Floored

As a follow-up to an earlier post, Ted Butryn made the excellent point in conversation the other night that the greater range of freedom implied by the different competition shapes in combat sports only matters if you are working in two dimensions. The understanding of "range of motion" (and by extension the action that is implied with this motion) changes once one begins to consider the volume of the sportscape. Instead of trying to restrict mobility — or lines of escape — by pinning an opponent in a corner and unleashing a series of blows, the strategy is to take the opponent to the planar surface of the floor and restrict movement that way.

Auto-Eroticism

The pep rally in its myriad forms is a ritual closely tied to modern team sport. It is an opportunity for supporters of the team to demonstrate their solidarity prior to an important upcoming event. This desire to show support and pledge allegiance to a team spans many sporting cultures and geographies, but there is a component sometimes seen in pep rallies that to my understanding appears unique to American high school and collegiate athletics: the car bash.

Car Bash

The car bash features an old automobile, often painted in effigy with the colours or logo of the forthcoming opposition, which rallyers then take turns bludgeoning with a sledgehammer. Sometimes the event is used as a charitable fundraiser, with swings of the hammer available for a few bucks apiece. There is no neutral language to the term "car bash" — it is meant to be an explosion of violence in symbolic form, and while we should probably appreciate the fact that the violence is enacted against this object rather than the opposing team's persons, we might wonder: do we not find in the car bash component of the pep rally a contemporary manifestation of the futuristic Flesh Fair seen in Kubrick/Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence: AI?

Flesh Fair

Described in the movie as "A Celebration Of Humanity," the Flesh Fair was a ritualized orgy of violence in which Orga (humans) reassert their primacy in spectacular fashion by slaughtering the Mecha (robots) that serve them. That the car bash is a ritual act of violence against the forthcoming opponent is easily understood and not very interesting of itself. But we should question: why the automobile? Why is it believed that the opponent is symbolically reducible to the mechanical form of the car? Why, when the automobile has been the bedrock of the American post-WWII economy?

At first glance, it seems to speak of an uneasy relationship between humans, the technology that created the wealth to expand the American empire, and the violence of the medium caused by its extreme potential for speed and harm to the human body. We tend to consider the car crash an extremely violent outcome of the technological advent and subsequent acceleration of the age of the automobile. For Virilio, the car crash would be the integral accident embedded in the automobile as technological extension of our selves, with the car bash serving then as a violent payback to the machine.

But J.G. Ballard, the science fiction author not uncoincidentally admired by Virilio for his deep understanding of modern technological society, suggests a different interpretation in his novel Crash. Later adapted cinematically by David Cronenberg, Crash is a dark story of sexual fascination and identity with the integral accident of the car crash and the mangled steel and flesh that emerges as a consequence. But rather than technological pessimism, the character Vaughan discusses the car crash in very positive terms:

"For the first time, a benevolent psychopathology beckons towards us. For example, the car crash is a fertilizing rather than a destructive event — a liberation of sexual energy that mediates the sexuality of those who have died with an intensity impossible in any other form. To experience that, to relive that — that's my project."

If we consider the automobile as an exoskeleton that we slip on to navigate spatially at accelerated speeds, and we heed McLuhan's observation that any technological extension of ourselves has a numbing or narcotic effect on that part of ourselves which has been extended, then we might view the car crash as a form of cyborgian cruising for sexual partners in which the moment of climax serves to waken the flesh, so to speak, from under its prophylactic sheathing. Through this wakening a liberation of sexual energy is enabled.

Returning to our original question of the car bash: yes, the car is in effigy of the upcoming opposing team in a pep rally fashion, but why such a violent act and why, out of all the potential objects to use in effigy, would one choose the car? Why the sledgehammering, the violent outpouring of aggression against the automobile? It is supposed to be play, after all!

Car BashCar BashCar Bash

Ballard, Cronenberg and Crash suggestively hint at a second explanation. If the car crash is the most intense expression of sexual energy possible, then we might wonder if the car bash doesn't serve as an expression of rapid-fire masturbation, a repression of pure sexuality enacted through the violent, though different, solitude of the masturbatory act — an act in which the flesh remains deadened or numb.

The production channel leads from work to sex, but only by switching tracks; as we move from political to ‘libidinal’ economy … we change from a violent and archaic model of socialization (work) to a more subtle and fluid model which is at once more ‘psychic’ and more in touch with the body (the sexual and the libidinal) (Baudrillard, Forget Foucault, p. 20).

Is that what is happening here? In a ritualistic, Flesh Fair sort of way, we attempt to reassert our primacy over the machines that help us create our wealth, but as a masturbatory expression or repression of our own sexuality? And as we move from a political to a libidinal economy, the car bash emerges as an example of a remainder that must be expunged from the system?