst defeat in any presidential campaign since George Washington ran for a second term in 1787.

And the winner that year was a conquering hero named Richard Nixon, who got whacked out of office two years later because he was a crook. We had a very angry Democratic majority in the Senate that year, which is not the case now.

No. Today, the Panzer-like Bush machine controls all three branches of our federal government, the first time that has happened since Calvin Coolidge was in the White House. And that makes it just about impossible to mount any kind of Congressional investigation of a firmly-entrenched president like George Bush.

The time has come to get deeply into Football. It is the only thing we have left that ain't fixed. And more on that next week.

My NASSS Findings

Don't really have too many thoughts on tonight's Monday Night Football game, nor the time for them, so I will move right on to a synopsis of my trip to the annual North American Society for Sport Sociology (NASSS) conference, held this past weekend in Tucson, Arizona.

I was there to present my recent ideas on motion capture and sports simulations in my paper titled The Art of Work in the Age of its Recombinant Simulation. Other interesting papers I saw presented over the course of the weekend were, in no particular order:

  • Rod S. Murray and Debra Shogan, University of Alberta: Wide Open Spaces: Canadian Identity via Multiculturalism and Sport Policy,

  • Michael Cantelon, University of Alberta: Where You From?: Canadian National Identity and High-Performance Sport,

  • Alan Bairner, Loughborough University: Marxism, Hegemony and Sport: Towards a Re-Appropriation of Gramsci,

  • Rob Beamish, Queen's University: Sport, Steroids and Alienated Labour: A Marxist Analysis,

  • Ian McDonald, University of Brighton: Sport and Revolution,

  • Laura Misener, University of Alberta: (Re)defining Community: Sport and Civic Development Strategies,

  • Michael L. Silk and David L. Andrews, University of Maryland: ?We?re the People You Do Not See?: Governance and Regulation in Sterile Spaces of Play,

  • Jeremy Howell, University of San Francisco: Corporate Philanthropy and Social Responsibility,

  • Hart Cantelon, The University of Lethbridge: Corporate Branding and Municipal Boosterism in Canada,

  • Jay Scherer, University of Otago: Cyber-Corporate Nationalism: Adidas? ?Beat Rugby? Within and Beyond New Zealand,

  • Steve Jackson, University of Otago: Dawn of the Living Dead: Advertising, Sport and Commodifying the Past,

  • Matthew Guschwan, Indiana University: The State in the Stands: Soccer Fandom in Italy,

  • Don Levy, University of Connecticut: Constructing Reality: The Active World of Fantasy Sports,

  • Jeff Scholes, University of Denver: Sacrifice of the Bartman Ball and the Ambiguity of an American Ritual,

  • Sean Brayton, University of British Columbia: Bringing Da 'Hood to the Hill: (Un)Critical Pedagogies of Whiteness?,

  • Ted M. Butryn, San Jose State University: ?We Lie, We Cheat, We Steal??: Media Portrayals of Latinos in the WWE,

  • Lainie Mandlis and Debra Shogan, University of Alberta: Who Is (Not): Canada, Culture and Boxing?,

  • Ben Carrington, University of Texas: ?Merely Identity??: Cultural Identity and the Politics of Sport,

  • Michael Friedman, University of Maryland: Camdenization: Authenticity and Simulation in the Renovation of Fenway Park,

  • Andrew Baerg, University of Iowa: Technologies of Government and Virtual Football,