A Different Angle on "Virtual Violence"

So, as CNET reports, it appears that videogames stimulate aggression:

In the study, 13 males played the first-person shooter game "Tactical Ops: Assault on Terror" while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) system, which measures brain activity. The brain scans of 11 of the subjects exhibited "large observed effects" characteristic of aggressive thoughts. The researchers said the pattern of brain activity can be considered to be caused by virtual violence.


In my opinion, the researchers are asking the wrong question. Don't we really want to know how the brain scans change as the camera angle shifts from a horizontally orthogonal view to an over-the-shoulder view to a first-person view? Isn't this cognitive shift in "identity" more important than the question of aggression — once all of the politics are stripped away from the issue?

Battle of Marathon

Baudrillard, America, p.19:

I would never have believed that the New York marathon could move you to tears. It really is the end-of-the-world show. Can we speak of suffering freely entered into as we might speak of a state of servitude freely entered into? In driving rain, with helicopters circling overhead and the crowd cheering, wearing aluminum foil capes and squinting at their stop-watches, or bare-chested, their eyes rolling skywards, they are all seeking death, that death by exhaustion that was the fate of the first Marathon man some two thousand years ago. And he, let us not forget, was carrying a message of victory to Athens. They also dream no doubt of bringing a victory message, but there are too many of them and their message has lost all meaning: it is merely the message of their arrival, at the end of their exertions, the twilight message of a futile, superhuman effort. Collectively, they might rather seem to be bringing the message of a catastrophe for the human race, which you can see becoming more decrepit by the hour as the runners come in, from the competitive, athletic types who arrive first to the wrecks who are literally carried to the finishing line by their friends, or the handicapped who do the race in their wheelchairs. There are 17,000 runners and you can?t help thinking back to the Battle of Marathon, where there weren't even 17,000 soldiers in the field. There are 17,000 of them and each one runs alone, without even a thought for victory, but simply in order to feel alive. 'We won', gasped the man from Marathon as he expired. 'I did it!', sighs the exhausted marathon runner of New York as he collapses on the grass in Central Park.

Sadly, the third runner in four years has died in the Toronto Marathon.

Lost Touch

Opening title sequence. Graham and Ria sit in their car shortly after being rear-ended.

Graham: "It's the sense of touch."

Ria: "What?"

Graham: "Any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something."

Officer (looking into car): "You guys okay?"

Ria: "I think he hit his head."

*     *     *

It's funny how sometimes you watch just the right movie or hear just the right song at just the same time that a bunch of ideas that have been swirling around in your head begin to crystallize and take form. Recently for me it was Gattaca; sometime last year it was No Maps For These Territories; and before that it was DJ Spooky's Polyphony of One. Each time, it seemed that of all the memes speeding through the collective consciousness of the media-sphere, the right two collided together and joined to form something larger.

The collision metaphor is perhaps too-cutely apropos, since tonight's movie was Crash, by Paul Haggis. While an excellent movie, I must admit that it really doesn't have very much to do with the normal content of sportsBabel. Except for that wonderful opening sequence.

"It's the sense of touch."

Yes … touch. Something I have written about quite a bit recently.

I noticed this when I was biking to work: we are losing our sense of touch, but more primally, we are losing our own internal sense of body awareness and proprioception.

*     *     *

This is what the movie Fight Club was really about. Not the fighting, but the sense of body awareness you have during and after a fight. The sense of having-been-in-fight. But instead of that messiness, we watch the movie, marvel at Brad Pitt's abs and Ed Norton's cool, and go to bed.

This is what BDSM sex is all about. One brings the body to a heightened sense of tactile awareness, before the "actual" sex begins. But instead we download the clip, mechanically produce another orgasm, and go to bed.

And in a more mainstream sense, this is what the NFL is all about. For the players, bodily immersion in the cacophony of the moment, deeply inhaling the smell of grass, of sweat, and of pain. But we lipidinals tune in via the home theatre, generate a flood of sympathetic adrenaline, and go to bed.

Put another way, we sleepwalk through a world in which all of our touch has become electronically mediated and/or remoted. This is the essence of the chrysalis digitalis. Consider:

- Aggression from a distance (the fist): remote control guns.

- Sex from a distance (the penis and the vagina): teledildonics.

- Sports from a distance (the musculoskeletal system): sports videogames.

*     *     *

I reject the term surveillance as describing the mechanism facilitating this control state — even in its contemporary usage, which admittedly encompasses more than just watching through a camera — because in practical terms, it still focuses on the surveiller — the SEEING. In doing so, it draws focus away from our beings as existing via mediated touch or without touch at all.

In reality, the control system operates as a pantactile system. There is no focal point as one finds with the eye … touch occurs everywhere. To conceptualize the control system that is currently manifest, we must first understand it in terms of (lost/mediated/omnipresent) touch — and then look for liberating possibilities within.


Click on Julie Chen to play…

TVgasm compiled a montage of Big Brother host Julie Chen to commemorate the show's season finale, which I have re-posted here. I won't spoil it for you — you'll have to click and watch.

It is very easy to imagine similar sportocratic montages made for "We just have to take it one game at a time," "We have to give it 110%," "You have to respect the team in that other locker room," and many others. [Insert your personal favourite here.]


When Haraway discusses a shift from labor to robotics (elsewhere in the essay she says that "microelectronics mediates the translations of labour into robotics and word processing"), is the sportocratic equivalent not Rasheed Wallace and his perfectly-assembled soundbite — "Both teams played hard." — which the typing classes then turn into content? Wallace's perfect quality control gives truth to the lie about the nature of professional athletes, who are in fact I3-producing techno-bodies.

Of course, the Chen montage above crystallizes the point that 'Sheed, deliberately or not, makes with his "Both teams played hard" production. The only difference is that normally this perfect repetition is non-linear. Only the pastiche alerts us to each unit's startling resemblance to the next.

Football Season Is Over

Football Season Is Over

No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won't hurt.

(Hunter S. Thompson's suicide note, as published in Rolling Stone magazine)

Thinking Pink(o) in Support of Breasts

On Sunday, Linds and I ran in the 14th annual CIBC Run for the Cure in downtown Toronto, along with an estimated 170,000 others across Canada. It was our third time running in the event and trying to raise some money for breast cancer research, and we had a great time doing so.

On our way home, I asked her if she thought this was a sporting event. As someone who had played a team sport at a high level, she didn't think so, citing the lack of "competition" as what differentiated sport from a recreational event such as this.

While it may be splitting hairs to say so (does anyone really care if this was "sport" or not?), I'll have to disagree with her in this case. I would suggest that the Run for the Cure is most definitely "sport," though it is its feminist flavour that might render it unrecognizable from the gladiatoralism that graces our televisions every weekend. The elements are there.

It begins with the uniforms. In contrast to the White Hat vs. Black Hat nature of traditional team sport, there is only one uniform at the Run for the Cure: the white race T-shirt adorned with bright pink ribbon and sponsor logos, demonstrating solidarity with a common cause. At the same time, however, there is a multiplicity of uniforms: we find a hint of the carnivalesque at the Race, with different sub-groups within the mass wearing costumes, wigs, striped socks, or some other uniquely-identifying item.

In turn, the Us/Them, Home/Visitor binary of traditional sport blossoms into a multiplicity of teams within the larger mass — anyone can sign up and identify themself as part of a team. If registered early enough, that team name actually gets screened onto the back of one's race T-shirt. Otherwise, blank race bibs are provided so that one may simply pledge team allegiance with bold cursive letters from a thick marker.

(I ran for the "Hurry-Kanes" in support of Linds' friend Heather Kane and her mother. Cool name, huh?)

Furthermore, to say that the race has no element of competition would be misleading, I believe. First, there are the traditional weekend race runners, neck-and-neck out at the front of the pack as if it were any other typical Saturday event. The fact that the race has a charitable foundation associated with it is just a bonus, one would presume.

At the other end of the spectrum, completely oblivious to the performance of the racers at the front — nor really caring at all about them, for that matter — are the walkers. For some of the walkers, 5km is a long way, and that is competition in and of itself. But more importantly, they are competing for the fundraising — not to raise more money than the next person, but to raise as much as personally possible in order to collectively push the total amount raised higher than ever before.

Somewhere in the middle are the people that interest me the most, and perhaps that's because I can be found here myself. These are the people who aren't really racers, but aren't really walkers, either. Their competition is internal: try to max out the ability they have for those 5km, in the hopes that the small, nearly-trivial amount of pain they put themselves through for a handful of minutes, when pooled together with that of others, becomes something non-trivial for those who deal with the real pain. In other words, go as hard as you can and don't quit, even when it hurts, because people are counting on you.

Naturally, in any event that features several thousand participants, a few stereotypical categories won't suffice. There are as many reasons for people to be at the event as there are people participating, a fact that the race organizers communicate in their race promotions, to their credit.

But to be honest, that message is awash in a sea of pink ribbons, pink wristbands, and pink balloons. "Think Pink," the campaign exhorts.

Am I confusing a Girl Power message crafted by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and corporate sponsors with a true feminist empowerment that informs the fabric of this sporting event? If so, do others confuse the two as well? Consider:

  • There is a bounty of sponsor-provided free food offered to the runners after the race is completed, while Toronto's homeless peer in through the semi-enclosure or sleep on grates nearby.
  • After the post-race refuelling is finished, there do not appear to be temporary recycling facilities anywhere to collect what will be thousands of plastics and tetra boxes.
  • Men can get breast cancer as well, yet I could only find this nugget of information buried away on the web site's Breast Cancer Statistics page. Saying so out loud must confuse the "Think Pink" message.
  • In the ultimate irony of "Thinking Pink," there is predominantly pinkish skin in attendance at the event held in what is purportedly the most multicultural city in the world. One presumes that the minimum requirement of $150 in pledges or a paid $40 registration fee places real economic pressure on those (particularly minorities) who would like to contribute their efforts as runners, rather than as volunteers.

Are these the values that undergird feminism?

Of course, there are as many feminisms as there are people who would answer that question.

Ultimately, though, we must remember that at its core the Run for the Cure is a profit-maximizing activity that has us at once playing the dual roles of industrial labour and sponsor message transmitter. Is it still sport? Absolutely. Feminist? Undoubtedly. But given the context in which the Run exists, it could still leverage the progressive spirit of "Thinking Pink" to be so much better.