Secure Volumes and Docile Identities

"Two very beautiful naked girls are crouched facing each other. They touch each other sensually, they kiss each other's breasts lightly, with the tip of the tongue. They are enclosed in a kind of cylinder of transparent plastic. Even someone who is not a professional voyeur is tempted to circle the cylinder in order to see the girls from behind, in profile, from the other side. The next temptation is to approach the cylinder, which stands on a little column and is only a few inches in diameter, in order to look down from above: But the girls are no longer there. This was one of the many works displayed in New York by the School of Holography" (Umberto Eco, 1975, p.3).

2008 Olympic Ticket

Umberto Eco cleverly juxtaposes desire and reality in the opening lines of his essay "Travels in Hyperreality" and its observation of the hologram. Naturally, the objects of our desire assume greater value to us the more they approach a real that has purportedly been denied to us. Or, perhaps more correctly, when they return in a hyperrealized form from a "real" that was always already there for us to seize. And so much the better if these two writhing nymphs can lift themselves off the surface of the page or screen (not unlike those silicone or elastomeric gel sex dolls designed for intercourse) to build an edifice of technological titillation on the abject foundation of absent sensuality.

The process of creating such a hologram is in fact a double process as well as a process of doubling. A beam of light (laser or white light) is split such that one beam illuminates the object from which some of the reflected light falls on the recording medium. The other light beam resulting from the split, known as the reference beam, also illuminates the recording medium such that an interference pattern occurs between the two beams, which forms the hologram itself. Once this hologram is illuminated with a beam of light identical to the original reference beam, it becomes visible to the human eye as a represented image seemingly within the surface of inscription.

But to create Eco's beautiful naked girls requires a second process. By recording a hologram of a hologram we may create an image "in front" of the photographic plane and produce the sorts of three-dimensional projections that induce such awe in the society of spectators, with their desires and realities. As Eco points out, these second-generation holograms are no mere child's play, as they have serious applications in astronomy, medicine, manufacturing and art.

Of course in credit cards, Olympic tickets, or NBA merchandise the "lesser" first-generation hologram also eludes mere play, having become a serious marker of value and authenticity (one of many in what me might refer to as a security assemblage). The hologram provides a sufficiently complex technology of mass-produced inscription that fashions a volumetric projection of a three-dimensional figure in the non-space created on a two-dimensional plane (credit card, ticket, authentic replica jersey tag). In representing the "authentic" it also serves to assure the identity of the owner.

Is it so difficult then to entertain the notion that the superstar identity-vehicle within an NBA videogame, a three-dimensional or volumetric construct within the non-space created on the two-dimensional plane of the screen (and its offer, rooted in desire and hyperrealism, of prosthetic talent or surrogate style), might also stand as an assurance of identity?

In case this wasn't clear from the outset of videogames, it becomes even more certain in the age of online multiplayer gaming communities (eg. PlayStation Network, Xbox Live). Those who wish to participate in these online communities must gain passage to the space and its identity-vehicles by following two steps: first, by paying the toll of a subscription fee, and second, by guaranteeing identity through the financial means of payment.

FirstnameLastname (the unasked-for original gift) to SocialInsuranceNumber to BankAccountNumber to CreditCardNumber to OnlineGamingCommunityID to SportsVideogameIdentityVehicle, each link in the modulating chain of identification a unique number in a relational database table.

We reiterate: if the function of power in disciplinary societies served to produce docile bodies, its correlate in the societies of control is to produce docile identities, which may also include docile bodies.

The Authentic Hologram

In Travels in Hyperreality, Umberto Eco describes holography as an expressive art and science that "could prosper only in America, a country obsessed with realism, where, if a reconstruction is to be credible, it must be absolutely iconic, a perfect likeness, a 'real' copy of the reality being represented."

How ironic then that the hologram, "real" copy of the reality being represented, is now used, because of the technical complexity of its reproduction, as a marker of "authenticity" and therefore of value in domains with significant threat of counterfeit, from paper currency and credit cards to driver's licenses and passports to sports merchandise and memorabilia. The authentic fake used to distinguish between authentic and fake.

MLB Holograms

While our focus is on the visual element, we cannot forget that this hologram is usually paired with a unique number or code on each produced object — that is, we are describing a tracking-image that marks authenticity for the vectors of power seeking to maintain control over their stocks of value. But ultimately it is the visual element that assumes priority, since it may provide a glossy brand recognition above and beyond its security appeal. In other words, through its slick recognizability the hologram has achieved an iconic status associated with authenticity and may actually be more trusted from a consumer perspective than other forms, such as RFID.

Sport Raised to the nth Power

Umberto Eco, "Sports Chatter", in Travels in Hyperreality (p.159):

The athlete as monster comes into existence at the moment when sport is squared, when sport, that is, from a game played in the first person, becomes a kind of disquisition on play, or rather play as spectacle for others, and hence game as played by others and seen by me. Sport squared equals sport performance.

. . .

But this sport squared (which involves speculation and barter, selling and enforced consumption) generates a sport cubed, the discussion of sport as something seen. This discussion is in the first place that of the sports press, but it generates in turn discussion on the sports press, and therefore sport raised to the nth power. The discussion on the sports press is discourse on a discourse about watching others' sport as discourse.

. . .

Born as the raising to the nth power of that initial (and rational) waste that is sports recreation, sports chatter is the glorification of Waste, and therefore the maximum point of Consumption. On it and in it the consumer civilization man actually consumes himself (and every possibility of thematizing and judging the enforced consumption to which he is invited and subjected).

A place of total ignorance, it shapes the ideal citizen so profoundly that, in extreme cases (and they are many), he refuses to discuss this daily availability he has for empty discussion. And so no political summons could affect a practice that is total falsification of every political attitude. Thus no revolutionary would have the courage to revolutionize the availability for sports chatter; the citizen would take over the protest, transforming its slogans into sports chatter, or suddenly rejecting, and with desperate distrust, the intrusion of reason in his reasonable exercise of highly rational verbal rules.

What is interesting is that this article was written in 1969 — before the launch of ESPN and other cable sports networks, before the advent of dedicated 24-hour sports talk radio stations, before the meta-competition of fantasy sports, before the internet and its echo chamber of pro sport fan blogs.