The NHL is the top hockey league in the world, and if we are looking at this from a sports production standpoint this means we are describing the most highly skilled manufacture of competition and uncertain hockey outcomes on the planet, as an ongoing concern — which is to say as a matter of accumulation rather than the elite event-based production of the Olympics.
But of course the game is also about the production of spectacle, of audience aggregation and synthetic storylines and target marketing — and thus the most highly skilled manufacture of sporting gesture and its transmission, of affective receptivity, of qualified fanaticism and quantified consumerism.
For most of the 20th century, as John Bale points out, the former has meant an increasingly hygienic space of sporting production, in which the values of achievement sport most desired by accumulation find their way into the daily churn of the professional sport industry. In a sense, it was not simply a standardization that mattered but the removal of noise which could otherwise contaminate the truth of the results.
And for most of the 20th century spectacle played along, developing an increasingly elaborate logistics of perception to disguise production altogether and present the viscera of pure, competitive play-at-work. The surgicality of the endeavour is even more pronounced here, with thousands of sensory cuts rendered and stitched together to somehow produce the skin of a sporting Gesamtkunstwerk.
Which is what makes the NHL's Winter Classic so interesting: by playing the game outdoors and subject to the elements (snow, wind, glare), not only is a particular sporting nostalgia of backyard shinny and pond hockey revived, but spectacle itself becomes more spectacular by explicitly refusing the hygienic paradigm of modern sport. Noise is introduced, friction enters the system, and by the standards of achievement sport the event's game production occurs at a shockingly substandard level.
There is a refusal of hygiene in the play-at-work space, but only by cutting through the spatiotemporal fold and admitting the past. A futural noise, friction or filth would still be unimaginable here.
If there is in fact a zone in which the past-present of the Winter Classic meets the future, it remains bound with that other element of achievement sport — the record. Only the record of interest here is one of accumulation: the largest crowd in hockey history ever to witness a live contest, as 105,491 jammed into the University of Michigan football stadium to watch the game.
And hence the flaw in Bale's analysis: for him, pace Baudrillard and Virilio, it was the television audience that was always right and so to perfectly satisfy the hygienic requirements of achievement sport the spectators at the live event had to be removed, leaving behind only an inert ludic container in which the game could be played, fair play assesed, and television imagery produced. But it appears that accumulation is never so teleological, the crowd is precisely necessary to give the alibi to spectacle, and it is hygienic achievement which can be removed from the equation and left behind without losing a truth verdict in the process.
In this case, witness-noise makes a virtue of production-noise to set a nostalgic record, though one wonders what the hyperbolic curve will demand as it increasingly detaches from its counterpart in linear accumulation.
We speak often of the relative rigidity of late modern sports, of the hard lines that constitute their disciplinary diagrams and rigorous production of athletic bodies and somewhat statistically-determinate "uncertain" outcomes. We are aware that these lines are in fact legislated as planes and that the sporting space is usually regulated as a volume rather than strictly a spectacular surface.
But it bears remembering that if the stadium is the factory of postmodern sporting production, then it is a certain plasticity which allows one form of assembly to substitute for another on the production line. Put differently, if the NFL is so easily able to transfer production to Wembley Stadium in London, or the FA is likewise able to travel to Washington for production at RFK, it is not only due to a relative congruity or topology between the rectangles that constitute gridiron and association football codes, respectively, but also to certain malleabilities in material and discursive space.
That turfgrass grows sufficiently long for it to be mowed and erase the very "painterly" conditions that govern production in other forms of sporting assembly, for example, is highly relevant to this modularity — an artificial green ecology in the service of a plastic injection moulding called sporting spectacle. And the televisual possibilities of programmed camera angles, intensive lighting, overlay graphics and audio commentary to constitute a coherent and consistent sporting narrative from anywhere in the world only adds to this plastic capability.
Indeed, what is most potentially intractable in this calculation of malleability is the plasticity of the live crowd in attendance at the factory. To what degree can this fleshy thirdness between sporting capital and televisual spectator mediate and suture together the filaments of an experience both synthetically fibrous and viscerally empirical? This is what is at stake in the economic decision to produce or shut down in non-local contexts under the contemporary conditions of plasticity.
(thank you to amy for reminding me about "craptacular" or substandard production under certain plastic conditions. ;)
resurfacing, re: surfacing –> once again here's what the post-disciplinary enclosure looks like . . . all that is required now is for these technologies to get "better" and be merged with irregular image flows such as with public surveillance systems in London or Chicago . . .
sport and political technology –> panhaptic, simulated:
- multiple cameras 'speaking' to one another
- markerless motion capture
- extrusion of x,y,z coordinates to create 3D image
- timestamped events
- unique person IDs
- historical databases of typical body movements
- merging of 3D image with statistics
- expected vs. actual outcome analysis
- econometric querying
"[Pete] Axthelm's phrase 'unique communal excitement' is perfect. It captures the social aspect of basketball and why many of us love the sport. Plays like Ginobili's between-the-legs pass or Parker's U-turn remind us of the best times we've had on a court, when for a half or a quarter or even one possession, we entered mind-meld territory with our teammates, executed pretty give-and-go handoffs, and spun off defenders to catch lob passes and finish them for layups. For 99 percent of us, nothing we have ever done on a basketball court remotely compares to what Parker and Ginobili do, but we have felt something close to what they're feeling on those perfect possessions. That emotional charge you get when you and four teammates are truly clicking — it scales down to your playground or your YMCA or your high school gym. The Spurs don't just achieve the sublime; they allow us to share in it" (emphasis added).