Hybrids, Mutants and Replicants

In The Will to Technology and the Culture of Nihilism, Arthur Kroker remarks:

"If molecular biology can adapt so quickly to the epistemological possibilities of the order of the transgenic, it may be because the spectre of transgenics originates less in the order of science than in culture" (p.30).

And has sport not contributed to this epistemological awakening? As a site of cultural (re)production, is sport not implicated in this normalization of the will to technology?

The hybrid, the mutant, the replicant: transgenic variants all seen in the crucible of the high performance athletic arena or dreamt of in the sportocratic laboratory.

Muybridge

Eadweard Muybridge, Animal Locomotion Plate 99, 1887

Ever since Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion photos and the subsequent dawn of biomechanics, the body athletic has been considered a problem in Newtonian physics: forces, levers, torques, velocities and accelerations, each describing a specific movement. As a result, of course, the athlete comes to be viewed as belonging to an Erector Set of body parts, from which ideal collections and assemblages are regularly imagined, particularly in the context of high performance sport. "If only he had an arm to go with those legs." Or, metaphorically: "I wish I could put this guy's heart in that guy's body."

In the absence of such an Erector Set, however, we seek out the mutants. Forget standard endo-, meso- and ectomorphs. Instead, sport offers the hyperexaggeration of bone, fat and muscle: vomiting pygmies bouncing prettily around gymnastics apparatus, or the wraiths of endurance racing, bodily annihilated, trudging inexorably toward the finish line to a drumbeat cadence of footsteps; hypermuscular bodybuilders, football players and wrestlers straining at the skin; and the lipidinal masses that have accelerated to the point of polar inertia,

best visualized as a vicious, lazy, profoundly ignorant, perpetually hungry organism craving the warm god-flesh of the anointed.

Personally I like to imagine something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka.

It's covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It has no mouth, no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote.

Or by voting in presidential elections.

(Gibson, Idoru)

Replication has also long been manifest in the sportocratic imagination, its genealogical roots reaching back at least to the mechanical reproduction of baseball cards and bubblegum. But these flattened, lifeless representations lack sufficient dynamism for a culture hell-bent on its own immortality, and so we begin to animate the images by repurposing the data stocks and flows generated as a derivative of baseball's industrial production process. At the cusp between biomechanics and the age of simulation, Strat-O-Matic becomes the link in the helical chain connecting Branch Rickey and scientific management in baseball with Billy Beane, the sabermetric revolution and the third wave eugenics of baseball performance.

In that time, a whole industry has emerged around so-called "fantasy sports". But the fantasy these games deliver isn't to be like the pros, as is purported. It is rather a fantasy of cloning, a fantasy of pro athletes, Sea Monkeys and Monopoly recombined into one alluring hybrid, a fantasy of ownership. Play capitalist and own your own sports team, though the vectoralist still retains class power.

The "authentic replica" sports jersey offers another example of the "spectre of transgenics" in a hyperreal sportocratic culture: replication of the star athlete via an equivalence embedded in the code of the extended skin – all in the context of a post-industrial capitalism of signs and symbolic exchanges. In this case, the fantasy is of becoming-clone, the successful and particular cloning of a purebred stock.

Presumably, then, the inauthentic replica of a cheaper jersey carries an equivalence to the bastard laboratory experiments that preceded the birth of Dolly the Sheep?

Finally, we may discuss sports videogames and virtual worlds, which also allow us the potential of becoming-clone. As with fantasy sports, this is once again made possible by repurposing the data stocks and flows generated during games, but the stakes have increased, since no longer do we rely on static photographs but rather advanced body-xeroxing technologies such as motion capture, green screen, and biometric scan.

It seems appropriate, then, to conclude my thoughts with a sample from Baudrillard, who, in his "The Clone or the Degree Xerox of the Species", writes:

Multiplication is positive only in our system of accumulation. In the symbolic order, it is equivalent to subtraction. If five men pull on a rope, the force they exert is added together. By contrast, if an individual dies, his death is a considerable event, whereas if a thousand individuals die, the death of each is a thousand times less important. Each of two twins, because he has a double, is ultimately just half an individual — if you clone him to infinity, his value becomes zero (Screened Out, p.199).

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  1. sportsBabel » High-Speed Photography and Time Dilation says:

    [...] few notes comparing two of Eadweard Muybridge's offspring — bullet time photography and the high-speed photo finish system — more than a century [...]