Playograph Intersection

Brian Holmes: "It would be nice to know more about how this kind of thing breaks down, fucks up, produces failure, infinite waste, tailspins, wrong information, bad choices and so on."

Good advice.

Playograph Intersection

In the chapter of A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia titled "Micropolitics and Segmentarity," Deleuze and Guattari suggest that "segmentarity is inherent to all the strata composing us" (p.208). They identify three forms by which humans segment and are segmented: binary, circular and linear. "But these figures of segmentarity, the binary, circular, and linear, are bound up with one another, even cross over into each other, changing according to the point of view" (p.209).

Perhaps the figures of binary, circular and linear segmentarity can provide tentative first steps towards locating the fluxes and layers (as well as their mutability according to the point of view) at the nexus of the contemporary urban social and professional sporting cultures in an effort to understand a politics that "is simultaneously a macropolitics and a micropolitics" (p.213).

Jordan Crandall: "Rhythms (paces, rates), movements (micro, macro), and machines (social, psychic, and technical) are networked together and embroiled in processes of embodiment both private and public. They employ relay devices (RFs). These relays facilitate a 'language' based in coordination (over relation)."

Rounding the bases, producing runs. Progressively moving from first to ninth inning to declare the truth of the winner. Crossing the street in conformity with the rectilinear urban grid. Home/away, ball/strike, fair/foul, safe/out. Green light. Red light.

(Yellow light invites a moment of indecision or uncertainty.)

Locating the three different forms of segmentarity is a beginning, but if we are concerned with how the linguistic and immaterial feed back into the micropolitics of the lived everyday and its potential fascisms then perhaps we also ought to be cognizant of the points of intersection, the interference waves, and the oscillations between signal and noise that emerge between and within the binary, circular and linear.

Human players embody the Playograph. Each player receives a feed of a baseball game to their cellphone. As play unfolds, players move from base to base (intersection corner to intersection corner) as if propelled electromagnetically by the Playograph system.

But there is interference or noise coming from the intersecting system of traffic lights, which themselves are codes that give permission to move.

Critical Art Ensemble: "The privileged realm of electronic space controls the physical logistics of manufacture, since the release of raw materials and manufactured goods requires electronic consent and direction."

Which semiotic system does the player obey?

Future Perfect: Tense

In sport sponsorship, there is almost always a contractual obligation between the athlete and sponsor in which the former bears the brand marks of the latter during most, if not all, public appearances or press conferences. To the best of my knowledge, there is no industry standard template regarding image rights, but rather specific provisions are contract dependent.

This had dramatic implications in 1992 when professional athletes were first allowed to compete in the Olympics. Reebok was the clothing sponsor for the entire U.S. Olympic team, which meant that any American athlete who won a medal would wear the official Reebok track suit on the medal podium. But the "Dream Team" of NBA basketball players was creaming everyone in sight and Michael Jordan (among others) let it be known that as a Nike endorser, he wouldn't wear the Reebok uniform on the podium and would instead skip the medal ceremony. For someone whose recognizability at the time rivaled that of the Pope, this was scandal. But eventually a compromise was reached in which the Nike athletes stood alongside their teammates on the medal podium with U.S. flags draped over their shoulders to cover the offending Reebok logo.

Clearly, the hotly-contested athlete image rights are key to the value of immaterial intellectual properties. For the visioning economy to extract this value, the (two-dimensional) surface of the athletic body must continually be photographed, while images of body volumes have assumed increased significance as well. But what about the interiors of athletic bodies and the flows that pass into, through, and out of them? Will they become subject to the vision machine? Though this control of the athlete is already happening to a degree in the context of anti-doping practices, we might wonder if such visioning will ultimately contribute directly to the pancapitalist profit motive?

As mentioned already, the extended skin of the athletic uniform is sponsored; the actual skin may become sponsored as well (tattoos representing gambling or casino web sites?); and professional sports teams have insured various athlete body parts to minimize investment risk. Now I am wondering about a related, but slightly different proposition: What if the intellectual property under consideration was DNA?

The NBA currently runs mandatory workshops for all rookie players in which they learn about various risk factors and occupational hazards, among them the "nefarious" women who use various methods to try and get impregnated during one-night stands in order to sue/extort for palimony at a later date. Now these women are ultimately doing it for the money, but what if instead of getting pregnant they were trying to save the ejaculate for copying or resale? Does the sperm of world-class athletes have immense revenue potential? If a black market grows for this type of service, how long before capital moves in to capture the rents?

Can't you see Nike, in the age of database-powered dating services and recombinant genetics, prospering in the insemination brokering service?

It's happened for years in the horse racing business.

What are the racial implications of the marketing and sale of high performance athlete DNA? ("If you want a white child, you may choose from these athletes; black athletes begin on page 5 of the catalogue. I'm afraid you can't have Michael Jordan's size and jumping ability with white skin — we don't have the technology to blanch DNA at this time.")

From there, what about the vat-grown eyeballs and assorted body organs suggested by Gibson in Neuromancer? What template are they built upon — perhaps snippets of an athlete from the Nike stable (in shades of hooks' "eating the Other")? Can the genetic qualities of Jordan's muscle fibres be synthesized with the antibody capabilities of one's own cells to create a new marketable class of personalized products (cf. CAE)?

Sponsorship just uses the arena or the billboard — or the surface of the athlete — as a vector for sign communication. As such, it is not very interesting in and of itself. A more interesting proposition is to ask what new vectors will transmit the sign, for it is the sign that is the source of power and wealth in the immaterial economy. DNA is one answer and must be examined in any critical futures analysis of the sportocracy.

Machines and Flows

In everyday parlance we normally consider a "machine" in terms of its structure, form and/or component parts — and certainly as something other than organic. Not so Deleuze and Guattari, from whom we see an immediate break with convention in their description of the machine as "a system of interruptions or breaks". In other words, it is the connections and spaces in between, rather than the component parts themselves, that are of interest to us, for it is these breaks and interstices that channel, constrict, divert or otherwise regulate flow.

Every machine, in the first place, is related to a continual material flow that it cuts into. … Each associative flow must be seen as an ideal thing, an endless flux, flowing from something not unlike the immense thigh of a pig (Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, p.36).

This focus on flow has been very useful for me, particularly since I am interested in flows of sports information in my sportsBabel work. But, D+G remind us, we cannot just consider that which passes through the machine as the sole flow of interest; the connection of one machine to another (technological and human) — or the "production of production" — is itself a flow of importance.

In a word, every machine functions as a break in the flow in the relation to the machine to which it is connected, but at the same time is also a flow itself, or the production of a flow, in relation to the machine connected to it. This is the law of the production of production (Anti-Oedipus, p.36).

By way of example, it is not simply enough to look at an automobile and say: gasoline goes into machine; fuel injector sends flow of gasoline to engine; fuel combusts, separating that flow into 3 flows (mechanical energy, surplus heat, exhaust); flow of mechanical energy propels automobile forward. We must also understand that the automobile's component parts (gas tank, fuel injector, engine, wheels) are themselves machines that are constitutive of a flow that produce a technical machine (the automobile), while multiple automobiles, human drivers, roadway systems, traffic light networks, gasoline distribution centres, etc. are constitutive of a flow that produces a social machine. In turn, this social machine contributes to the production of sedentary, fat bodies in industrialized nations and political instability in Middle Eastern oil regions — the connective syntheses radiate endlessly.

Looking back at an earlier post, I think I was beginning to intuitively scratch at the surface of understanding how such machines connected organics with technics to produce and regulate flows:

With regard to the information, images and identities that are the byproducts of the sportocratic uncertainty-of-outcome process, one becomes less concerned with the carceral nature of their manufacturing in favour of their flow within and from the enclosure of the sportscape.

This is not the flow of the river that erodes a path through a sandy bed over time, however, but rather the flow of the canal: man-made vector for the fluid transmission of communication, from simulation to coach to athlete to teammate; from referee to scorer to scoreboard to television screen; from boxscore to newswire agency to editor to teleprompter; from handicap to spread to parlay to vigorish; from statistic to programmer to model to simulation.

I find this particular read of the "machine" to be useful as I start to come across other types of "machines" in my reading: the war machine, the vision machine (Virilio), the flesh machine (Critical Art Ensemble), the body-machine-image complex (Crandall), etc. Contemporary sporting culture(s) and capital — where my research interests are located — may be found at a nexus point of several of these machines (body, movement, competition, spectacle/surveillance, etc.), and so an understanding of production, consumption and inscription as always already the production of flows and production of production is very helpful to my thought.

The Virtuality of Sporting Spaces

Consider the life cycle of a sports stadium:

  1. From detailed blueprints, a model of the stadium is constructed in a 3-D virtual reality environment.
  2. This model is used as a tool to condense flows of investment capital and form the structure of the physical building proper.
  3. The stadium is constructed and becomes a fully realized place, in which flows of people are carefully tracked, striated, monitored. There is some freedom of movement, though it is limited, for both patrons and employees of the stadium.
  4. The place becomes visually overexposed, in terms of its optoelectronic surveillance and its production of video flows for spectacular consumption. It is here that we begin to see the reduction of the space to the screen.
  5. This is a precursor to the reproduction of the stadium in the videogame environment, a 3-D non-space that is rendered in the flattened 2-D of the telescreen.
  6. CAE: "Currently, VR takes a very secondary position to older nonimmersive screen-based systems" (Flesh Machine, p.21).
  7. There exists a limited freedom to choose one's identity in this simulated environment: either the corporate manufactured professional athlete avatar or one that is custom designed by the user from a limited menu of rendering possibilities.
  8. On the other hand, one has only an illusory freedom of movement within this environment: beyond the limited body movement possibilities that are programmed into a sports videogame, one also is prevented from moving outside the parameters of the playing field/ice/court by a "glass wall" that keeps the user enclosed within the ideological environment of the game at all times.
  9. Virilio: "In fact, since men first began using enclosures, the notion of what a boundary is has undergone transformations which concern both the facade and what it faces, its vis-à-vis. From the fence to the screen, by way of the rampart's stone walls, the boundary-surface has been continually transformed, perceptibly or imperceptibly. Its most recent transformation is perhaps that of the interface." ("The Overexposed City", Architecture Theory Since 1968, p.543).
  10. CAE: "In terms of the spectacle of consumption, the real problem for VR is that there are very few occasions when the institutions selling the products want to give even the smallest amount of authentic choice to the consumer" (Flesh Machine, p.21).
  11. CAE: "VR’s primary value to the [Ideological State Apparatus] is not as a technology at all, but as a myth. VR functions as a technology that is out on the horizon, promising that one day members of the public will be empowered by rendering capabilities which will allow them to create multisensual experiences to satisfy their own particular desires. … This combination of myth and hardware sets the foundation for the material posthuman world of the cyborg" (Flesh Machine, p.23).