Hockey and the Aesthetics of Speed

Max Ryynänen, a philosopher based in Helsinki, writes about sport and the aesthetics of speed on his blog, The Art of Ice Hockey:

In his dromology, philosophy of speed (and visual culture) Paul Virilio discusses speed and acceleration as dominant aesthetic phenomena in today's world. … Landscapes roll outside of car windows, the aesthetics of contemporary films and TV programs is based upon a high speed (action, fast cutting), and information runs through virtual highways within seconds when something important happens. … Speed has strangely, though, not gained as much more relevance in sports as in other fields of culture. Visuality is the key to understanding trends in contemporary sports.

With regards to his brief analysis of hockey and speed, I wanted to add the following comments: First, the size of the NHL ice surface is much smaller than those used in European and international hockey, which compromises the ability for athletes to achieve peak speed while skating. In turn, we have more collisions and more seating for the owners of capital.

Second, most people only ever get to see the world's best hockey players in mediated form via television. When one goes to the stadium for the first time (or if one doesn't often get the opportunity), the comment upon seeing the athletes live is inevitably something like: "I can't believe how fast they are!" In other words, the TV apparatus slows down the action from an aesthetic perspective. Not only does class and sport spectatorship intersect as a spatial issue (sitting at the stadium versus sitting at a remote location), then, but also as a temporal issue (seeing the speed of athletes live versus seeing a visually-altered speed of athletes on TV).

Third, Ryynänen points out the paradox that hockey games from an earlier era looked faster on television than those of today. This paradox might be explained (following Virilio) by developments in the technical apparatus of television production and consumption: the resolution and frame rate of television cameras and receivers are much faster now at a lower marginal cost. In the past, with poorer quality video, the players were relatively too fast for the cameras to keep up with them. Today, despite faster players, the speed of TV has now leapfrogged to the point that it arrests players in motion, so to speak, making the game look slower than it used to look when watched on television. In this, we echo Kittler's remark that time axis manipulation is at the core of much mass media entertainment.


3 responses to Hockey and the Aesthetics of Speed

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  1. sportsBabel » The Politics of Memory says:

    [...] it offers, through bungee jumping, sky surfing, BASE jumping, and so on, as though the accelerated perspective had already won out over the passive perspective of the perspectivists. Suicidal experiments on the [...]

  2. sportsBabel » Marginal Notes on Notes on Gesture says:

    [...] has been obscured in cinematic analysis appears to be simple, as it is literally a matter of appearances. Until recently, cinematic scenes were always shot from a single perspective at a time, from a [...]

  3. sportsBabel » The Voice (and its Mingled Bodies) says:

    [...] for the sporting spectacle that is being produced. Fast-twitch fibres, razor-sharp reflexes, power: everyone says the game is always faster — the athletes that much more impressive — when they are witnessed in person, which is [...]