The Simulation and Representation of T.O.

Courtesy of ESPN/EA Sports

In advance of last night's hotly anticipated match between the NFC-leading Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, ESPN simulated the match using EA Sports' Madden NFL 08 videogame as the simulation engine. And of course they simulated the news article that was generated by the information produced during the simulation run. According to the sim, the Cowboys won/would win the game 20-17 in overtime. The "photo" from the simulation accompanying the article showed star Dallas wide receiver Terrell Owens triumphantly posing in the end zone after scoring a touchdown.

By scrolling to the bottom of the article one can find the key statistics from the simulated game:

Courtesy of ESPN/EA Sports

But wait a second: according to the post-game statistics, though Owens caught 8 passes for 98 yards, he did not score a touchdown.

If Owens did not score a touchdown, then why the "photo" of him posing in the end zone as if for an imagined national television audience? Why has Owens (and his "blackness") been fictionalized so in this simulation? Does the fact that it is a simulation automatically confer the license of fiction?

Because Owens — due in no small part to his past experiences of showmanship — has been constructed by the media as the ultimate selfish, preening, prima donna football player. And in a sports world based so intimately upon media exposure, this characterization has become truth, fiction be damned.

Immaterial Striation

Lines of striation need not have a material manifestation. For example, grids of latitude and longitude cannot be physically observed on the ground, yet have great power to channel flows of navigation on land and sea. And while they cannot physically be observed, we visualize them in other representational forms such as maps or globes.

[T]he sea is a smooth space par excellence, and yet was the first to encounter the demands of increasingly strict striation. The problem did not arise in proximity to land. On the contrary, the striation of the sea was a result of navigation on the open water. Maritime space was striated as a function of two astronomical and geographical gains: bearings, obtained by a set of calculations based on exact observation of the stars and the sun; and the map, which intertwines meridians and parallels, longitudes and latitudes, plotting regions known and unknown onto a grid (like a Mendeleyev table) (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p. 479).

Sport offers similar examples of physical territories with varying degrees of smoothness that have lines of striation superimposed in an invisible, yet well understood fashion. The first down line in gridiron football is a fiction that forces the offensive team to move the ball forward 10 yards within four downs in order to maintain possession. And in association football offsides is understood as the line perpendicular to both sidelines that runs through the last defender on the field which cannot be crossed by an offensive player until after the ball has been passed by a teammate.

Courtesy of SporTVisionCourtesy of SporTVision

Unlike with latitude and longitude, however, these two sporting examples feature moving lines. Their lack of stationary position negates any ability to have a fixed material presence on the field of play. While we also attempt to visualize these moving lines in other representational forms, the frequent line changes and pace of the moving bodies require the medium to be moving as well. Hence the virtual imaging systems currently used in the televisual production of sporting spectacle, such as those shown here by SporTVision, with bearings fixed by multiple cameras surrounding the field of play and lines plotted on a map in virtual space.

Sensory Inter/Play

Not long ago I suggested that, in contrast with the striated space of the gridiron football field, the association football pitch constituted a smooth space free of most constraints on athlete movement. If this is the case, one can imagine the challenges created in trying to describe the game action — to code it — for someone in the absence of corroborating visual support: how to know where the moving bodies and, more importantly, the ball are at any given point in time?

Quite unexpectedly, I learned the answer to that question this summer at the International Association for Media and Communication Research conference in Paris while watching a presentation by Richard Haynes of the Stirling Media Research Institute titled "Seymour de Lotbiniere and the Formative Years of Modern Sports Commentary." Eighty years ago the British Broadcasting Corporation broadcast the first live soccer game by radio. Prior to the game, the BBC published a plan of the field divided into numbered squares in the Radio Times magazine, which made a great deal of sense as an affective solution since the new radio era was vectoring away from the print era. When Teddy Wakelam called the action on the radio that weekend, he would refer to athletes in various grid sectors as the play moved around the pitch — in the process coining the phrase "back to square one."

Courtesy of BBC/Radio Times

Radio coverage of sport still exists today, albeit to serve very different purposes. While radio once extended the geographical reach of the game in real-time well beyond the stadium walls, television has supplanted radio as the medium that best serves this capacity. Radio survives primarily for those applications in which one's visual acuity is absent or required for some other more important purpose, such as driving. Though I don't really want to enjoy my time driving a car, and I generally despise radio with its bland formulaic approach, frequent commercials, and occasional program content, I will flip on FAN 590 if I'm in the car to catch Toronto Raptors basketball telecasts with Paul Jones and Eric Smith. Jones, the play-by-play man, has a quirk in his delivery with how he attempts to assist the listener in creating a conceptual impression of direction during games: "The Raptors bring the ball up the floor, moving left to right on your radio."

Why is this significant? It has to do with the fixed coordinates required to establish such a conceptual impression.

With the 1927 BBC telecast, the fixed references for the grid system printed in the Radio Times were the east and west sidelines of the stadium and the compass in the bottom-left corner of the map. No matter where one was "sitting" in the mind's eye, one could always orient to the action by understanding traditional map directionality. But remember that today the radio vector exists after the advent of television. While there is no published grid to orient action conceptually, Jones resolves this by fixing the television camera as the benchmark point of reference; the centre court wide-view camera with its back and forth pan shots becomes the "natural" perspective from which to construct a conceptual impression in the mind's eye. To paraphrase Walter Benjamin, the radio audience's identification with the athletes is really an identification with the camera.

Citizens of Sporting Empire

"There is in the temporality of words an almost poetic play of death and rebirth: successive metaphorizations mean that an idea becomes more — and something other — than itself: a 'form of thought'. For language thinks, thinks us and thinks for us at least as much as we think through it. And in it an exchange also takes place: an exchange, which may be symbolic, between words and ideas." — Jean Baudrillard, Passwords

Baudrillard's words assumed added significance for me this past week as the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced the introduction of a "biological passport" system in cycling as a weapon in the war against doping in cycling. As ESPN writes:

The "biological passport," first announced by UCI last week, would monitor a series of blood parameters of a rider and create a medical profile that could be used for comparison after doping tests.

UCI president Pat McQuaid cautioned that the initiative, to take effect in January, will not erase the doping problem but serve as a new element in the anti-doping "arsenal" along with blood and urine tests.

"For each rider, you'll have an individual set of parameters that are his norm … his blood parameters. There is a norm — and above and below, it can only go a certain distance," he said.

Historically, a passport existed as a document from the king or queen designed to grant safe passage from one territory to another. As the Wikipedia entry points out, however, it is not the passport that guarantees these rights; rather, it is one's nationality that does. In facilitating safe passage the passport serves to demonstrate a right to nationhood, or in other words, to establish an identity.

The idea of a passport is moving beyond nationhood into other spaces, both real and virtual. An example of the latter is the Microsoft Passport universal authentication system, which allows for the safe passage of an internet surfer through a connected series of web sites. Though our physical bodies weren't moving anywhere, the idea of a system that established and safeguarded a unitary virtual identity as it navigated through the various spaces of the network intuitively made sense. (The system, which perhaps smacked of Orwellian overtones to those in the Microsoft marketing department — "Papers, please." — has recently been rebranded as Windows Live).

The question of individual identity remains central with the biological passport. VeloNews, a leading cycling website, adds:

"What is means is that the rider becomes his own reference point," UCI anti-doping coordinator Anne Gripper told Eurosport. "We look for variations in a rider's individual profile to determine whether there may be some indication of using a prohibitive method or a prohibited substance."

A normal passport contains information that identifies the individual, as well as other special features not easily duplicated (holograms, special papers and inks, etc.) that serve to establish the identity of a particular nation-state. An equivalence is drawn between individual and nation-state in the form of citizenship. As we see with Gripper's comments, there is no corresponding equivalence drawn between individual and nation-state for passports in the smooth space of sporting Empire; the equivalence is always drawn back upon itself: one person, two points in time.

The disciplinary societies have two poles: the signature that designates the individual, and the number or administrative numeration that indicates his or her position within a mass. This is because the disciplines never saw any incompatibility between these two, and because at the same time power individualizes and masses together, that is, constitutes those over whom it exercises power into a body and molds the individuality of each member of that body. (Foucault saw the origin of this double charge in the pastoral power of the priest–the flock and each of its animals–but civil power moves in turn and by other means to make itself lay "priest.") In the societies of control, on the other hand, what is important is no longer either a signature or a number, but a code: the code is a password, while on the other hand disciplinary societies are regulated by watchwords (as much from the point of view of integration as from that of resistance). 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" (Deleuze, 1991).

Instead of the passport photo (individual) and unique identification number used in a nation of citizens (mass), the new biological passport uses an athlete's organic markers such as blood and urine (dividual), though they only make sense in comparison to a larger set of modeled data points (bank). With the photo on a traditional passport, there is a range of error between the original photographic signifier and the appearance of the individual when passing through the checkpoint (change of hair style or colour, weight gain or loss, the addition of glasses or facial hair, etc.). In this case it is contingent upon the authority securing passage through the checkpoint to interpret if the second data point falls acceptably within this range of error. As McQuaid notes above, with the biological passport system there is also a range of error between the blood or urine samples at the time of competition and the original signifier in the passport. However, this acceptable range of error is determined through statistical methods; that is, by combining samples from hundreds of athletes in a database to derive acceptable distributions into which a future data point must fall to be considered allowable. Normalization becomes adherence to a statistically-correlated cluster of data points.

In the temporality of words an almost poetic play of death and rebirth … Baudrillard's words resonate anew in our present discussion. For in metaphorizing this particular anti-doping mechanism as a "passport", we must wonder whatever happened to the original meaning of the passport as a document that ensures safe passage through some boundary or barrier into an enclosure. What is the role of passage in the UCI's biological passport system? We are not discussing passage into the enclosed space of the sportscape; the testing takes place either out of competition or after competition is completed. So from and to where do we pass?

It appears that there is no passage anymore; with the biological passport of sporting production we have moved strictly into the realm of identification, its basis in biometrics, and a unitary identification of "normal" body performance. The occasional passage into or through some enclosed, disciplinary space provides the alibi for control to continue making its presence felt in an unnoticed fashion.

If there is still a passage to be found, it is a passage through time, referring back always to some fixed marker. UCI and WADA are basically requiring that the athlete claim passage post-competition into an "authentic" and essential identity. Today, blood and urine samples on file in the sporting battle against steroids and other pharmaceutical enhancers; tomorrow, DNA samples on file in the sporting battle against gene doping. This continual reference back to an original biological marker as identity document leads us inexorably closer to the Gattaca Scenario — and passage becomes a permanent state of immanence.

Form and Content, Revisited

A hyperlink: If sport ends up being the proving ground, so to speak, for a technological approach to athletic representation that separates form from content, then what might this suggest outside the confines of the stadium? If we can take any "television" footage and revision its form by changing a single appearance file — the CSS file for this new 3-D visualization — do we not open a variety of problems for the average citizen? Could video footage of you or me be given new form to suit a political or economic purpose?

While the analysis of the cinematic image undertaken by Walter Benjamin is completely blown away in such a brave new world of the archival post-image, the tendency towards fascist ends still has the potential to hold true and is perhaps heightened. Put another way, while the form of Benjamin thesis may have changed, the content remains the same and is as relevant as ever.

Seeking the Straight Dope

Doping authorities take urine and blood samples and keep them on file for 8 years. How are these samples secured for that period of time? Does chemical degradation or sample decay takes place over 8 years? What will happen to these samples when the 8-year period comes to an end? Are they destroyed? If so, how? Who is responsible for the process of destruction? What makes this actor qualified for such a task?

(We won't know the winners from the Beijing Olympics until 2016. Until then we are faced with the "limitless postponement" characteristic of Deleuze's control society.)

Is it possible that before the first 8-year period is over the period is extended in fashion analogous to what we have seen with the Copyright Term Extension Act in the United States? Will WADA someday own a right to these samples in perpetuity? Forensic examination is currently solving crimes that took place 30 years ago; will we see a gold medal from today overturned 30 years in the future due to a forensically-detected doping violation? And will the truth of that discovery be greater than the truth of the race victory today?