Football and the Scarcity of Death

Following the massive casualties of the Second World War and the televisual spectacle that was Vietnam, death in contemporary warfare has come to bear a substantial cost, not only in terms of the pragmatics of human resource expenditures (today a factor of materiel much like the gun or food ration), but in terms of a social cost that is amplified and multiplied by the media.

And more recently, the enemies that constitute the opponent for the erstwhile armies of the nation-state have become guerrilla or paramilitary in nature, or cellular terrorist organizations. In other words, there will no longer be the mass bloodbaths of Normandy, etc. Machines have obsolesced our warriors, while our enemies are more fragmented than before. Death in the overdeveloped and post-industrial nation-state becomes scarce, perhaps a logical outcome of the shift from a society based on production to one based on consumption.

Question: In the wake of these changes, does gridiron football ascend to the pinnacle of American sporting culture since it offers a highly ritualized form of (obsolesced) war that allows us to continue to experience mass-produced death, albeit in simulated (and weak substitute) form?

The Phantom Image

From Baudrillard's The Transparency of Evil (p.79):

Another recent episode forms a pendant to the events of the Heysel Stadium: in September 1987, in Madrid, a Real Madrid-Naples European Cup match took place at night in a completely empty stadium, without a single spectator, as a consequence of disciplinary action taken by the International Federation in response to the excesses of the Madrid supporters at an earlier game. Thousands of fans besieged the stadium, but no one got in. The match was relayed entirely via television.

A ban of this kind could never do away with the chauvinistic passions surrounding soccer, but it does perfectly exemplify the terroristic hypperrealism of our world, a world where a 'real' event occurs in a vacuum, stripped of its context and visible only from afar, televisually. Here we have a sort of surgically accurate prefigurement of the events of our future: events so minimal that they might well not need take place at all — along with their maximal enlargement on screens. No one will have directly experienced the actual course of such happenings, but everyone will have received an image of them. A pure event, in other words, devoid of any reference in nature, and readily susceptible to replacement by synthetic images.

This phantom football match should obviously be seen in conjunction with the Heysel Stadium game, when the real event, football, was once again eclipsed — on this occasion by a much more dramatic form of violence. There is always the danger that this kind of transition may occur, that spectators may cease to be spectators and slip into the role of victims or murderers, that sport may cease to be sport and be transformed into terrorism: that is why the public must simply be eliminated, to ensure that the only event occurring is strictly televisual in nature. Every real referent must disappear so that the event may become acceptable on television's mental screen.

Body Athletic as Machine

Introducing the Temperature Management System:


Heat graph

Resample: "Today's professional athletes — particularly in a league such as the NFL — are highly-technologized and … are unable to survive if divorced from the technological apparatus for long."

Empire vs. The Body

Former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich had his home raided last week in an investigation tied to doping infractions. Among other items seized, authorities confiscated samples of Ullrich's DNA, to be compared to frozen blood samples found by Spanish police.


In the context of high-performance athletics, we might say that the overexposed athletic body, both externally, in terms of its global position, and internally, in terms of its chemical composition, prefigures the telos of total control. We might also say, in following Virilio's logic, that the threat of disappearance comes from the disgraced few that are caught being erased from the archives/record books as if their performance never existed.

Wheels of Steel

A tidbit from last night's Pittsburgh-Miami NFL game, which the Steelers won 28-17:

[Heath] Miller was actually knocked out of bounds before reaching the endzone, but the play stood when Dolphins head coach Nick Saban nonchalantly tossed the challenge flag on the field and it went unseen by the officials.

"They said they didn't see it," Saban said. "Whose fault is that?

"We cannot challenge something until we see it [on TV replays]. When we saw it, I threw the flag.

"It was well before the kicker kicked it [the convert]. The official said he didn't see it and when he said he didn't see it, there was nothing he could do."

Resample: The spectacle of network television is no longer a layer superimposed on the professional sport product, but rather exists structurally as part of its games. As a result, there is now a turntablist aesthetic to the competition itself, in which players and coaches strategically experience the game in non-linear time to gain maximum benefit.

On the wheels of steel / You know that I'm one of the best /
All my competitors / Get chopped up." – scratched by Rob Swift