Culture Consumption Politics & Pleasure

Monday, July 14, 2003  

Forthcoming Paper

International Association for the Philosophy of Sport. University of Gloustershire, 18-21 September 2003

Daredevil’: towards an (un)sporting ethic of the real
Carlton Brick & Paul Norcross
University of Surrey Roehampton, UK

Contemporary critical thought has diagnosed an ascendant culture of therapy within the institutional fabric of daily life. This culture has acquired an ethical dimension with its alleged humanitarian goal as the pursuit of 'spiritual' well-being. This paper examines this ethic as a function of sport and argues that as an hegemonic ideology it subjugates the sporting act(or) to the prurient discourse of temperance, restraint, and moderation. The contemporary lexicon of sport is characterised by its shift in emphasis from combatative struggle towards therapeutic compliance. Policy initiatives are shaped by the assumption that sport can arrest feelings of social exclusion and increase individual self-esteem. Ethics committees attempt to regulate sporting conduct and action. The growth of so called post-modern alternative sports, is an explicit manifestation of the therapeutic sensibility, shunning the 'traditionalist' ethos of competition in favour of the nurturing of individual spirituality and self-awarerness under the guise of 'living life to the full'. Indeed 'traditional' sports are also framed within the therapeutic, no more so than in the so called hard masculinity of soccer. It is perhaps in soccer where the most dramatic manifestation of sports therapeutic drift can be found, as the 'will to win' is reconciled within the contemporary moment as a pathology. The Irish captain Roy Keanes unrepentant desire for sporting victory 'at all costs' - embodied in his personal mantra 'fail to prepare, prepare to fail', and subsequent expulsion from the 2002 World Cup - is universally diagnosed as the psychotic excesses of a 'troubled mind'. The spectacular 'arrival' of Wayne Rooney within English soccer, is a moment characterised not as a celebration of a copiously gifted player, but by the demand that his talent be restrained and suppressed, that it should be shielded, hidden and reined in. He should be protected, not only from the voyeuristic gaze of the media, but from his own desires, for it believed that in the act of his self realisation (to play soccer as a professional), that the seeds of his impending doom are irretrievably sewn.

Drawing upon the work of the Lacanian philosophers Slavoj Zizek,Mladen Dolar and Alenka Zupancic this paper is concerned with fleshing out an ethics and politics of the Real and the drive predicated upon Lacan’s famous maxim for the ethics of psychoanalysis ‘do not give way as to your desire'. We argue that sports demand for the therapeutic degrades both the sporting act and the actor. But we also contend that, by its very essence, the sporting subject violently ruptures the conservative ethical injunction 'yes, that's alright, you’re allowed to do that, because it causes no harm.' It is, we argue that in the 'constant force' (drive) of sporting endeavour that desire becomes truly radical as the circuit beyond the satisfactions of the pleasure principle. It is our argument that the subject can only truly exist as a subject 'true to (it')self) at the limit points of experience and representation (for Zizek in the domain of the Real) . This domain - ‘beyond the good’- is where the subject encounters the self-withdrawal of support within existing subject positions and occupies the place of subjective destitution and destruction. Albeit in different ways both Keane and Rooney embody this radically traumatic counterpoint to sports therapeutic ethic.

The contention of this paper is that if sport has an essence it is one characterised by the selfless drive towards destruction, rather than the narcissisms of catharsis, preservation and self-enlightenment. Above all it incites us to dare. As Zizek (following Hegel), might characterise it, it involves a symbolic death, an exile which severs the subject from reality and forces it towards a traumatic encounter with the unspeakable! ‘Thing’ of subjectivity. It is our belief that such an ethics of the Real allows a radical re-figuring of the nature of ethical acts in sport. Its scope shatters our 'normal' understanding of the ethical and its tendency towards the therapeutic.

Recent Article:

Becks & the Beatific Game

'I've lost my son', said a distraught Ted Beckham in late June 2003, comparing David Beckham's move from his beloved Manchester United to a family bereavement (1). Ted isn't the only one who feels this way.
Since Beckham announced that he was leaving Man Utd for Real Madrid, there has been something akin to an outpouring of grief. 'Becks helped me realise I am gay', said 25-year-old Colin from north London, one of 'hundreds of tearful fans' who rang the Sun's 'grief helpline' (2). 'I think I will have problems with my partner now', said Colin, 'as we both liked him'. According to 21-year-old student Rob: 'He was a gay icon. I feel abandoned now he has gone. I thought he would always be there.'
Northern heterosexual men have also had trouble coming to terms with Beckham's exit. Steve, a 'worried' 26-year-old from Sheffield, admitted: 'My wife fancied Becks so much. The heat is now on me to perform in bed and I'm worried about getting aroused.' Preston chef Lee Brown said: 'My wife is Beckham nuts and is moving to Spain to be near him. If I don't go, our relationship's over.'
So it came to pass - the beautiful princess ruthlessly cut down by the evil Sir Alex of the North. Beckham's transfer to Spain has provoked a bout of national mourning not seen since the death of Princess Diana in 1997. Times columnist William Rees-Mogg has noted some similarities between Diana and David. Neither, he argued, possessed great intelligence, but they shared the 'exceptional gift of being able to personify the Zeitgeist' (3). Close friend of Elton John and gay icon to boot, the lovely David is apparently the new Princess of Hearts. Read on

posted by Carlton | 11:11 AM

Monday, May 05, 2003  

It has been a month since my last posting. But what a month

Existentialism with Arsen: The Ontology of Being (& Nothingness) Part 2

The 2002-2003 Season Did Not Happen

Treble Double Single Nothing

posted by Carlton | 3:15 PM

Thursday, April 03, 2003  

The Wastrel Goes All Cultural

Some of my postings have been picked up elsewhere. Please pay them the compliment of paying them a visit.

Becks On The Move?

There has been much media talk of late concerning one David Beckham. Speculation has abounded that Becks is of to Real Madrid in the summer. Experts have come to the obvious conclusion that the move is promted by Madrids hope that the players global celebrity would do the same for their merchandising coffers has it has done for Manchester United. Such analysis is alas predicated upon contemporary football’s most enduring myth – that merchandising and other such activities are the bedrock of the modern football clubs income. Nothing could be further from the truth even in Manchester United’s case. On Wednesday United announced interim results cementing their position as the worlds richest club. But contrary to popular prejudice United’s wealth has not been made through TV money, shirt sales or global franchises, or other such schemes that the critics of modern football get so hung up about. As leading football analyst Simon Banks points out, United’s wealth is down to one thing and one thing alone, the good old fashioned paying customer. Quoted in yesterday’s Banks goes on to say:
"The biggest difference between Manchester United and other clubs has always been the size of the club's gate. During the 1990s when other clubs were looking to build hotels and conference centres at their stadiums, United just concentrated on developing Old Trafford. The board believed at the time that if they wanted to make United one of the world's biggest clubs then they had to have one of the world's biggest stadiums. United's success is built on the income that the club generates through gate money. The money from attendances was the core to building up the club and was used to redevelop Old Trafford, buy players, fund the youth policy which in turn made the team successful and helped attract more fans and sponsorship."
There has also been much speculation that Beckham is likely to leave United because of the Euro Chic lifestyle it would afford him and his family. But there is a far more important premise that will influence such a move, and that is will United be brave enough to let him go. Beckham is undoubtedly one of United’s most talented players, and has constantly proved himself a big match winner. But it has become evident – since the 1999 treble season in fact- that the squad needs a serious makeover. Players, even great players, need to be got rid and replaced with fresh talent and ideas. This is just the system that Juventus employed to great success during the 1990s. If Beckham is to leave United then this should be the sole reason – to bring in other big game players. But such a move demands greater conviction and bravery than has previously been shown by either the commercial mindset of Plc or fatherly sentimentality of Sir Alex Ferguson in culling a squad that has outlived its shelf life.

posted by Carlton | 1:35 PM

Thursday, March 20, 2003  

Social Futures: Desire, Excess and Waste

I will be presenting at the British Sociological Association conference Social Futures: Desire, Excess and Waste, University of York, 11-13 April 2003. Click here for provisional programme and booking information

Below is a brief abstract of my paper. A more detailed version will be made available in due course.

Death by excess: consumption, its discontents and the morbid enjoyment of capitalism

According to Baudrillard (1998) waste - often considered a negative consequence of capitalistic production - is a necessary and integral concept within which modern capitalist societies recognise and identify themselves. It is through the production of excess - of waste - that capitalism knows it is capitalism. This paper is concerned with how discourses of waste, and excess are produced as markers of identity and subjectivity within oppositional cultures to global capitalistic processes. The paper is concerned in particular with dominant expressions of what might be termed an anti-consumption sensibility articulated via (in)formal groupings, collectivities and pressure groups. These groupings are frequently referred to in popular discourse as the anti-capitalist movement. A key discourse within this movement is pronounced polemic against what it considers the excessive and wastefully conspicuous character of contemporary consumption. This paper argues that this movement expresses an increasingly morbid character, organised principally around notions of waste and the death like character of ‘excessive’ consumption. These discourses appear increasingly religious in character - drawing upon Western Christian notions of temperance. Furthermore this paper argues that the morbid characterisation of capitalist consumption functions as a spectacular form of jouissance or enjoyment.

Existentialism with Arsene: The Ontology of Being (and Nothingness) Part 1

Hell is Mestalla

Treble, Double, Single, Nothing

posted by Carlton | 11:33 AM