What percentage of the truly cool things you find on the Internet occur via completely random Net surfing sessions? It has to be at least a third for me. I was fortunate enough the other day to come across a review of the work of Jordan Crandall, a name that seemed familiar to me. Digging around a bit, I learned that this was the same person who had written an interesting piece for Life In The Wires, titled "Unmanned: Embedded Reporters, Predator Drones and Armed Perception".
From there, I linked to his personal web site, where I found a corpus of work dealing with surveillance, mobilities, fitness and the body athletic. I want to sample three of those pieces here (all of which have been published by CTHEORY), "Bodies on the Circuit", "Ass in Gear", and "Fitness in Wartime". I look forward to learning more about Jordan's work.
Bodies on the Circuit (1997)
Here the body sandwiches itself into a machine, pressed against a smooth contoured surface that has been molded to couple with it, holding it rigid. Securely in place, joints aligned, attention and orientation adjusted, it performs precise, prescribed movements along optimized ranges of motion, internalizing a rhythm of repetition that becomes nearly habitual. The goal is to 'pump up' and literally morph the body into some idealized image held in one's mind like a carrot at the end of a stick. This image is a composite, patched together or collated from vast arrays of representations and self-reflections. Fragmentary and fleeting like a music video, these image-fragments beat to the pulses of the repetitions - 1! 2! 3! — as one interpolates one's body into them, while simultaneously pummeling them directly into the body substrate, as if plying it through sheer force of will. Regarding oneself in the mirror, one sees the idealized images superimposed, stacked up upon and within one's reflection, shuffling, merging, and separating to the beat of the repetition scansion — 7! 8! 9! — and its pulsatile 'deep vision.' Through the conduit of image, enforced temporality, body, and machine, one changes the very contour of the flesh, simultaneously downloading and internalizing the image while uploading the body into the realm of representation. Gasp!
And now a short rest between sets.
Ass in Gear (1999)
A movement constituted through patterns of repetition, enmeshed in circuits, harnessed to social and technical machines. What better way of envisioning the exercise video — One! Two! Three! — and the body-database? In either case, counting equals accounting for, and the body is formatted through arrays of variables and calculations. Movement configures as a kind of statistical articulation. Based on behavior and preference data, as tracked, abstracted, and aggregated in the database, X might, for example, show a 59.6% propensity to move towards Y. As individuals and groups are processed, the public configures as a calculus of manageable interests, opinions, patterns, and functions. This ever more precise and "protective" statistical ventriloquization — stretching over speech like a prophylactic or over pumped-up flesh like spandex — becomes an authentic voice of the people. A marker of speech and presence, a way in which the public is heard and made visible. The machine-image — the exercise-interface — is thus a politicized field of incorporation and identification, marking a network through which social identities and embodied forms are signaled and enacted.
Fitness in Wartime (2001)
Exit couchpotato and screen, meatself and monitor, at home and clicking away upon command. We no longer have subjects and objects that sit; we have relays or clusters through which forms and movements coalesce. We have body/machine/movement clusters, into which a fitting (weapon-gadget) is introduced, and which is enmeshed in an incorporative/integrative dynamic: its visual faculty extended through the network, its rhythms intertwined within the demands and enhancements offered by communications and battle machines, its body lodged within a protective encasing or squeezed within an invasive projectile.
[Aside] Someone recently reminded me of the value in periodically stepping back and reviewing one's work over a period in time, in order to spot the recurring patterns and the evolution of ideas during an interval of the ongoing investigation. I suppose that's what my annual birthday greetings to sportsBabel have become: an opportunity for visioning and reflection, perhaps a more sedate version of the peyote trip in the desert taken with similar goals in mind.
We had quite a year in sports: an NHL strike, the Athens Olympics, BALCO, Bartman, and the passings of Road Dog and the good Dr. Thompson, to name but a few events. And in response, I had occasion in this little sports (cyber-) space to be at various times snotty, confused, saddened, angered, amazed, scared, inspired, and clever.
Though the manuscript has only proceeded marginally, I can say without a doubt that this has been my most productive year yet, which makes sense: as I have continued to write, I think my ideas and style have matured significantly in the process. It may not always be apparent on the reader's end, but deep inside I know this to be true.
That said, here is a recap of my top ten favourite posts from the year:
- Polar Inertia
- The Sports Information Market (or Jimmy Hits a J)
- Notes From The Horse Races
- Questioning Sport and Societies of Control
- Notes on Baudrillard and the Fitness Club
- The Sportocratic Simulation of Damiens
- (S)ender's Game
- (Simulated) Olympic Sexuality
- Soccer and the Romanticization of Globalization
- Afrika (Nike) Shox
Happy 4th birthday, sportsBabel … you've changed the path of my journey more fully than I ever imagined possible. A digitally heartfelt thanks to you.
Not long ago, I discussed how the slowness of the blimp was attractive in the production of sports spectacles, since it allowed for an approximation of geosynchronicity in creating stable television images. Today I want to discuss another application of slowness in accelerated culture.
Virilio (excerpted from Redhead's The Paul Virilio Reader) discusses a mutation in warfare, driven in part by technology, that vectors us towards a state of "ONE MAN = A TOTAL WAR."
Note by way of provisional conclusion that the  attack on the World Trade Centre is testimony to the clever combination of a strong symbolic dimension and an urban demolition capability implicating only a small number of individuals who used a delivery van to deliver terror. In the days of cruise missiles and the most sophisticated nuclear weapons carriers, you have to admit that this is a striking example of political economy!
The 1993 attack was a failure, however. It wasn't until the September 11, 2001 attacks on the WTC that the terrorists showed evidence of lessons learned from the Americans in the First Gulf War: the use of camera-equipped smart bombs, which transmitted images to CNN of an approaching target before vanishing to static, in a unique merging of medium and message, or weapon and reality TV. In a more poignant example of Virilio's new political economy, a similar effect was achieved by the terrorists on 9/11.
It was the slowness of the planes that made them a particularly useful weapon that day. As opposed to the bombs used in 1993, which exploded so fast that television was only able to capture the damage done, the slowness of the airliners allowed one to get their camcorder around in time to view the plane striking the tower — in other words, to witness the actual event taking place.
It was only at this point of critical mass that speed accelerated to the absolute real-time of the image, delivering an experience far more tactile and visceral than seeing the rubble after the fact.
Caroline Fusco, "The Space that (In)Difference Makes: (Re)Producing Subjectivities in/through Abjection - A Locker Room Theoretical Study" in Vertinsky and Bale (eds.), Sites of Sport: Space, Place, Experience (p.172):
Sweat, dirt and some bodily fluid excretions are celebrated in sport for they are a mark of a hard workout (and often a mark of masculinity). … Yet there is a point when all these fluids, excretions and dirt (if these are not expelled onto the ice and into the grass) have to be dealt with, particularly when they start to smell, linger on the athlete's body and mix with the fluids of others. This is when the (social) body is/may be pressed to send these uncanny corporeal fluids somewhere else. … While recognizing that there are social and hygienic reasons for dirt and bodily excrements to be cleaned away, the rites of purification that are engaged in in locker rooms, such as washing, wearing foot protection, avoiding soiled toilet seats and so on, not only protect against infection but protect the subject from becoming (materially and psychically) contaminated by polluting pseudo-objects (like sweat, hair, faeces and urine). They enable respectability and propriety to be (re)produced.
A Zimbabwean athlete receives a 3 1/2-year prison sentence for masquerading as a female athlete (emphasis mine):
Samukeliso Sithole — a triple jumper and runner who competed as a woman at several international sports events — was convicted on charges of impersonation and offending the dignity of a woman athlete who undressed in his presence, unaware he was a man.
. . .
Sithole told the court at his first appearance that he had both female and male organs and that he lived as a woman after consulting a traditional healer. A medical examination showed that he was a man.
Two things jump out at me from this story. One has to do with the "crimes" that Sithole committed: impersonation and offending a woman's dignity. The first seems a little arbitrary to me — though I am not a lawyer, I believe that the crime of impersonation usually involves actually appropriating someone else's identity for personal gain. In this case, Sithole assumed a gender, not an individual identity. The purported offence of dignity is an extension of that gender role, not some Peeping Samukeliso trying to get a glimpse of women in segregated shower rooms.
Not only am I not a lawyer, but I am not a diviner of bullshit either. Nonetheless, let us assume for a moment that Sithole is telling the truth about being both male and female, and that a traditional healer advised that he should henceforth live as a woman. Then we have another example in which modern medical-scientific practice trumps traditional medicine, exposing yet again how the high performance athletic body is discursively constructed and subsequently policed.
Virilio, Pure War, p.54 (via Redhead): "History as the extensiveness of time — of time that lasts, is portioned out, organized, developed — is disappearing in favour of the instant, as if the end of history were the end of duration in favour of instantaneousness, and of course, of ubiquity."
It is at this point, in my opinion, that the Olympic Torch becomes vulnerable. More to follow …