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)


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