Hybrids, Mutants and Replicants

In The Will to Technology and the Culture of Nihilism, Arthur Kroker remarks:

"If molecular biology can adapt so quickly to the epistemological possibilities of the order of the transgenic, it may be because the spectre of transgenics originates less in the order of science than in culture" (p.30).

And has sport not contributed to this epistemological awakening? As a site of cultural (re)production, is sport not implicated in this normalization of the will to technology?

The hybrid, the mutant, the replicant: transgenic variants all seen in the crucible of the high performance athletic arena or dreamt of in the sportocratic laboratory.

Muybridge

Eadweard Muybridge, Animal Locomotion Plate 99, 1887

Ever since Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion photos and the subsequent dawn of biomechanics, the body athletic has been considered a problem in Newtonian physics: forces, levers, torques, velocities and accelerations, each describing a specific movement. As a result, of course, the athlete comes to be viewed as belonging to an Erector Set of body parts, from which ideal collections and assemblages are regularly imagined, particularly in the context of high performance sport. "If only he had an arm to go with those legs." Or, metaphorically: "I wish I could put this guy's heart in that guy's body."

In the absence of such an Erector Set, however, we seek out the mutants. Forget standard endo-, meso- and ectomorphs. Instead, sport offers the hyperexaggeration of bone, fat and muscle: vomiting pygmies bouncing prettily around gymnastics apparatus, or the wraiths of endurance racing, bodily annihilated, trudging inexorably toward the finish line to a drumbeat cadence of footsteps; hypermuscular bodybuilders, football players and wrestlers straining at the skin; and the lipidinal masses that have accelerated to the point of polar inertia,

best visualized as a vicious, lazy, profoundly ignorant, perpetually hungry organism craving the warm god-flesh of the anointed.

Personally I like to imagine something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka.

It's covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It has no mouth, no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote.

Or by voting in presidential elections.

(Gibson, Idoru)

Replication has also long been manifest in the sportocratic imagination, its genealogical roots reaching back at least to the mechanical reproduction of baseball cards and bubblegum. But these flattened, lifeless representations lack sufficient dynamism for a culture hell-bent on its own immortality, and so we begin to animate the images by repurposing the data stocks and flows generated as a derivative of baseball's industrial production process. At the cusp between biomechanics and the age of simulation, Strat-O-Matic becomes the link in the helical chain connecting Branch Rickey and scientific management in baseball with Billy Beane, the sabermetric revolution and the third wave eugenics of baseball performance.

In that time, a whole industry has emerged around so-called "fantasy sports". But the fantasy these games deliver isn't to be like the pros, as is purported. It is rather a fantasy of cloning, a fantasy of pro athletes, Sea Monkeys and Monopoly recombined into one alluring hybrid, a fantasy of ownership. Play capitalist and own your own sports team, though the vectoralist still retains class power.

The "authentic replica" sports jersey offers another example of the "spectre of transgenics" in a hyperreal sportocratic culture: replication of the star athlete via an equivalence embedded in the code of the extended skin – all in the context of a post-industrial capitalism of signs and symbolic exchanges. In this case, the fantasy is of becoming-clone, the successful and particular cloning of a purebred stock.

Presumably, then, the inauthentic replica of a cheaper jersey carries an equivalence to the bastard laboratory experiments that preceded the birth of Dolly the Sheep?

Finally, we may discuss sports videogames and virtual worlds, which also allow us the potential of becoming-clone. As with fantasy sports, this is once again made possible by repurposing the data stocks and flows generated during games, but the stakes have increased, since no longer do we rely on static photographs but rather advanced body-xeroxing technologies such as motion capture, green screen, and biometric scan.

It seems appropriate, then, to conclude my thoughts with a sample from Baudrillard, who, in his "The Clone or the Degree Xerox of the Species", writes:

Multiplication is positive only in our system of accumulation. In the symbolic order, it is equivalent to subtraction. If five men pull on a rope, the force they exert is added together. By contrast, if an individual dies, his death is a considerable event, whereas if a thousand individuals die, the death of each is a thousand times less important. Each of two twins, because he has a double, is ultimately just half an individual — if you clone him to infinity, his value becomes zero (Screened Out, p.199).

eXperienZ

Re-watched David Cronenberg's eXistenZ last night, an existential meditation on reality and the virtual realities of future videogame worlds. Without spoiling the plot (since this is really a must-watch movie), Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law are the main characters negotiating their way through the chaos that ensues when a focus group for a new videogame is hijacked by an activist intent on killing the game's designer (Jason Leigh).

eXistenZ

Some notes as they relate to sportsBabel:

  • The interface for the game is a very organic animal tissue and umbilicus construct that jacks directly into one's spinal cord via an implanted 'bio-port' — "C'mon Pikul, they do these at the mall. It's like having your ears pierced."
  • The motif of religion surfaces often during the movie, from the fact the focus group takes place in an old church, with the congregation of attendees waiting expectingly in pews; to the title of the game in the movie, transCendenZ, which is published by the PilgrImage company. It reminded me of the religious motif that appears at the heart of Michael Jordan advertising for Nike.
  • Another motif that reappears in the movie is one of hygiene, infection, mutation, etc. Of particular interest is the idea that there is some sort of possibility for hygiene/infection that may permeate the invisble membrane between the digital and the organic, a question I have pondered myself.
  • Finally, we note that Geller (Jason Leigh) is an extremely tactile and sensual woman, demonstrated repeatedly in the ways she touches, caresses or otherwise explores objects and surfaces with her hands. In fact, since the game is jacked directly into her nervous system, she plays with her eyes closed and her hands manipulating the interface as necessary. I see strong resemblances between her and this young man.

Mass Media and Perception

"New Media art is about enhanced perception. The aesthetic hype of new media art that parallels absolute technology is all about creating a totally immersive experience. I think this is a mistake. Mass media are effortlessly immersive. Numbing is what they do best. They fully colonize the human sensorium. They dominate perception. 'Sightless vision'. The point is not to mimic mass media aesthetics, but to break its spell." — Arthur Kroker, The Will to Technology and the Culture of Nihilism

Sifting Through The Trash

Kroker and Weinstein, Data Trash, p.74: "The disappearing body fast dissolves into relational networks."

Panic Olympics

In light of the recent hysteria concerning BALCO, Bonds and Baseball, I thought I would post a short essay from Kroker and Cook's Panic Encyclopedia (1989). (Once again, I am not sure if this journal post contravenes the copyright notice included in the book or not, so I will post the link where you can freely download the book and decide for yourself. Boldface emphasis added.)

PANIC OLYMPICS

Ben Johnson committed a big sign crime, and he is paying for it as the newest sacrificial victim of the Olympics.

If, in twenty-four hours, he could implode from a Promethean hero of classic proportions into a sacrificial scapegoat for the masses' fury at being sign-switched, it just proves that Ben Johnson's body has now a second existence: an abstract screen onto which are projected all of the inadequacies of a TV audience that is suffering a bad case of distemper. In Canada, Johnson's return from Seoul was a scene taken directly from The Day of the Locust: a raging media scrum demanding why he had betrayed his country, government leaders trumpeting "swift retribution" by banning him for life from international competition. And Johnson, himself, who began running as a stutterer found himself finally unable to speak. On ABC's Nightline, Edwin Moses, who only wins bronze medals now, is having one last media career as a cynical comic in the Reagan style, by urging that Johnson's sign crime be taken up as a challenge for the policing of the drug free body. And, in Seoul, the panic claims of Olympic officials that this is a victory for "scientific detection" of the doped body is met by all the smugness of the TV anchors who talk darkly of "tainted competitions."

So, why all the hysteria? Perhaps because it is the age of sacrificial sports now: that point where the Olympics, under the pressure of the mass media, re-enter the dark domain of mythology. No longer sports as about athletic competition, but postmodern sports now fascinating only because the athlete's body is a blank screen for playing out the darker passions of triumph and scapegoatism. Johnson's second body (his simulated body that was the focus of all the mass media attention) then, as an empty sign onto which could be projected a triple resentment: the resentment of the Olympic Committee which, having already surrendered its sovereignty on the question of money, took up with a vengeance the policing of the drug free body; the resentment of the silent mass audience that saw its psychological investment in Johnson's triumph over Carl Lewis instantly reversed by evidence of his use of anabolic steroids; and the resentment of the media at being cheated of the illusion of an "even playing field."

Just as Nietzsche predicted, there is nothing quite so dangerous as a worldwide mob, robbed of its own dream-world and thirsting for revenge at the unmasking of its own illusions. With Ben Johnson, The Day of the Locust finally goes global in the psychological form of Panic Olympics.

Basketball and Bimodern War

A short essay entitled "Michael Jordan Mogadishu" from Kroker and Weinstein's Data Trash: the theory of the virtual class (1994). (I am not sure if this journal post contravenes the copyright notice included in the book or not, so I will post the link where you can freely download the book and decide for yourself. Boldface emphasis added.)

MICHAEL JORDAN MOGADISHU

The NBA championship game between the Phoenix Suns and the Chicago Bulls is flickering on the screen. It's half-time, and the news announcer suddenly appears to say that the game will be interrupted for a military news burst from the skies over Mogadishu, Somalia. It was the Persian Gulf video all over again: greenish night vision, shadowy C-131 attack planes fading away in the darkness, brilliant phosphorescent explosions of the bombs as they blew away the headquarters of Aidid, a Somalian clan leader. I was prepared for this: the mediascape had signalled my electronic body for days that this was an "uncooperative" clan leader who needed to be punished (he was held responsible by the UN for giving orders to attack the Pakastani contingent). I also knew that after Clinton's passivity on Bosnia, and his shrinking away from Lani Guinier, that the President needed a quick military kill, particularly one that could be done at a safe telematic distance without the direct involvement of American ground troops.

Curiously, as this screenal display of pure war flipped back to the NBA game, the sports announcer said: "And now for the always awkward transition back to basketball." But, of course, this was the true confession which was a lie. My electronic body felt only a deep symmetry between the war scene in Mogadishu and the virtual war on the basketball court in Phoenix. Maybe there was not the slightest disjunction between these two screenal economies because we witnessed two coeval wars: real (Mogadishu) war and virtual (NBA) war. Or was it the reverse? Mogadishu as the virtual war, with its electronic mapping of the geographic coordinates of Aidid's military base and TV headquarters (were they the same?) and its application of the laser weaponry of pure technology to achieve a virtual kill? And was the Suns/Bulls game, with its violent match-up of the god-like Jordan and the super-intense Barkley, complete with a brilliantly arrayed rhetoric of strategy, tactics, and logistics, the real war in the android hearts of the virtual population?

Or something different? Not virtual war versus real war, but the superannuation of war into an indeterminate doubling: bimodern war. In this case, the violent bombing of Mogadishu provided the cycle of primitive energy necessary to sustain the pure technology of NBA championship basketball. And the in-your-electronic-face basketball of Jordan and Barkley provided the tactical clues guiding the American air force as it flipped Mogadishu into the electronic trash-bin of a computer application: total aggressivity, electronic scanning, networked virtual simulation of the target population, and specular publicity. In this case, the night bombing of Mogadishu, under the sign of basketball tactics, issues in the use of AC-130H gunships as the military equivalent of 3-point shots (safe from grasping hands); and the "end-game" of Mogadishu displays all the finesse of a half-court press. Mogadishu as the real virtual sport? Why not? This was a sacrificial scene where an accidental range of victims is selected for purposes of enhancing the internal (telematic) moral cohesion of the home team (US/UN). Michael Jordan Mogadishu, then, as the first and best of all the virtual Air Force Generals. The only question remaining is this: was the disappearance of Mogadishu timed perfectly for the half-time of the NBA game: a final deft touch of bimodern war as the leading edge of promotional culture under the sign of pan-capitalism?