workers, consumers, multitude

"The multitude is a by-product of the technological mutation of the productive process just as the consumer class was a by-product of the metamorphosis of commodities from objects to signs."

– Sylvère Lotringer
foreword to Paolo Virno's A Grammar of the Multitude

Do we really want to set consumption apart from the potential emergence of the contemporary multitude as multitude and rely solely on production instead?

In sport at least, and the present project to articulate the multitude through sport, we certainly do not want to — indeed, we cannot — separate the two. If anything, we might suggest that the rise of the consumer fan-class in sport, the metamorphosis of sporting commodities (players, teams, outcomes, footwear) from objects to signs, and the creation of athletic celebrity-spectacle are responsible for technological mutations in the productive process.

Sport contributes to the function of hegemony in very diverse political economies precisely because it is such a minimally contested locus of biopolitical production. In many overdeveloped nations this is partly due to the fact that the salaries for professional sport workers at the highest level of competition vastly outpace those for other types of workers and that the attendant celebrity culture introduces a regressive binary of power between athletes and other workers that complicates any attempts at common struggle. Given that the charitable activities of professional athletes are increasingly captured by sporting capital to become media events in themselves (part of the mutation of production), the potential for a sporting multitude to emerge through worker-production is problematized further.

This is not to deny professional athletes a political consciousness, but to say that the financial risk for those worker-athletes involved to express such a politics can be an unfair obligation for one to ask of them, particularly if one has not also put millions of their own dollars on the line. In other words, it should be considered ethically acceptable for the professional worker-athlete to privilege the several over the multitude, taking care of a local body-politic (family and friends) while somewhat subordinating the broader political in the process.

Nor is it to say that professional athletes will not be part of a sporting multitude, but that in its becoming this multitude must be sufficient in intensity to offset or withstand the semiotic force of celebrity and restore a balance to communal relations between all of those in a common struggle within and without sport. It also means that liberating the class consciousness of the worker-athlete cannot alone provide the path to political action in the spaces of sporting biopolitics and beyond.

However, while work time now "virtually extends to the entire life" of the post-Fordist worker, at the same time it must be understood that play or leisure has extended fully into work life as well, with an equal yet opposite magnitude. The desk jockey brings work home every night, but plays fantasy sports at the office every day. Put another way, it is sporting consumption that primarily constitutes the diagram of biopolitical space and it is the concomitant work of consumption that fosters alienation. Thus consumption is what needs to be targeted for political action, particularly because the worker class in professional sport, at least in the top, most-mediated leagues, is too well paid to form an internal coherence — as class — between themselves and other workers.

So the focus of the multitude turns instead to the consumer-worker who has been united by a new form of alienation, born primarily as an alienation-from-body that is immersed continually in pleasure and gaming, which the sporting biopolitics at a microsocial scale and post-Fordism at a macrosocial scale have played a substantial role in forming. The consumer must refuse the sensory distortions that form the mediated version of the sporting event as embodied activity for the worker-athlete, and become the event instead. Or at the very least, the refusal must remix and repurpose the media tools and their sensory distortions in a recombinant logic towards the project of political action.

This is the paradox of the sporting multitude: it requires sport consumers to become aware of the work of their consumption by embodying the experience of instrumental sport production in the ludic arena. In other words, don't rescue the workers from production, but rather the consumers from consumption. Allow consumers to emerge as multitude through the work of their own consumption.


2 responses to workers, consumers, multitude

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  1. sportsBabel » Collective Forgetting says:

    [...] we may describe an aggregated score d that adds together the Red score and Blue score to show the collective production of those who played in the [...]

  2. sportsBabel » comma, garçon says:

    [...] of our own pain without actually having to submit to its intensity once again. We allow a class of worker-athletes to experience the touch of pain for us instead, which we then consume in mediated and narcotic [...]