Questioning Sport and Societies of Control

Following my excerpt via PLSJ on Deleuze's societies of control, I am wondering: what role does sport play in creating and normalizing such a society?

First, I will suggest that Guttmann's From Ritual to Record, an exposition of the transformation from a ritualized pre-modern folk sport to the highly-rationalized and bureaucratic modern sport form seen today, is perhaps the fundamental text for building a foundation from which to answer that question.

Second, I'll offer these recent sportsBabel voices as probes, including Notes From The Horse Races, The Sports Information Market (or Jimmy Hits a J), The Precession of the Model, Pantactilism, and Romancing the Stone.

But I also want to look more specifically at the "departure from disciplinary space" component of this question, so I will explore a little further here.

Many late modern racing forms (eg. mountain biking, triathlon) have left the carceral competition space of the track in favour of a more fluid and dispersed geography. The contestant escapes the panoptic gaze of the stadium architectural form while in this new geography, so a new mechanism of tracking/measuring/ranking performance is required.

The device that facilitates this tracking is an RFID tag or chip (see, for example, the ChampionChip), which is affixed to the athlete's body or technological prosthesis (ie. uniform, shoe, vehicle). Using chip sensors that vary from the short-range to the terrestrial global positioning satellite, the athlete's position in time and space may be plotted within such a fluid competition geography.

The sensor serves much the same purpose as the guard in Bentham's panopticon, except that the process has been automated — one is always being sensed by this open system of control. Rather than panoptic, one might call this system pantactile, a "seeing" in much the same way that a blind person reads Braille. And when connected by network to a database, it allows for a centralized "awareness" of this touch-sense as well as a permanent archive or "memory" of the performance.

Societies of Control

Anne Galloway at PLSJ on Deleuze:

Deleuze got it right: we no longer live in Foucault's disciplinary society; we live in societies of control.

"In the societies of control … what is important is no longer either a signature or a number, but a code… The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it. We no longer find ourselves dealing with the mass/individual pair. Individuals have become 'dividuals,' and masses, samples, data, markets, or 'banks' … The disciplinary man was a discontinuous producer of energy, but the man of control is undulatory, in orbit, in a continuous network … Man is no longer man enclosed, but man in debt…"

… What we are all embroiled in is a network in the Deleuzian sense. We are not dealing with enclosed spaces where someone is responsible; we're dealing with a fluid space where no one is accountable. … The network encourages a constant state of movement, continuously avoiding being bound and continually passing responsibility to the next module.

This type of control is particularly insidious because there is no panopticon. Control is diffuse and we can't locate - or fix - responsibility and accountability long enough to affect change. And it's particularly dangerous because it allows each of us to play the victim of an imaginary structure.

What a fabulous essay! Thanks Anne! I think this frames what I hope to do with my project in sport rather nicely.

Deleuze: "Everywhere surfing has already replaced the older sports."

CM Thoughts #3


Following up with a bit more cyber-goodness for your brain:

(I don't have your responses in front of me, so I am going from memory.)

1. The movie Polar Express was filmed ENTIRELY in motion capture, as I heard Tom Hanks tell everyone on Letterman Tuesday night. WOW….that takes my Arizona paper and cranks up the dial.

2. If it is true that Michael Jackson has a "skin condition" that coincidentally happens to "whiten", that still doesn't account for the plastic surgery on his nose. I know this is somewhat unrelated, but I wanted to propose a theory: certain top-level entertainers are so used to being objectified that they begin to *self-objectify* and begin to take actions that allow their object form to have a better sales curve or longer shelf life. Thus, the number of young actresses that receive breast implants, and the number of aging entertainers that take drastic plastic surgery measures to stay "young" (see: Cher).

In the case of MJ, his subject identity has always been one of peace, love and harmony (yes?). When you combine this into the hybrid that is Michael Jackson the Brand Name, you get the same effect, but shifted cause: his body (and all of our bodies) is a container that prohibits the very message he is trying to promote. So why not modify the Object, by whitening the skin, narrowing the nose, straightening the hair (for visual reference, see "The HisTory of Michael Jackson's face").

"They will still love me," he thinks, "because my essence is NOT based on the racial tropes that made me so endearing to the mainstream as little Michael Jackson of the Jackson 5."

But we don't love him. We think he is a freak. We don't understand his radical body modifications, nor the post-racial message they are intended to convey. And sensitive man that Michael is, he retreats into the sanity of the Neverland Ranch and his missed childhood.

3. Your point that the videogame version of "cyberface minstrelsy" has an additional layer of mediation between subject and floating cyber-signifier is true (ie. the videogame producers), but I would argue that they are all working from a common pool of tropes: the thug, the hypersexualized black male body, etc.

Put another way, I would suggest that if John Walker Lindh was using the electronic equivalent of blackened cork to assume his identity, the videogamer is purchasing and consuming a commercially-packaged minstrel kit. Minstrelsy is now an act of consumption!!



CM Thoughts #2

Great ideas there, so I'll respond to them as the answers present themselves to me. "Minstrelsy" is indeed a negative term that, in no uncertain ways, Lindh reproduced. Through his "identity tourism" and racial appropriation, he was simply unable to imagine a complex (or dignified) black or Arabic subject beyond the hypermasculine Thug. The argument at hand is that his "racial transvestism" reproduced a stereotypical trope of an essentialized blackness as gangsta! Alexander Saxton has a nice description of Minstrelsy in "The Rise and Fall of the White Republic".

Part of what intrigues me about Lindh is his ability to play multiple sides of "race", so to speak. While he sits from his privileged white, middle-class abode, he adopts a superficial Otherness that is always detached from a certain offline i.e., "real" socio-economic oppression. That is, Lindh's appropriation of a mythical "blackness" is never a liability since he can always return to whiteness at any given time.

The sports videogame idea is interesting and certainly screams for some "representation" work. I would argue it is a form of surrogate minstrelsy: the trope is "predigested" by software engineers rather than the actual user (or perhaps I'm incorrect with this). With "minstrelsy", the (online) user actually has a hand in creating an essentialized "Other" that typically reproduces what Nakamura calls a "cybertype" (an online stereotype of sorts). The difficulty, of course, is methodological insofar as it remains difficult to conduct a "chatroom ethnography" but also to learn the "real" identities of users. Much literature makes guesses as to the predominantly white, middle-class male usership, but all estimations are speculative.

As per Michael Jackson, I'll start with a mildly entertaining anecdote. I was in Brian Wilson's class and for some reason refered to Dave Andrews' paper titled, "The Facts of Michael Jackson's Blackness"…I laughed as soon as I said it. Of course, the "real" title is "The Facts of Michael Jordan's Blackness".

There is an interesting article by Johnson & Roediger that explains the racial transcendance, and eventual return to blackness vis-a-vis OJ Simpson. It's a rich article that makes some provocative suggestions about what hooks famously calls, "the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy". What is interesting about Jackson, is that he is (in my opinion) irrevocably linked to "blackness" through his signature dancing. Jackson's ostensible "whitening", I think, has less to do with "bleaching" (urban mythology?) than an actual medicalized condition (not sure, perhaps I'll check out the links). What is more, both Jackson and Lindh, through their attempt to transcend their own ideas of race, actually work to reproduce an essentialized understanding of racial stereotypes. For Lindh, his escape from the perceived banalities of "whiteness" was facilitated by his own fetishized notion of "blackness" (I need more time to develop this one).

In the postmodern era (as trite as this is becoming), "race" is often reduced to a performance, or a set of cultural commodities. While this has the potentially transformative affect of nullifying eugenics and theories of biologically superior "races", there is a certain peculiarity that presents itself. Through the process, the Other has been the dish that is served up for appropriation rather than "whiteness". There is a certain white privilege granted to those who endulge in consuming, say, "blackness". hooks refers to this as "eating the Other", or the process by which "white youth enhance the blank palate of whiteness" with a bit of the Other.

This could explain why (white) culture finds Carlton Banks (Alfonso Robiero) of "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" so comically successful. There is a certian incommensurable idiosyncracy presented by Carlton's "whiteness". Some might say that Carlton is the "'whitest' black man in the world" (sort of a fictive Bryant Gumbel per se). Of course, critical race scholars would (and should) find this troubling. The expression relies upon and reproduces an essentialized understanding of both "whiteness" and "blackness". It constructs Carlton as a racial anomoly of sorts since he does not (indeed can not) perform a "proper fiction of blackness", which, evidently, is often a white fantasy parlayed by the likes of MTV, "White Men Can't Jump", and so forth.

That's where I'm at right now. I'm reading a book called "Space Invaders" (something about race, gender, and space. The Lindh paper will be done by next Wednesday…It is a rather schizophrenic work in progress that seems to have a lot going on. I'll send it to you regardless.

Talk soon,


CM Thoughts #1


Some ideas that came to me last night:

1. I remember reading in one of those animated "Introducing Baudrillard" books that in the Order of Simulation, Michael Jackson can be read as "mutantly post-racial"……however, I have yet to see the reference in any of Baudrillard's primary material.

2. The concept is fascinating, however: it suggests that Jackson used advanced technologies to bleach or "whiten" his skin and move beyond the paradigm of "race".

3. What Jackson was willing (and financially able) to do at the bodily level, ie. go from black to white, others (notably "whites") do in the opposite direction via the electronic media of mutable identity — what you are referring to as "cyberface minstrelsy".

4. What do these two acts (ie. Jackson, and let's take Lindh) have in common? What are the differences? I think there is fruitful ground here….and have a list going.

5. Interesting material at Wikipedia on Blackface and Minstrelsy.

6. I am not sure still how you are planning to evolve this idea, but if it goes in the direction that I am imagining, there is material to be unearthed regarding suburban white kids playing characters in sports videogames. With motion capture, you can literally "slip on" Michael Vick's body — cyberface minstrelsy?? — and then slip out of it again once the performance is completed. Is this minstrelsy? Is this a stereotypical or hyperreal performance of "authentic" black culture? I would argue yes. But now the actor/audience dichotomy is erased.

7. What I am saying, I guess, is that "minstrelsy" has a very negative connotation for me. From what I understood of your Lindh thesis, however, you are seeing him as the "post-white, anti-racist male subject", which connotes something positive (in my opinion…!?!). Correct me if I am wrong on this.

Feed me……….

Cyberface Minstrelsy

I am posting an emerging concept from my friend Sean Brayton, who we hope will someday have a blog of his own, since there is much more where this came from. I wanted to juxtapose a few of my ideas against this one, and he graciously gave his permission for this to appear here. (Note: slightly edited from our personal communication for clarity.)

"Cyberface minstrelsy" refers to the process by which a particular racialization takes place via the Internet. It is a nuanced form of "racial passing" (Nakamura, 2002) facilitated by the cyberspace avatars created and maintained by primarily white middle-class males. While Nakamura has noted this phenomenon with regards to online Asian stereotyping (i.e., geishas and samurai), there is little research concerning the cyber-co-optation of "blackness". Cyberface minstrelsy, then, is the co-optation of an essentialized black identity (i.e., the gangsta or thug) by a white middle-class male. The online persona, of course, is largely a white fantasy of "blackness" that works to reproduce racist discourse from within what is believed to be a post-body, and therefore post-race space: the Internet. Cyberface minstrelsy is essentially the white performance of black stereotypes. This cooptation of "race", however, is necessarily detached from any "real" social consequences of the "gangsta" avatar. As Nakamura reminds us, the racialized identity is never a liablity. That is, those individuals adopting these "cybertypes" (Nakamura, 2002) are able to log-off from not only hip-hop websites, but also their online identities. Thus, cyberface minstrelsy not only reproduces racist tropes of an essentialized Other, but also subsumes real historical struggles articulated around and through "race".