Gilles Deleuze, in "Postscript on the Societies of Control":
The socio-technological study of the mechanisms of control, grasped at their inception, would have to be categorical and to describe what is already in the process of substitution for the disciplinary sites of enclosure, whose crisis is everywhere proclaimed. It may be that older methods, borrowed from the former societies of sovereignty, will return to the fore, but with the necessary modifications. What counts is that we are at the beginning of something.
Three years ago, Chicago Cubs baseball fan Steve Bartman committed a blunder of monumental proportions when he snatched a fly ball destined for the stands. The mistake was critical since Chicago's Moises Alou had a chance to reach into the stands and make a play on the ball for a key out that would have nearly sealed the game and a spot in the World Series, which the Cubs hadn't won since 1908. Rattled, the team eventually lost the game and the series, continuing the championship drought.
As I suggested at the time, Bartman's gaffe constituted "an operational failure of the panoptic gaze." The same technologies that ensure spectator docility at a sporting event also constitute the apparatus of spectacle that is so important economically. Put another way, Bartman was trained to internalize two truths: first, to sit down in your seat at a game unless standing up to cheer in an appropriate fashion; and second, to try and catch a fly ball when possible for its sign-value as ball and for the possibility to get seen on TV. With one out in the top of the eighth and the Cubs nursing a 3-0 lead, these two truths came into direct opposition with one another.
So an older method, borrowed from the society of sovereignty, was leveraged to resolve the anomaly, though with the necessary modifications: Bartman needed the spectacle of public torture and death: however, since we could not literally kill Bartman, we instead used the ball in simulation as the proxy by which the public spectacle of torture and execution could be enacted. And hopefully everyone learned their lesson.
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Today there is a new lesson. It has to do not with the bounded space of the stadium, but rather the space within one's body. Generally, we are discussing claims to a "natural" body and chemical compositions that might challenge such a natural state. Specifically, we are discussing Barry Bonds and allegations that steroids, HGH or other illicit doping methods allowed him to break Major League Baseball's all-time record for home runs.
It was anticipated that the record-breaking ball would be somewhat depressed in value given the allegations leveled against Bonds, and would only fetch about half a million dollars. The ball ended up selling for $752,467 — substantially more than expected, but a far cry from the $3 million Spawn creator Todd McFarlane spent in auction to land Mark McGwire's record single-season home run ball.
The Bonds ball was purchased by urban streetwear entrepreneur Mark Ecko, who offered baseball fans the ability to decide what to subsequently do with it by voting online through the web site Vote756.com. Fans were offered three choices in the vote: bestow the ball intact to Cooperstown; brand the ball with an asterisk before sending it to Cooperstown; or blast the ball into outer space.
Over 10 million votes were cast. The result? Brand the ball with an asterisk before putting it on display forever at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
If we can consider the Bartman ball as acting in proxy for the simulated spectacle of torture and execution, should we not extend our analysis to consider the Bonds ball as a proxy in a similarly spectacular fashion? And if so, what does the collective desire of baseball's voting fans to have the proxy branded reveal in this analysis?
Once again, in administering mechanisms of control older methods return to the fore, but with the necessary modifications. The branding of human beings has a long and varied history, most notably to mark slaves as a form of property or to identify and punish the criminal. Later, as the practice of branding extended to domesticated livestock, the presence of a brand on an animal often constituted prima facie proof of ownership.
While baseball holds a special and important place in the topography of American collective consciousness, the nation's historical legacy of slavery holds perhaps an even more important place in its collective subconsciousness. We might suggest that the desire to brand the record-setting baseball is a collective expression of that subconscious awareness — Bonds should be branded (in simulation).
From now on, the presence of an asterisk on cowhide — the scarlet punctuation, as it were — will be considered prima facie evidence of guilt in the absence of hard physical evidence. But it will also serve as a reminder of ownership: the career home run record (and indeed all of baseball history) does not belong to Bonds but rather to The American People. Moreover, it is the body of Bonds himself (and indeed all other baseball players) that is symbolically owned by The American People, a lesson that will be internalized by every future visitor to Cooperstown.