Regarding the cultural production of America through sport: who predicted that NASCAR would end up most visibly proclaiming its diversity?

Logos courtesy of their respective leagues

Rose-Coloured Binoculars

Many baseball enthusiasts in America have decried the use of performance-enhancing substances by players and created a public uproar over the issue, which ultimately led Major League Baseball to commission the Mitchell Report and spurred Congress to respond to its constituency and become involved for political gain. Meanwhile, many of these same individuals remain willfully blind to the same (or greater) abuses taking place in the National Football League, what Chuck Klosterman has referred to as the sport's Evolved Reality.

One might suppose that this is due to the more prominent visibility of the baseball body: given the fairly snug uniforms and lack of a helmet or body padding, an observer is continually confronted with the true size of the contemporary baseball athlete. With football players, on the other hand, a mental allowance for equipment subconsciously places the true size of the football athlete into some question; and further, television distorts the speeds at which these football masses displace and collide. Hence, the American sports fan is more directly forced to confront the reality of the baseball body's achievements.

But this supposition is debatable at best. A more probable explanation to resolve this paradox is that the American sports fan constitutes a hybrid form of subjectivity. When baseball and football are both considered the American pastime, it is because we are speaking of two Americas.

The first is the America of romance and history. It is the America of primitive accumulation, industrial production and mechanical reproduction. It is post-Civil War America, a time of healing for a fractured nation-state still emerging from its embryonic local formations. This America continues to live to this day through baseball and its eternal enactment of nostalgia.

The second is the America of empire. It is the America of spectacularized consumption, digital replication, mediated simulation and recombinant culture. It is post-Second World War America, a time when the nuclear bomb has shaped the global order forever to come. It is an America of sex and kinetics and technology, of immaterial markets and material violence. This is the America of football.

Can we suggest that it is in this first America that the cultural subconscious of the second America locates its ethics and finds its redemptory moment?

If this is the case, then it becomes imperative that baseball's romanticized past — one that has been archivable and translatable for over the past century only through the reductive mediation of Henry Chadwick's quantitative offspring, the boxscore and baseball statistic — is preserved in alignment with the nostalgic context from which it has emerged. In other words, it is less the question of doping that is at stake for the troubled fan in the bleachers with his rose-coloured binoculars, but rather the retrospective contamination of the archive and thus its possibility as an ethical alibi for the present.

International Brand Architecture

Courtesy of Toronto Raptors and MLSE

This preseason, the Toronto Raptors played exhibition games in Rome and Madrid as part of the NBA's EA Sports European Tour. The choice of locations was particularly apropos for the Raptors, as one of their players, Andrea Bargnani, hails from Italy, while two others, José Calderón and Jorge Garbajosa, are from Spain.

The Raptors "localized" their uniforms for play in Rome and Madrid by modifying the colours on both shirts and shorts to match the red, green and white of Italy and the red and gold of Spain. Thus, we have a complex relationship in which the trio of stars, the Toronto Raptors as a whole, and the entire NBA are sold as cultural products back to Rome/Italy and Madrid/Spain, with the city acting as a cultural amplifier for the entire host country. Meanwhile, the "limited edition" uniforms also become valuable sign-commodities for consumption back in Toronto or wherever Raptor fans may currently be found.

Language Games

More on Yi Jianlian. The other night during the Milwaukee Bucks game Jeff Van Gundy, responding to questions about Yao Ming's acculturation to playing basketball in the NBA (and by extension, speaking to Yi's own acculturation process): "Rudy Tomjanovich once said that Yao speaks fluent basketball. And when you speak fluent basketball, it doesn't matter where you are or who you play with."

Evoking Potentials


[Aside] Yesterday I was in at a medico-scientific establishment for what is referred to as an evoked potential test, which basically hooks a bunch of wires to you to test optic, auditory and sensorimotor nerve conductivity. Given my theoretical readings of late — Kittler, Massumi, Virilio — I was naturally as interested in the process as I was in the outcome. Watching the diagnostic screen during one of the tests I couldn't help but notice how noisy one set of results looked. The technician replied that one of the biggest problems during these tests is trying to remove "muscular artefacts" from the results. In other words, muscular activity runs counter to the visioning of the nervous system. I found that poignant for some reason.


The other notable thing that stuck out for me concerned the location of those spots on my scalp that would have electrodes attached to them. Once found, they were marked with a bright red grease pencil. The other use for grease pencils that immediately comes to mind is in marking celluloid film before splicing — before editing went digital, that is. A grease pencil marks the location of film cuts, which are then recombined to form a moving picture; in the evoked potential, meanwhile, a grease pencil marks the location of electrical current cuts, which are then redirected through a diagnostic apparatus to form a moving picture of my nervous system.


Writing Play Across Space

An extended excerpt from Jules Tygiel's Past Time: Baseball as History, discussing cultural changes surrounding the sport with the advent of the telegraph:

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Playograph - Courtesy Baseball Hall of FameThe scoreboards themselves, of course, had already represented a grand advance into the modern era. Instantaneous telegraph transmissions allowed baseball fans to experience games as they transpired. What sportswriter H.G. Salsinger called an "invisible host of fandom" thus shared in the exhilarating local communal experience of gathering for the games, while simultaneously participating in a national rite of autumn. As early as the 1890s communities began to translate these telegraphic reports of baseball games into visual recreations. At the Atlanta opera house, young boys bearing the names of real players would run the bases on a baseball diamond laid out on the stage. In 1894 the "Compton Electrical System," a ten-by-ten foot board that featured lineups listed on either side of a diamond and lights to indicate which player was batting, the current baserunners, an up-to-the-minute ball/strike count, and other information appeared in many cities. After 1905, when the World Series became a permanent fixture on the national scene, scoreboard-watching became an equally entrenched annual ritual. Newspapers erected large displays in front of their offices, attracting crowds numbering in the thousands in large cities, often snarling traffic for many blocks.

In 1906 the Chicago Tribune began the practice of renting armories and theaters to hold the crowds. The indoor setting allowed scoreboards in the major cities to become increasingly more elaborate. In 1912 Madison Square Garden and other venues in New York City presented the Series on a display that moved the balls and players with magnets. Another model, "The Playograph," used a ball affixed to an invisible cord that emulated the course of the ball while white footprints illuminated the path of the baserunners. A Jackson Manikin Board employed for the 1915 World Series showed mechanical athletes that moved in and out of dugouts, swung the bat left- and right-handed, and even argued with the umpire.

For millions of baseball fans, these recreations seemed truly miraculous, enabling them to "attend" games played hundreds and thousands of miles away. "Before many of the thirty-six thousand spectators at the Polo Grounds were aware that the umpire had called a strike on the batter, fans in Denver, Colorado, and San Antonio, Texas, knew that the umpire had called a strike," asserted F.C. Lane. The fan, explained Salsinger, "visualized each man as he comes to bat. [He] 'sees' every pitched ball, closely follows the course of every batted ball." To Irving Sanborn, the crowds in the ballparks were no "more enthusiastically alive to every critical situation or more loudly appreciative of every fine play than those millions jammed into the various halls or thronging the streets in front of newspaper audiences." Some argued that the man in the street saw the game more clearly than fans at the stadium. The ballpark, after all, offered many distractions. Those watching the scoreboard, however, saw only the raw essentials of the game affording them, according to Lane, "a clearer view of what was happening at the Polo Grounds than was possible to a fraction of the fans who were actually present" (p. 66).

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As Sandy Stone would articulate a century later in her discussion of phone sex workers, telesthesic forms of communication are fundamentally about moving bodies across space. The action of the baseball game, a relatively closed-action sport based upon discrete encounters between offence and defence as well as segmented movements around a circuit of basepaths, was compressed into packets of code that could be transmitted over the telegraph's connected circuit of electricity.

Similar to Stone's sex workers, who would convert an entire erotics of input culled from multiple sensory modalities to tokens of sound that would then be converted to electrical vibrations before being reconstituted into sound and then multisensory affect, those communicating baseball across great distances would convert an entire spectrum of the sport's outcomes to tokens of alphanumeric code that would then be converted to electrical vibrations before being reconstituted as alphanumeric text, incandescent light, or electromagnetic effect.

There is a difference, however. Any of the exteroceptive sense modalities may be converted and condensed to auditory token form during telephone sex — the sight of a fiery red tangle of hair, the fragrance of one's sexual perfume, the caress of a tongue over this or that erogenous zone — a process that is essentially translative. With baseball, on the other hand, only those discrete actions that may be objectively captured in alphanumeric code were transferred across the wires. There was no roar of the crowd, no smell of fresh-cut grass or gently burning pipe tobacco, no feel of the hot summer sun yielding to a gentle twilight breeze — the process was essentially reductive.

Playograph: writing play across space. But what does the technology of writing play — indeed, what do any of our technologies of ludic representation — exclude from the account?