Capturing Movement (not Motion Capture)

As someone who is interested in studying contemporary sporting institutions, I find myself often using the language of containment or confinement in framing sports competition sites as Foucauldian disciplinary spaces (in and out of bounds, partitioned areas, referee's gaze, etc.). Deleuze (in Foucault), however, admonishes those who miss the more crucial element of Foucault’s work on this topic: namely, that he theorized first and foremost the problem of movement and circulation, and only then did that analysis consider the issue of confinement and enclosure as a particular response. In other words, movement and circulation — qualities of the nomad — are consistently present a priori, with confinement a technique that may then be applied in various forms to the issue of movement and circulation: to contain a body within a space, to exclude a body from entering that space, or to partition bodies in such a way that they may not interact with one another.

In contrast, Deleuze and Guattari develop the concept of striated versus smooth space to deal more specifically with the question of the movement and circulation of bodies around and within. While Foucault offers us a formula for organizing space, time and movement so as to maximize productive utility and minimize political instability, Deleuze and Guattari take this strategy of discipline as the general model of the striated space of State power. Striated space, according to Deleuze and Guattari, is the enclosed space of the State apparatus; it is a coded series of points, which thus allows it to be measurable, and the State seeks to constrict or divert flows through this measurement. The relationship to modern sport in this sense should be obvious.

Smooth space, by contrast, is the space of the nomadic war machine. It is deterritorialized space, flowing space, permeable space. It is a space of vectors that lacks a centre point. It can be considered as the space that exists, or comes into being, between the measurable points ("… in the case of the striated, the line is between two points, while in the smooth, the point is between two lines …" (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p.480)). We should note that these are ideal types, according to D+G. In actual practise, smooth and striated spaces exist in admixture or combination. Smooth spaces become striated over time, while striated spaces include conditions necessary for new types of smooth space to emerge and flourish.

One of the fundamental tasks of the State is to striate the space over which it reigns, or to utilize smooth spaces as a means of communication in the service of striated space. It is a vital concern of every State not only to vanquish nomadism but to control migrations and, more generally, to establish a zone of rights over an entire "exterior," over all of the flows traversing the ecumenon. If it can help it, the State does not dissociate itself from a process of capture of flows of all kinds, populations, commodities or commerce, money or capital, etc. There is still a need for fixed paths in well-defined directions, which restrict speed, regulate circulation, relativize movement, and measure in detail the relative movements of subjects and objects (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p.385).

Returning to earlier work on spatial and temporal vulnerabilities in disciplinary sports spaces, let us briefly examine the smooth and striated at the running poles of marathon and sprint.

The Marathon

At the 1980 Boston Marathon, race administrators are unable to (nor do they desire to) clearly see the relatively undifferentiated throng lining the periphery of the race course. Meanwhile, Rosie Ruiz takes a convoluted, winding line through the crowd of race spectators before she finds a hole in the membrane separating race participants from spectators and assumes the new line of the runners as they hurry towards the finish line. Line to point to line: Ruiz becomes a champion of smooth space!

Courtesy of Seiko Sports Timing

In the contemporary marathon, however, the (check)points reassume their primacy over the relatively smooth trajectory of the course: bodies and points are made to communicate with each other in the service of numerative administration. As each object of information (runner) passes over the checkpoint mat, a magnetic field activates the uniquely-keyed passive RFID chip that each athlete has affixed to his or her running shoe. The chip communicates personal information to the network (in this case, the unique key that identifies the athlete in the database) in conjunction with a time that the database record for that checkpoint was created. An athlete's existence in the race, then, may only be legitimized by sequentially crossing the start line, each of the checkpoints, and the finish line with the appropriate identifier affixed to one's body. A relatively smooth space is thus striated by the administrative authorities governing the race.

The Sprint

The 100-metre sprint space on the athletics track is a striated space par excellence: a tight grid of running lanes to partition, rank, and channel runners from a starting point to the ultimate finishing goal. While the sprinters (capital) are primarily concerned about the flow of the race, the perfect biomechanical pumping of arms and legs that propels a body down a narrow corridor, the State is primarily concerned with the start and finish lines and the administration of the body at those two points. Indeed, the biomechanical demands of sprinting are so precise at the world-class level that lateral movement of any kind is generally antithetical to optimal performance, and thus adjudicating that flow of athletes becomes subordinated to the paramount importance of properly assessing the alpha and omega points of the race.

The distance proper to the race official, stadium seat, or (perhaps most important) television camera allows us the necessary perspective to monitor the flow of the runners as it develops during the race, and one who surveys optically has a fairly decent understanding of who is winning or losing.

Photo Finish

As we reach the finish line, however, speed demands a different dynamic of surveying. By spatiotemporally dilating a race's final few fractions of a second, the slit video finish line system shifts administration from one based on optical perception to one that is haptic — in other words, a close, tactile, sensuous vision. This haptic vision serves to striate the runners very precisely; specifically, striation occurs in a fashion that is more precise than can be achieved with individual race judges bearing hand-held stopwatches.

It is not at all that the State knows nothing of speed; but it requires that movement, even the fastest, cease to be the absolute state of a moving body occupying a smooth space, to become the relative characteristic of a "moved body" going from one point to another in a striated space. In this sense, the State never ceases to decompose, recompose, and transform movement, or to regulate speed (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p.386).

In sport, with its ethic of citius, altius, fortius — the imperative of ever-increasing speed — this administrative intervention by the State to capture movement becomes very apparent.

GVB and the Three Lines of D+G

Some preliminary notes theorizing basketball, written after reading Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia:

Three lines of D+G related to basketball

The Molar or Rigid Line of Segmentarity

This is the hierarchy along which modern sport is constructed, formalized in basketball through FIBA, the various national basketball federations, the NBA and its professional basketball franchises, the other international basketball leagues and the professional basketball clubs that comprise them, the NCAA and other scholastic sporting bodies, etc. The competition structure is segmented in an arborescent fashion, such that winners — who are determined by a proposed objective truth result in the contest — advance up the hierarchy, from local to regional to national to international. Basketball in the molar sense is further stratified by identities (skill levels, gender, bodies and their dis/abilities) and by position (coach, star player, role player).

The Line of Molecular or Supple Segmentation

The molecular refers to the myriad pickup basketball games that occur around the world at any one time. Indeed, at any quasi-public sporting facility, such as a YMCA, university gym, community recreation centre, or outdoor court, there is bound to be a pickup game that essentially continues to be played all day, with various players moving on and off the court, or from one team to the other. While this meta-game may be segmented into smaller measured segments ("Game to seven, ball's in!"), this segmentation is supple at the local level. The suppleness continues in the cracks between the identity categories outlined earlier: male and female basketball players routinely play together in pickup games, and those from different levels of the skill hierarchy (pro, college, high school) are often found on the court at the same time.

Generally speaking, pickup games have an uneasy relationship with the more formal basketball hierarchy: on the one hand, they are necessary for players to improve their skills in the "off-season" so that they are of greater value to the hierarchy when season resumes again in the fall; on the other hand there is a perception that the skills acquired on the "playground" may be at odds with the instrumentalism of formal hierarchical basketball competition. Thus, it is no surprise that "playground-style" basketball has become racialized: AND1 becomes the ICD code for a disease meme that contaminates pure basketball — one that must be eliminated with a discursive campaign of hygiene that declares the stylistic excesses of the playground game as "too black" and to be avoided.

The Line of Flight

Global Village Basketball is the line of flight. It ruptures the existing hierarchy by networking together the molecular pickup games that exist around the world into one meta-game. It is a collective, yet distributed, net performance of improvised pickup basketball located on a smooth patchwork of hardwood, asphault, terrazzo, concrete and dirt; the backboard is syncretic plexiglass, aluminum and wood; the rims iron, milk crate and peach basket; the mesh nylon and chain-link. The virtual setting of the meta-game becomes the means of deterritorializing the basketball court space.

Global Village Basketball attempts to undermine the instrumentalist perspective by eliminating coaches/referees/discursively-created stars from the mix and allowing for improvisational (and democratic?) composition by every athlete. Or, more correctly, I have put myself in the role of composer (following in the experimental music tradition of John Cage and others) and given explicit directives guiding improvisation by the performer. In doing so, score ceases to be an output of manufacturing tendencies, but rather becomes an accumulation of revealing through sport. We shift the focus from basketball-the-product, to basketball-as-production.

Production Schedules

The Toronto Raptors played their first few seasons (1995-99) in a curtained-off partition of the SkyDome, a large multi-purpose sports facility with a retractable roof normally used for baseball and football games. The space was clearly inappropriate as a long term solution for the team, since the spatial requirements of baseball and football are so dramatically different than those of basketball.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs were playing in a venerable old Maple Leaf Gardens on Carlton Street, a barn bursting with history and tradition, but sorely lacking in modern amenities and optimal revenue-generating potential. The parent company, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., sorely required a new facility to maximize earnings from the Leaf faithful, and thus the twin desire was born for what would become the Air Canada Centre.

The spatial complementarity between basketball and hockey becomes evident in this new facility. Based on the similar sizes and shapes of the playing spaces of the two sports, the Air Canada Centre offers an ideal, flexible postmodern factory for the production of professional sporting events. Of course, the manufacture of professional sporting events is double jointed: not only do competing firms jointly produce a single sports contest, but in manufacturing said uncertainty-of-outcome, one also simultaneously produces data streams of statistical information and visual/aural images that help to objectively determine the validity of the outcome. Post split-off, we may refer to these products as the live affective experience of game attendance and the packaged sports media telecast.

In one "plant", the vertically-integrated Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is able to coordinate and optimize production cycles for two different branded product lines (Leafs and Raptors) and joint product streams with its joint production partners and downstream partners — namely, the other teams with which they create games and the media networks that distribute packaged sports telecasts. For example, MLSE is able to schedule dates between hockey and basketball such that a Leafs production cycle occurs during the prime Saturday evening Hockey Night in Canada slot on CBC (usually versus another Canadian NHL franchise), while the production of a family-friendly Raptors game is reserved for Sunday afternoon on Rogers Sportsnet. Add to this production schedule intermittent cycles of Toronto Rock games — box lacrosse enjoying roughly the same spatial demands as basketball and hockey — and the efficiencies appreciate even more dramatically.

Production Schedule

Understanding that the site of production also constitutes a site of consumption, with no delay between the two, leads to one final observation: while the production schedules of capitalist manufacturers were once a closely guarded secret as they contained intelligence that could be leveraged by a competitor, the production schedules of sports capital must be made publicly available as they also serve an important function in consumption.

Technique

Rasheed Wallace: Tech Dominique Wilkins: Nique
Tech + Nique
"It was a good game. Both teams played hard."
"It was a good game. Both teams played hard."
"It was a good game. Both teams played hard."
"It was a good game. Both teams played hard."
"It was a good game. Both teams played hard."
"The Human Highlight Reel"

Wark, A Hacker Manifesto, #133:

The subordination of information to the repetition of communication means the enslavement of its producers to the interests of its owners. It is the hacker class that taps the virtuality of information, but it is the vectoralist class that owns and controls the means of production of information on an industrial scale. Their interests lie in extracting as much margin as possible from information, in commodifying it to the nth degree. Information that exists solely as private property is no longer free, for it is chained to the repetition of the property form.

[DJ Premier cuts]
Music Note "Check the technique…" (3x)
"Check the technique … if you can follow it"
Music Note

Vectoralism In Progress

From the March Madness Video On Demand service, presented by NCAAsports.com:

Looking for VIP access? VIP registration for 2007 is now closed. All visitors registering now will be granted General Admission access. VIP members get access to games faster than General Admission members. Be sure to sign up early in 2008 to receive VIP access.

From luxury suite to T1 connection: as the sports stadium becomes wholly virtualized, it is access speed rather than spatial location that is the primary determinant of class superiority.

Oublier Baudrillard

smithers:

[Aside] Jean Baudrillard, dead at 77.

I didn't know Baudrillard but through his work, and he most certainly had no idea who I was, yet here I write. Seems pretty unreal (ahem).

I had heard of him early in my graduate days as the "French McLuhan", which held a certain cachet for me, since I was a big McLuhan fan going back to my undergraduate days. I sort of poked around with some Baudrillard-related material for a while, and then my friend Greg Duquette pulled out Simulations at a conference several years ago. I was immediately captivated by its slick minimal black cover, and would be captivated by its contents shortly thereafter. During my master's degree I was taking a course on Foucault with Debra Shogan (author of The Making of High Performance Athletes), and all I kept wanting to know was why Baudrillard thought we should forget this guy.

Baudrillard insinuated himself into sportsBabel as I started to knit together the synapses between his work and my understanding of the sporting world. I once surmised that neither he nor Radiohead's Thom Yorke had spent much time at the fitness club. I got snarky with him for having one of my ideas 25 years earlier than me — and writing far more eloquently on the topic, to boot. And I speculated how the Olympics might intersect with his semiotically-driven World War Four.

The thing is, I was going to get to meet him this summer as part of my doctoral studies, which I was obviously quite excited about. Upon his death, I was (selfishly) pretty bummed out about my lost opportunity and didn't know what to write in memoriam, even though I felt like I should write something given his influence on my early work.

So I didn't write, instead aimlessly staring at the screen and wandering around my usual internet comfort zones. One stop was to Google Analytics to check the stats for sportsBabel. In checking my referrer logs, I am able to see what search strings visitors typed into search engines to arrive at my site (the tactility of which I am sure he would have greatly appreciated). Given the various appearances that Baudrillard has made here over time, I was not surprised to see his name appear in the logs following his death. But one search string caught my eye:

baudrillard funeral smile home

What could this cryptic snatch of text mean? What could this individual possibly have been searching for?

And then I realized that Baudrillard maintained a sense of humour to the last. His ultimate ruse? Forever manifesting himself as noise to someone else's desired signal in the data-networks of the world.

Baudrillard - Smile

Smile, M. Baudrillard: post-funeral, you will have achieved your true legacy by fully completing your passage — as an image — to a new home in the hyperreal.

Je vous oublierai …

[Exit]