A Conversation with Galeano: Part Two

Returning to Eduardo Galeano's beautiful book, Soccer in Sun and Shadow:

The Manager

In the old days there was the trainer and nobody paid him much heed. He dies without a word when the game stopped being a game and professional soccer required a technocracy to keep people in line. Then the manager was born. His mission: to prevent improvisation, restrict freedom and maximize the productivity of the players, who were now obliged to become disciplined athletes.

The trainer used to say: "Let's play."

The manager says: "Let's go to work."

Today they talk in numbers. The history of soccer in the twentieth century, a journey from daring to fear, is a trip from the 2-3-5 to the 5-4-1 by way of the 4-3-3 and the 4-2-2 [sic]. Any ignoramus could translate that much with a little help, but the rest is impossible. The manager dreams up formulas as mysterious as the Immaculate Conception, and he uses them to develop tactical schemes more indecipherable than the Holy Trinity.

From the old blackboard to the electronic screen: now great plays are planned by computer and taught by video. These dream-manoeuvers are rarely seen in the broadcast version of the games. Television prefers to focus on the furrows in the manager's brow. We see him gnawing his fists or shouting instructions that would certainly turn the game around if anyone could understand them.

*     *     *

Once again, Galeano is describing the disciplinary nature of modern sport that allows the greatest calculus of productivity versus expenditure. In this passage, however, he begins to probe at the edges of post-Foucauldian theorizing, namely, the emergence into a society of numbers, computers, simulations, and cybernetics. The role of the coach/manager shifts to technician, as Galeano notes for (association) football, and which has been noted here for (gridiron) football.

However, I would like to make a reminder: the more that sport becomes an instance of disciplined "play," the more that the coach/manager fears the aesthetic uncertainty of the opposing star athlete. Galeano's lament for a lost artistry is sometimes answered by the players.

It is interesting that Galeano invokes the Immaculate Conception and Holy Trinity, since, as Baudrillard notes, we are at "the end of a history in which, successively, God, Man, Progress, and History itself die to profit the code, in which transcendence dies to profit immanence, the latter corresponding to a much more advanced phase in the vertiginous manipulation of social rapports" (Simulations, p.111).

Notes From THX 1138


[Aside] Wow, what a movie!

To say that some of the insights in sportsBabel might serve as signposts on the road to George Lucas' dystopian future in THX 1138 would seem to me to be a bit of an understatement. While sport does not appear at all as a theme in the movie, it still seemed very apparent (to me) that the professional sport-media complex is currently in the process of realizing and normalizing many features of Lucas' version of the control society.

A few notes after my first viewing:

  • Trent Reznor samples the thhhhwap sound of the electric police baton beating to kick off the opening number on The Downward Spiral, "Mr. Self Destruct." This just elevates what for me was already a masterpiece by Reznor.
    I am the voice inside your head / and I control you
  • LUH 3417, speaking to her household partner THX 1138: "I've wanted to touch you so many times."

    In the sedated and mediated world of THX 1138, touch between people — and a bodily awareness of self — is lost and/or subsumed to the electronic control apparatus.

    I am the lover in your bed / and I control you
  • Particularly noteworthy is the living room masturbation machine that THX uses as he watches a naked writhing black woman (the exotic Other?) on TV. Do we not sense this lost touch occurring today?
    I am the sex that you provide / and I control you
  • I have mentioned that this pantactile control system is facilitated by administrative numeration. Check out this photo above from the student film project, Electronic Labyrinth, that was Lucas' precursor to the feature length film. The number on the forehead certainly seems reminiscent of a culture in which individuals tattoo numbers onto themselves — or others.
  • How soon will we be able to close the gap between the detection of a signal by the machinic apparatus (an archiving) and its processing by a human agent? We can do this quite handily in times of crisis, but only on a very selective, local basis. How soon will artifical intelligence allow us to do the same thing more globally? This is the essence of the control society.
  • While we're here, what about the names? THX 1138, LUH 3417, SEN 5241 … remind you of AK 47 or CB4?
  • Gotta love the "digital Jesus" confessional. Foucault isn't dead after all…
    I speak religion's message clear / and I control you
  • Though I mentioned earlier that sport wasn't featured at all in the movie, we should not forget the ingenious little game that children play. It appears to be a form of tag played by a few children, with the rest of the children forming barriers with their arms that change periodically, as if miming a forcefield or digital switch. Very clever.
  • THX is chased by cops through the tunnels of the underground city, until the real-time budget of the chase is surpassed and control communicates to the robot cops to give up the pursuit.

    That is, a tenet of rational information-age capitalism (ie. a requirement to stay within the real-time budget) ultimately saves THX 1138 from the excesses of the rational information-age capitalist society.

    What a radical thesis!

    I take you where you want to go / I give you all you need to know / I drag you down I use you up / Mr. Self-Destruct – NIИ


A Conversation with Galeano: Part One

Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan journalist, has written a beautiful book called Soccer in Sun and Shadow that may only be described as pure fun. While I will probably drain the fun out of his writing during this analysis, I want to engage a few excerpts from his book with snippets from sportsBabel:

The Player

Panting, he runs up the wing. On one side await the heavens of glory; on the other, ruin's abyss.

He's the envy of the neighbourhood: the professional athlete who escaped the factory or the office and gets paid to have fun. He won the lottery. And even if he does have to sweat buckets, with no right to fatigue or failure, he gets into the papers and on TV, his name is on the radio, women swoon over him and children yearn to be like him. But he started out playing for pleasure in the dirt streets of the slums, and now he plays out of duty in stadiums where he has no choice but to win or to win.

Businessmen buy, sell him, lend him; and he lets it all happen in return for the promise of more fame and more money. The more successful he is and the more money he makes, the more of a prisoner he becomes. Forced to live by military discipline, he suffers the punishing daily round of training and the bombardments of painkillers and cortisone to forget his aches and fool his body. And on the eve of big games, they lock him up in a concentration camp where he does forced labor, eats tasteless food, gets drunk on water and sleeps alone.

*     *     *

This is Galeano articulating the Foucauldian nature of modern sport. I have described as much here at sportsBabel, from the carceral nature of the sports stadium, to the imprisoning nature of living in the professional athlete spotlight/gaze, to the way that athletic labour is essentially linked to the apparatus of production — not only to produce uncertain game outcomes, but also a steady stream of images, information and identities.

Galeano's footballer in the slums retrieved thoughts on the soles of the downtrodden, while his comments on painkillers reminded me of Steve McNair, the Sports Guy and being comfortably numb.

What is disconcerting is that he uses these words in critiquing what is purportedly the "beautiful game." Yet his joy for the game shows throughout his writing in the book. How to reconcile the two?

Seattle Weather: Calling for (Golden) Showers

Near the end of Seattle's blowout win over Carolina in the NFC Championship game, FOX Sports offered the home televiewer a carefully staged "product integration" featuring a freshly-filled jug of Gatorade being brought out from the bowels of the stadium, purportedly to be dumped on Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren by the players to celebrate the big victory.

This was not by accident. For years, there has been a delightfully "impromptu" tradition of soaking coaches with the sports drink at the end of big wins, beginning with a splash on Bill Parcells in the mid-80s. Gatorade received millions of dollars of free publicity from the stunt over time, and paid big money to ensure that only its products were available on NFL sidelines.

Darren Rovell, ESPN's sports business reporter and author of the book First in Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat into a Cultural Phenomenon, notes on his blog the benefits that Gatorade received from their sponsorship during the Seattle-Carolina game:

We always see athletes making a great play and then going to back to the sidelines to fill up on some Gatorade. Rarely do we see it the other way around. Well, it happened Sunday night. Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith was shown on the sidelines drinking Gatorade (from a bottle, not a cup) and then moments later, Smith rumbled in for the team's only touchdown in the first half. Not a bad in-game commercial. It's times like these when people at Gatorade realize that that $45 million a year that they pay the NFL for sideline rights, is clearly a bargain.

Now with this being the first NFC Championship win in Seattle's franchise history, one might think that they would be so excited that they would want to maintain tradition and give Holmgren the end-of-game Gatorade shower treatment. The staged TV shot of the fresh jug seemed poised for such a moment.

But there was no splash. Instead, players ran onto the field, shooks hands with their opponents, and celebrated with one another.

Could it be that the hackers were tired of having their ecstatic moment exploited for financial gain? That once the shower went from spontaneous act to planned celebratory moment to scripted product placement opportunity, they decided to resist?

If so, then the following becomes problematic. Upon returning from commercial, FOX play-by-play lead Joe Buck segued back to the action with "No Gatorade bath for Mike Holmgrem, but…" and though I don't have the rest of the words verbatim, mentioned how Seattle was on its way to the Super Bowl.

So now the players' participation in the "marketing opportunity" isn't even required anymore. Between FOX's staged visuals and Buck's commentary, our collective memory fills in the rest.

Membership in the Control Society

As if to underscore my contention that the jersey number has become obsolete as an administrative solution in favour of the database primary key identifier, SportsFilter now personalizes a member's account profile page with a jersey featuring one's database ID number.

Resample: "The control mechanism described by Deleuze is more fluid and continuous, but only because the technical apparatus facilitating the control has penetrated the body, marking each athlete with a primary key and rendering vestigial the number on the extended athletic skin of the jersey."

A Virtual Incarceration

From an interview reprinted in Paul Virilio's Desert Screen: War at the Speed of Light:

J.-C. Raspiengeas: "This omnipresence of the media, of CNN in particular, has it changed the nature of the [1990-91 Gulf War] conflict?"

Paul Virilio: "Completely. War henceforth takes place in a stadium, the squared horizon of the screen, presented to spectators in the bleachers. Now, the only way of existing is to participate in the passion of the game, to no longer be content to keep count of the goals scored between the international force allied with the United States and Iraq. I see guys fighting it out in the bleachers as at Heysel. Mimicking in their corner an intifada or whatever scene that the TV has presented on nightly news programmes."