The Privilege of Absence

From Virilio's Pure War (p.87; excerpted here from Steve Redhead's Paul Virilio: Theorist for an Accelerated Culture, p.114):

[T]he serious problem is that those present, those who participate, those for example who attend an auto race are disqualified by the absentees. The billion people who watch the Olympic Games in Moscow, or the soccer championship in Argentina, impose their power at the expense of those present, who are already superfluous. The latter are practically no more than bodies filling the stadium so that it won't look empty. But their physical presence is completely alienated by the absence of the television viewer. There's a complete inversion, and that's what interests me in this situation.

Virilio is certainly correct here to an extent, in that the stadium becomes a sort of television set, with each game filmed before a live studio audience. I remember when our Acadia basketball team reached the National Championships at Halifax Metro Centre and proceeded to lose our first round matchup. Canadian sports channel TSN, which was covering the semi-finals and final, paid our school band to stay on for the rest of the weekend to improve the 'atmosphere' of those telecasts.

What I think he misses, however, is how this inversion has doubled back on itself, to the point where the absentees are watching a broadcast of the participants watching a broadcast, in a weird twist on reality TV. When at the track, we spend the majority of a horse race watching the steeds on the big screen television in the centre of the infield, only to turn to the charge down the home stretch. At a basketball game, only a small portion of the crowd need actually watch the game at any particular moment to alert the rest as to when live action should begin — the rest of the time we will socialize with our friends and catch replays on the Jumbotron between the commercials.

Virilio continues:

Once the stadiums were full. It was a magnificent popular explosion. There were 200,000 people in the grandstands, singing and shouting. It was a vision from ancient society, from the agora, from paganism. Now when you watch the Olympics or the soccer championship on television, you notice there aren't that many people. And even they, in a certain way, aren't the ones who make the World Cup. The ones who make the World Cup are the radios and televisions that buy and — by favouring a billion and a half television viewers — 'produce' the championship. Those absent from the stadium are always right, economically and massively. They have the power. The participants are always wrong.

Of course, if we forget about the importance of those present, we risk an explosion on the order of the 1985 Heysel stadium disaster. Which is perhaps why Bale suggests a "surgical" space that eliminates the "problem of spectators" altogether — a space that would "satisfy perfectly the norms of achievement sport".


2 responses to The Privilege of Absence

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  1. sportsBabel » Pixel to Pellicule says:

    [...] precisely "why the public must simply be eliminated, to ensure that the only event occurring is strictly televisual in nature. Every real referent must disappear so that the event may become acceptable on television's [...]

  2. sportsBabel » Pixel to Pellicule to Projection says:

    [...] is Virilio who suggests that those who are absent from the stadium are always right. But Baudrillard goes further: as mentioned earlier, the lesson he draws from the Heysel disaster [...]