AutoImmune Wall

("biogramming base bodies: we're all in" - brief notes from a brief presentation made at the 2011 north american society for sport sociology conference in minneapolis)

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Narcosis

On December 31, 1999, the ESPN cable sports network ran its Greatest Moments of the 20th Century, a 6-minute 44-second compilation of the most epic highlights in (primarily American) sport since the advent of television. Set to Aerosmith's "Dream On," the effect is a spine-chilling barrage of significant moments culled from decades of sporting events and condensed into a few minutes of adrenaline-soaked nostalgia. If the average weeknight highlight reel has a mild narcotic effect to it, then Greatest Moments of the 20th Century was crack cocaine, folding a longer stretch of lived time and more intensely felt affects into a televisual delirium whose high fades shortly after consumption.

ESPN's video offers the viewer an accounting of time: in this compilation of the "best" and most memorable moments we have a linear accounting of time extracted from duration — a catalogue of sorts from which one must know all the references as proof of good fan subjectivity, whose cuts may thereafter be rearranged to create a particular narrative order in tandem with the theme music.

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In early 2011, athletic footwear, apparel and lifestyle conglomerate adidas launched its worldwide marketing campaign "adidas is all in". Presented as a cosmopolitan moment in global sport and physical culture — at least insofar as its endorsers and target markets are concerned — the campaign's television creative consisted of 15, 30 and 60-second edits of a centrepiece 120-second ad, played at the launch of the campaign and available on Youtube thereafter. Within five months of the "adidas is all in" launch, the full-length version had been viewed over 2 million times.

In contrast with the ESPN video, "All In" is rather an accounting of globalized, cosmopolitan space in a durational moment of time: two minutes of sports and entertainment happening around the world right now. Set to a pulsing soundtrack by Justice, the moving gestures in this dynamic form are asignifiying in the sense that these sports and entertainment figures have been abstracted from referential time — one does not need to know nearly as many references in order to "comprehend" the video text. While Muybridge and Marey used stroboscopic photography to deconstruct the moving body into series of still images, adidas strobes bodies together with light and sound, moving-cuts moving through each break, amodally intermingling gestures as part of the composing form of the biogram.

Amodality

The cut moves from sound to image, as seen in the scene with football players barking like dogs morphing to stadium security apparatus (the latter of which legitimates the contest as an important event):

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The cut also moves through tiny explosions of light, "independent" of gesture in their luminescence:

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Goal

Eduardo Galeano once described the goal in soccer as that sport's orgasmic form. Interestingly, however, it is Rose the basketball player and not Messi the footballer who scores in the end, providing a release to the pent-up libidinal tension whose point of inflection may be found in the speed bag pummeling of frenulum or clitoris.

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This is definitely a schizorgasm we are describing, however. Rose's dunk is immediately followed by a punishing blow to the face in the boxing ring, which sets off a chain of aggression in the succeeding clips. (Consent?) As the pulsing waves of pleasure subside to a refractory period of shopping or consumption we are led through an affective tonality of aggression and conflict: the Haka warrior dance used by the New Zealand All-Blacks rugby team to intimidate opponents; two college football mascots fighting on the sidelines; a figure wearing a protective gas mask and holding a flaming torch, suggesting perhaps an ambiguous recognizance between street artist or political activist and providing a stark counter-punctum to the clip of security dogs and officers earlier in the video. It is intensities that have been represented, after all.

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Intensity and representation

A cultural studies read of the text as semiotic is certainly important — for example, within the representational elements of gender, race, embodiment or movement culture — but in a sense these are retrospectively coded understandings.

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As Brian Massumi suggests, "The kinds of codings, griddings, and positionings with which cultural theory has been preoccupied are no exception to the dynamic unity of feedback and feed-forward, or double becoming. Gender, race, and orientation are what Ian Hacking calls 'interactive kinds': logical categories that feed back into and transform the reality they describe (and are themselves modified by in return). Ideas about cultural or social construction have dead-ended because they have insisted on bracketing the nature of the process" (Parables for the Virtual, p.11).

It is the movements of becoming-bodies, rather, not to mention their (re)production through sophisticated digital editing techniques that emerge as the biogram and its composing form with which we should be concerned. This dynamism is forged under intense speed, a subtle narcosis of attack on perception that through a particular pathway of movement states simply "I want more."

we're all in.

(abstract submitted to the 2011 north american society for sport sociology conference in minneapolis)

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Biogramming Base Bodies: We're All In

In early 2011, athletic footwear, apparel and lifestyle conglomerate adidas launched its worldwide marketing campaign "adidas is all in". Presented as a cosmopolitan moment in global sport and physical culture — at least insofar as its endorsers and target markets are concerned — the campaign's television creative consisted of 15, 30 and 60-second edits of a centrepiece 120-second ad, played at the launch of the campaign and available on Youtube thereafter. Within five months of the "adidas is all in" launch, the full-length version had been viewed over 2 million times. Engaging Brian Massumi and Erin Manning's concept of the biogram and weaving threads of Félix Guattari's schizoanalytic ecology, this paper argues that the "adidas is all in" television creative leverages techniques of in/visibility that have changed the affective stakes for the fetishization of athletic celebrity and its related sports consumables.

 

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AutoImmune Response

_____________ _ _ _

"Riefenstahl's films develop the concept of dynamic form in Boccioni and the mobile cut in Deleuze/Bergson to arrive at a reassertion of the ways in which movement privileges expression over content. The foregrounding of dynamic form suggests that Riefenstahl composes with fascism but does not compose a fascist (disciplinary) body. What she composes is the expression of a becoming-body symbiotically linked to fascism but in excess of its disciplinarity. Riefenstahl composes-with. She begins with the beautiful, the young, the strong, but what she composes is never a particular or individual body. Movement is the commanding form of her work."

– Erin Manning, "From Biopolitics to the Biogram, or How Leni Riefenstahl Moves Through Fascism," in Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy, p.135.

Birth of the Clinic (or Natality and Gesture)

Giorgio Agamben, Means Without End, p. 139:

"I would not feel up to forgoing this indistinction of public and private, of biological body and body politic, of zoē and bios, for any reason whatsoever. It is here that I must find my space once again — here or nowhere else. Only a politics that starts from such an awareness can interest me."

Courtesy of Combat Asylum

ryan, boxing manager
kindred cafe
july 2, 2009, approx. 1:45pm.

Michael Jordan, Inc.: A Pro Forma Statement

"It's not about the shoes."

It's not about the shoes, but at the same time it is about the shoes.

Though Michael Jordan and his shoes are likely the most mediated athlete-technology hybrid in history, very little of his appearance as text has been of the critical sort. One notable exception is Michael Jordan, Inc.: Corporate Sport, Media Culture, and Late Modern America, a collection of essays edited by David Andrews, the head of the Physical Cultural Studies program at the University of Maryland. The volume represents the work of many well-respected scholars in critical sports studies as well as contributions from cognate disciplines by luminaries such as Norman Denzin, Douglas Kellner, and Michael Eric Dyson.

"It's about knowing where you're going."

The book explores the social, economic, political, and technological issues surrounding Jordan and his corporate relationships (Chicago Bulls, NBA, Nike and Gatorade, etc.) and their effects on American and global cultures. While one cannot say that Jordan ushered in the age of what we currently understand as globalization, nor that globalizing processes "made" Jordan, it can safely be stated that a trialectic relationship between sport (MJ, Bulls, NBA, Dream Team), media companies, and corporate sponsors (notably Nike) assembled in a perfect storm (what Manuel DeLanda might consider a chaotic attractor in social non-linear dynamics) to exponentially accelerate the Jordan Effect to planetary proportions.

"Not forgetting where you started."

While Jordan the basketball phenom arguably arrived when he hit the winning jumpshot in the 1982 NCAA championship game, Jordan the postmodern spectacle arrived (or took off?) with the television ad campaigns to introduce his new, personalized Nike basketball shoe. Playing prophet to the coming phenomenon of Jordan was Spike Lee as the character Mars Blackmon, who uttered the immortal phrase of the consumerist 1980s: "Money, it's gotta be the shoes!"

Thus was launched the trajectory of Air Jordan.

"It's about having the courage to fail."

Though Michael Jordan, Inc. covers a wide swath in its many contributions, I would like to briefly discuss a topic that might be considered a coda to the original collection or perhaps a pro forma look at a future beyond the temporal bounds of the book's subject matter — specifically concerning the materialities of athletic body and media representation and how these flows intersect with the immateriality of data networks.

The vast potential and primary problem with sign value creation in the sport-media-sponsor trialectic mentioned earlier is that it is fundamentally rooted in the body athletic — in the body's ability to move through space rhythmically with teammates and competitors, to manufacture positive outcomes from routine sets and plays, and to hack creative possibilities from the continual unfoldings of these positive outcomes. The body is vectoralism's greatest strength and greatest weakness.

"Not breaking when you're broken."

But the body ages. It is organic. It wrinkles and withers and grays and slows and expires and decomposes. For an athlete, muscles become less elastic, bones more brittle, joints less lubricated, and metabolism less able to burn lipids.

Michael Jordan's body ages, despite the spectacle that precedes him, produces him, and perpetuates him. And while the creative hacks of the body athletic are not the only way to generate sign value in the sportocratic economy, Jordan's ability to do just that was bound to organically decline.

"Taking everything you've been given … and making something better."

Couretesy of MJ to the Max/NBAThis is not to say that the machinations of spectacle haven't attempted to arrest the aging process. A growing repository of images and information can be continually recombined to provide the illusion of youth. And media materialities that allow for space and time axis manipulation may be leveraged to this end as well.

Indeed, one need only look back to the 360-degree mocap recreation of Jordan's famous foul line dunk in Michael Jordan to the Max to see how material, embodied performance can be spatiotemporally dilated for spectacular purpose. While Jordan was too old at the time of the movie's production to dunk spread-eagled from the foul line, particularly with as much ease as the final cut shows, greenscreen techniques and clever 3-D computer animation slowed down the sands of metabolic time.

"It's about work … before glory."

But while the usefulness of a body may be prolonged for the creation of sign value, a limit is eventually reached after which new sign value must be created with the same body in other ways (nostalgia) or else a new body is required. With Nike, we witness a steady trend of working the corporeal Jordan out of the sign value creation process.

Recall the campaign a little over four years ago that featured Carmelo Anthony, Derek Jeter and Warren Sapp — Jordan's student, designated hitter, and alter ego, respectively. Resample: "As MJ's flesh becomes weak, no longer available to produce meaning for Nike and its image-signs, the distilled essence of his excellence — his aura, that invisible Air of Jordan — transcends the body and morphs or transmogrifies into the bodies of his disciples."

"I am not Michael Jordan," they chorused, even though they had become Him.

"And what's inside of you."

Two years later, the "2nd Generation" campaign would feature video footage of young basketball players replicating the signature moves (creative hacks) from Jordan's career. This was possible because the DNA of Jordan — or more correctly, his memes rather than his genes — had seeped into the network and emerged as the fittest for survival.

The implied message in both of these texts was a liberation for Nike (and its consumers) from the shackles of Jordan's fleshy prison. Become light!

Or, at minimum, add to the product life cycle and the unit life cycle a mean time before failure for the athletic motor of sign value creation.

"It's doing what they say you can't."

An important component to this erasure of the corporeal Jordan is that sponsorship through the Jordan Brand is spread across many different sports. Basketball, baseball, gridiron football, and boxing, which constitute to a large degree the entire history of sport in modern America (and its attendant racial history), are dissolved in a postmodern moment of sport as engine for the new vectoral order of intellectual property production and consumption (with race, as Andrews points out, becoming a "floating racial signifier").

This erasure of the corporeal Jordan continues in the latest major Nike campaign, "Become Legendary". The feature ad spot is fascinating in that the 60-second commercial is composed almost exclusively of old amateur video footage of current Jordan Brand athletes. There are two minor exceptions: first, a shot of a contemplative Ray Allen in his new Celtics uniform at the beginning of the spot; and second, a still photo of Chris Paul in his Hornets uniform, which needed to be established because the archival footage used for him was of such poor quality, although the backstory behind the video — Paul scoring 61 points after his grandfather, with whom he was close, passed away at age 61 — was of such high value that the video ought to be included.

These two contemporary exceptions notwithstanding, it is the archive that ironically provides the vector of erasure.

"It's not about the shoes."

For a generation cynical about the tacit promises made in the 1980s and 1990s, namely, that shoe consumption would grant one equivalent talents to those of the star endorser, "It's not about the shoes. It's about what you do in them" turns the responsibility back to the consumer. Arguably, not one of the athletes in the "Becoming Legendary" spot — Ray Allen, Derek Jeter, Chris Paul, Terrell Owens, Andre Ward, Richard Hamilton, Joe Johnson, Marvin Harrison, and Carmelo Anthony — would be considered freakish athletes by the standards of professional sport, but rather those who took moderate athletic gifts and maximized them through hard work.

"It's about what you do in them."

That said, the clause "in them" provides a reminder that even though responsibility has been turned back to the consumer, one's chances in competition certainly improve if sporting a pair of Nikes. So we have a historical referent — Mars Blackmon imploring that it's gotta be the shoes — that serves not only as the entry point to situate this level of the contemporary assemblage but simultaneously as the departure point from which to negate that historical position. We have a reversal of implied obligation from producer to consumer. And, though the erasure of the corporeal Jordan is almost complete, Nike never has to compromise the original message, which is to buy the shoes.

"It's about being who you were born to be."

The scratchy and grainy original home video footage and the editing that reinforces this particular material condition of production — what N. Katherine Hayles would refer to as a "technotext", a text that foregrounds the inscription technology used to produce it — is consonant with a generation that has spent its entire life on camera — in photos, videos, home movies, webcams, cell phones, etc. That there exists video footage of these professional athletes as teens and that clips have been detached from these archival texts to be remixed into a new assemblage paid for by a transnational corporate sponsor does not seem to this generation at all unusual.

Today's youth are used to cutting, pasting, sampling — of disassembling and reassembling other — as their central mode of communication and, dare we say, overarching ontology. And in this commercial, we witness evidence of a reversal from industrial capitalism: while the mining of metals ultimately provided the infrastructural base for industrial manufacture, the post-industrial manufacture of spectacle and its concomitant commodity marketing ultimately provide the basis for the mining of data archives from which sign values may be extracted — presumably at lower marginal cost to the manufacturer — and then assembled anew.

BECOME LEGENDARY

This is not the only mining that will take place, however, and here we may examine more closely the pro forma portion of this corporate outlook. Though the technology and techniques are still in their relative infancy, we should extrapolate somewhat to vision where the emergent ubiquity of online communication takes us.

It is not a significant leap to suggest that vast databases of photo and video imagery combined with the facial recognition technology blossoming in security applications will be used by Nike and others to identify new motors of sign value production in a hybrid of spectaclesimulationsurveillance. Scan for the swoosh, process through neural network analysis, and the future robot historian will identify Jordan by a few degrees of separation as one of the most powerful nodes in the history of netspace.

In the process of becoming legendary, this is how a posthuman religion is born.

Regular Polygons

I have been wondering about spaces used in combat sports, almost all of which are formed by regular polygons: from the circle of sumo, to the square of boxing, to the octagon of mixed martial arts.

Regular polygons: circle, square, octagon

The circle is known in many cultures as the perfect shape or form: all lines of force radiate perfectly from the centre of the circle to its perimeter. In gladiatorial sports contested within a circle (which also include freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling and various forms of animal combat) motion is continually assured by the degrees of freedom that this geometrical form allows; even when against the perimeter boundary there is plenty of room to maneuver.

The square competition area in organized boxing has existed at least since the institution of the London Prize Ring rules in 1743. Why the square (ironically referred to as a ring) instead of the circle for boxing? Is it because of the strong linear references characteristic of architectural forms in the modern age?

(As an aside, the circular area of competition in Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling is inscribed on a square mat, which is then rolled up into a cylindrical form for storage. Similarly, the circular sumo dohyo is inscribed on a raised square platform, which presumably is meant to honour the historical traditions of the sport while fitting into the rational rectilinear spaces of modern Japanese arenas. Was this always the case for spectatorship of sumo?)

With the square, we cannot make the same claims to maneuverability mentioned earlier, despite its perfect symmetry on all axes that bisect the centre point. Lines of force are fairly constrained along horizontal and vertical dimensions, which leaves dead spots of motion in the corners — the last thing a boxer wants to do is get trapped in a corner with no line of flight to escape. This is not to say there is a dead spot in action; to the contrary, the constraint on motion often yields to a violent increase in action.

As for the octagon of mixed martial arts, it seems to exist primarily as a form of differentiation from other combat sports that serves an important role in the brand strategy of the Ultimate Fighting Championship organization. But beyond this pragmatic association, the octagon seems to offer us, by way of superficial observation, a hybrid of the two spaces mentioned already. Geometrically, this makes sense to us: a circle is nothing more than a regular polygon with an infinite number of sides, so the fact that the octagon doubles the number of sides of the square suggests that it will be more like the circle in the way it structures movement possibilities within.

Interior AnglesWe notice the difference particularly in the corners of each polygon: the interior angle of a boxing ring (black line) measures 90 degrees, while the interior angle of a mixed martial arts octagon (red line) measures 135 degrees, giving combatants in the latter space 45 more degrees of freedom to maneuver should they become trapped in a corner. What does this mean in terms of practical consequences? It suggests a competition with more mobility, more movement, and more action.

But we must qualify this last term: what do we mean by "action"?

In the glory days of prizefight boxing last century, action often meant a flurry of punch combinations being rained down on a boxer trapped against the ropes or in the corner; large, lumbering, powerful boxers, relics of the industrial age. Action today, by contrast, is far more about speed, with the goal being to sacrifice as little of the earlier gains made in power as possible. Thus, the newfound mobility offered by the octagon creates new kinds of strategic challenges as part of the action. How does one engage an opponent without sacrificing too much power in the more open space at the middle area of the octagon, or when retreat by the opponent is more easily possible, particularly in a lateral sense?