politics in a time of obsolesced war

NFL Ref Mixed Signal

"So why is the disappearance of the fullback significant, then? The American military-industrial complex is at its core a technological apparatus. As such, we have seen its military superiority derived from its scientific innovation, rather than from any inherent superiority in its trained personnel. This innovation, as integral as it has been to American society, should appear in the model of gridiron football. Put another way, if the football-war metaphor is to hold true, it is because the NFL depends more on fighter jets than on ground infantrymen. The disappearance of the fullback in favour of more passing threats suggests that this is in fact the case." (sportsbabel, Oct. 2003)

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"There's a reason ESPN's 90-minute SportsCenter that followed Monday Night Football did an astonishing 4.5 rating (the highest SportsCenter rating in 17 years, by the way) . . ." (Bill Simmons, Sept. 2012)

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"We'll get the real officials back thanks to the gravitational pull of the money bet on U.S. football. Because the most lucrative random numbers generator on Earth, the NFL, needs every game to be played on the square. Even the appearance of a fix could send the planet wobbling into the sun. And given sufficient incompetence, the appearance of a fix was inevitable. That's what happened Monday night in Seattle. This wasn't about integrity or love of the game or player safety or the fans or even the quality of the product on the field. This was about a game so poorly officiated by scabs that sportsbooks were refunding money—because an NFL game looked crooked." (Jeff MacGregor, Sept. 2012)

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"The farce is that the NFL owners are so isolated that they can’t see that everyone wants the union refs back, even the Governor whose political fortunes are underwritten by right-wing, anti-labor billionaires: Wisconsin's Scott Walker. Yes, that Scott Walker. The same governor who waged war on union teachers and firefighters without care for the social costs, wants his union refs back. Late last night, the Green Bay Packers fan tweeted, 'After catching a few hours of sleep, the #Packers game is still just as painful. #Returntherealrefs.' The gall of Scott Walker possesses the power of a tsunami." (Dave Zirin, Sept. 2012)

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"In the model of contemporary gridiron football, we retrieve the stadium games of Ancient Rome as well as the feudal-political model of chess, albeit both in modified form. While the stadium games of Ancient Rome often were re-creations of land and sea battles significant to the history of the Roman Empire, modern football, by contrast, is entirely in simulation: every play in every game models or describes a battle that has yet to take place — right down to the level of simulated death. The articulation of these battles is extremely accelerated, as if played in fast forward. Though an entire game of chess is based upon just one battle — a mobilization of Church, nobility and serfdom to protect the King — a football game models a battle on every play from scrimmage, with the sum of these battles allowing a team to capture or surrender territory, reach objectives, and eventually win or lose the contest/war sixty minutes later. We'll call it temporal dislocation in the former case (ie. the shift from archive to simulation), and temporal compression in the latter (ie. many discrete battles in one contest)." (sportsbabel, Nov. 2005)

simulation and control

(to be presented at the 2012 north american society for sport sociology conference in new orleans)

Tecmo Bowl

Three Simulations: Deleuzian Control Societies and Topologies of Temporary Enclosure

Sport scholars have for some time recognized the disciplinary apparatuses and techniques that govern modern sport and its athletic bodies (eg. Shogan, Bale, Smith, Markula). In the case of professional and quasi-amateur high performance sport, these enclosed, disciplinary sporting spaces have increasingly been permeated through with a variety of networked information and visualization technologies, both to improve productive efficiency on the field of play as well as to create more spectacular products to be sold on the entertainment markets. In this paper offering a case study of the Super Bowl football game, we explore Deleuze's notion of a "control society" emerging within a "crisis" of the disciplinary enclosure by engaging the concept of "simulation" seen in the works of three other thinkers: Foucault, Baudrillard and Virilio. Enclosure itself is understood as a topological form in the control society, in which regimes of the "visible" and "articulable" serve to govern the folds between outside and in.

Approaching High Noon

Courtesy of Kirk Goldsberry

Kirk Goldsberry has mapped every shot taken in the NBA over the past five years,
in order to create a statistical baseline "average" profile of shooters in the league.

"We can see right away that Deron was good from his right and actually had a pretty off night from his left where he is usually pretty good. However, given his shot tendencies over the last few years, CourtVision would predict Deron Williams would end up with 30.2 points from Sunday night's constellation of shots. My models predict the average points per attempt from every player in the league, from every shot location, so I can plug in these 29 locations and predict an expected success for Deron from these locations. CourtVision predicted 30.2 points; Deron ended up with 36. So, Williams made 2 or 3 more shots than he would have on an average shooting night. In other words, he was +20% from the field that night" (Goldsberry).

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The rise of econometric analysis in professional sport makes explicit shifts that are taking place for working classes across a spectrum of industries. From now on, two figures will shadow every labourer whose output may be measured by some quantitative analytic: the Average and the ExpectedValue. As the econometric models continue to improve — or tighten — the length of the ExpectedValue shadow will continue to shorten, as if the klieg lights and fibre optics were approaching high noon.

Anamorphosis, Stereoreality and the Correct Gaze

On each of the baselines of the basketball court at the Air Canada Centre this season lies an oddly designed painted emblem. It is quite difficult to determine exactly what these emblems represent — that is, until they are seen from the perspective of the wide-angle camera lens on television. They appear to be lengthy three-dimensional sandwich boards, with the Raptors name emblazoned in red letters on a black background.

anamorphosis-raptorsanamorphosis-raptors

While the technique is new in North American professional sport, it has existed for years on football, cricket and rugby pitches around the world to expand a certain value proposition for corporate sponsors by rearranging the perceptual field of play. But the technique is even older than that: its proper name is perspectival anamorphosis, and its earliest usage dates back to paintings of the early Renaissance period.

Perspectival anamorphosis is a technique of producing a distorted projection, which requires the viewer to occupy a specific vantage point to reconstitute the image. With Hans Holbein's famous work The Ambassadors, for example, one must put one's eye at an acute angle to the bottom-left of the canvas, looking diagonally upward to reveal the skull that had been placed front and centre. According to the wikipedia entry, anamorphosis "made it possible to diffuse caricatures, erotic and scatologic scenes and scenes of sorcery for a confidential public" — sort of what we describe today as easter eggs, essentially, or hidden openings in the skin of a text.

Holbein - The Ambassadors

Hans Holbein the Younger
The Ambassadors
1533
oil on oak (with anamorphic detail on right)

One can imagine these anamorphic paintings fostering techniques of looking, of searching for irregularities in the tapestry of pigment and texture, of approaching the flat plane from variable distances and angles, of spending time with the work — and perhaps locating a hidden sign, an inside joke, or a covert message that would open new, polyvocal understandings within the text at hand. A samizdat of whispers to disseminate this approximate set of Euclidean grid coordinates: x and y on the canvas, the z of focal distance, and a vectorial gaze to complete the message.

Approximate coordinates: this will get you close, figure the rest out yourself.

Those who are in the know and those who perceive matters at a more surface level.

Sporting Empire resuscitates perspectival anamorphosis in a different fashion, more or less subversive depending on one's relationship to capital. The primary difference lies in the addition of a television camera to the assemblage of visibility. Technology itself is not new for anamorphosis as process: mirrors have been used for centuries to create certain effects that would lift the distorted image off the flat plane of inscription. But now the mirrors have been swallowed whole by the camera apparatus, then partially digested to form bits of reflection that transmit the image far and wide. A televisual anamorphosis that admits the possibility for movement — but only by the camera.

There is no longer a samizdat of whispers suggesting the approximate location of the anamorphic image. The correct gaze is already calibrated to the wide-angle camera shot that forms the dominant perspective from which one watches a basketball game on television, Holbein's skull replaced by the corporate brand of tribal affiliation in a networked attention economy. Or, if we are discussing those football, cricket and rugby matches broadcast elsewhere in the world, replaced by the logo of a corporate sponsor.

Put differently, the easter eggs have been metaphorically scrambled so that a more crystal clear signal may be delivered to the consumers at home.

"Those absent from the stadium are always right," Virilio was fond of saying, and the anamorphic Raptors image along the baseline merely confirms this proposition for most in attendance, who must certainly be growing more aware of their role as privileged television extras. The image makes no visual sense otherwise for this majority, but then again its function is less to see the game than to feel its unfolding as part of the crowd.

Why the anamorphic figure of a sandwich board? Why not a simple rectangle? This purportedly volumetric figure does not create perspective, but rather kills perspective — or at least attempts a sort of Euclidean nesting proposition in which one three-dimensional space (the stadium) is translated within the parameters of another (the television and its screen). One could be forgiven for thinking that those at home aren't in on the secret, though, and we must pretend the stadium still offers the most "authentic" experience of the game.

Meanwhile, capital closes off those holey spaces consonant with a program of skin tectonics.

Permutations and Constellations

Football: the world's most represented sport. Allow us for a moment to misrepresent, to follow a few ruptures suggested by those individuals who understand representation in a different light: the artists.

Rupture: Layer
In Deep Play Harun Farocki makes explicit the political and economic forces governing world class football. Put differently, there is a process of unlayering that reveals hidden layers that inscribe a purportedly free-flowing, improvisational football match and presents them as an unlayering of sorts. The layer of play is continually in dynamic form. Farocki's gesture is to split or tear the flow of athletic bodies into the various mappings and tracings that condition its emergence.

Courtesy of Harun Farocki

harun farocki
deep play
2007
installation view

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Rupture: Space
In Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno effect an approximate synchronization by having multiple cameras all track the same figure — Zidane — throughout the course of the match. Rather than following the ball as the true catalysis of play, as per usual on television, the cinematic experience tears this spatial privilege by focusing instead on Zidane. With sports television we have a contemporary transformation of cubofuturism — at least for the production director, who reduces the multiple surrounding perspectives and times to the flat linear narrative of the screen view. As we move to Gordon and Parreno's cinematic version this cubofuturism has been even more slowly considered to give us this portrait from the 21st century — a study of darting eyes and curved lines of approach, stillnesses bursting into intense flights of effort, economies of movement that must baffle an optical tracking systems approach as with that shown by Farocki.

Courtesy of Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno

douglas gordon and philippe parreno
zidane: a 21st century portrait
2006
still from video

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But we know these two works well, shiny objects in the Sport constellation of the art market. Allow us instead to triangulate between these two stars to approximate the position of a third . . .

Rupture: Time
In Accumulated Football, the Brazilian/Swedish artist Isabel Löfgren composes a football field by sampling and overlaying screenshots of television frames at regular 30-second intervals, a uniform, rhythmic gesture that opens up a plenitude of diversity within its program. In so doing, she makes explicit the forgotten fact of televised football: for the viewer at home the pitch is not 100-130 yards in length by 50-100 yards in width, as mandated by the world governing body FIFA, but rather exists in luminescent resolution at a standardized 16:9 or 4:3 aspect ratio. The field of view is always a cropped version of the live action, whose precise representational dimensions depend on a calculus between maximizing the number of players on the pitch at once and showing each athlete in as much visual detail as possible. It is always a framed subset of the genuine article — flattened, dulled — that is constituted as the visible for the gaze and touch of remote consumers.

Courtesy of Isabel Lofgren

isabel löfgren
accumulated football (detail)
2011
photographic print
225 x 45 cm

Modern television production sidesteps this calculus somewhat by adding camera perspectives to the mix, cutting back and forth between various angles and focal resolutions — such as the approach described earlier with the Zidane film. But Löfgren sticks resolutely with the main wide-angle shot, for her interest is less concerned with space than with time. She extracts time from the moving television image to (re)constitute the match anew as a still photograph: layering, transparency and saturation are presented as strategies for compressing and composing time.

Courtesy of Isabel Lofgren

isabel löfgren
accumulated football (detail)

As such, the field becomes populated by uniformed spectres that dart along different movement vectors, blurring into betweenness and foregrounding frame rate — apparitions of the multiple body as it moves within time. None of these bodies are necessarily true or false but rather exist in ternary logic: perhaps yes or perhaps no. They suggest alternative retrospective codings to those revealed by Farocki in Deep Play.

And not surprisingly, this compression of time effects a corresponding perceptual dilation of space in turn: the football field simply feels longer than usual, as if "breaking out" or reaching beyond the horizontal boundaries of the television frame has stretched our normal understanding of matter(s). To flip the relation, Accumulated Football perhaps offers a cogent reminder of precisely the box in which we somatically exist, static in both senses of the televised word.

A Goal?

Goal

David Graeber, 'The New Anarchists,' New Left Review, 13, p.64:

"More and more, activists have been trying to draw attention to the fact that the neoliberal vision of 'globalization' is pretty much limited to the movement of capital and commodities, and actually increases barriers against the free flow of people, information and ideas."

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Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, p.72:

"So what is the condition? Quite simply, a field. No field, no play, and the rules lose their power. The field is what is common to the proto-game and the formalized game, as well as to informal versions of the game coexisting with the official game and any subsequent evolution of it. The field-condition that is common to every variation is unformalized but not unorganized. It is minimally organized as a polarization. The field is polarized by two attractors: the goals. All movement in the game will take place between the poles and will tend toward one or the other. They are physical limits. The play stops when the ball misses or hits the goal. The goals do not exist for the play except tendentially, as inducers of directional movement of which they mark the outside limits (winning or losing). The goals polarize the space between them. The field of play is an in-between of charged movement. It is more fundamentally a field of potential than a substantial thing, or object. As things, the goals are signs for the polar attraction that is the motor of the game. They function to induce the play. The literal field, the ground with grass stretching between the goals, is also an inductive limit-sign rather than a ground in any foundational sense. The play in itself is groundless and limitless, taking place above the ground-limit and between the goal-limits."

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As we have noted here on several occasions, modern sport both contributes to and creates new forms for the project of enclosure, which complements those hierarchical bulwarks of state and corporation — as popular discourse, athletic labour force and spectacular commodity. Think shifts in the geography of the arena proper, jersey numbers on uniforms, radio frequency chip tagging, anti-doping protocols, omniocular camera tracking systems, and many others.

Even with a game as simple as football/soccer/fútbol, Massumi points out, this begins with the goal. The goal catalyzes a field of play, yes, potentializes those bodies that move about within its space, yes, but is also a point of finitude: there is no after the goal. Rather, we are confronted with disappearance into a void, spatiotemporal coordinates becoming mathematical integer, one metric exchanged for another, goal becoming goooooooaaaaaaaaaaal.

What if the goal was not simply a foreclosure of athletic poiesis, a terminal point of the enclosure whence one escapes only to be thrust back inside? What if the goal was an opening onto something, somewhere, sometime, a portal to thinking and becoming, a worlding?

What lies beyond finitude?