Monday, July 14, 2014

Nomadology and sports

I promised some Barthes on sports.  Also, get ready for some Deleuze.  Just letting you know, it's in the works.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Some thoughts on watching sports and sportswriting

From over at my sports blog, Rip City Reviews:

Just spent some time watching 120 Sports, if "watching" is the right word for it.  The MLB's Mark Newman had a nice little piece/advertisement describing what it is like to see it and just how it signals the arrival of a different world of sports viewing:

Picture a world of two-minute segments (hence the name) and ever-changing topical data cards, a world integrated with social media and a constant conversation that powers through everything in sports that fans are talking about everywhere. Imagine a fast-paced look at LeBron James' future and Mike Trout highlights and World Cup analysis and NHL mock drafts and Wimbledon previews and Bob Stoops' contract at Oklahoma and Tiger Woods back in action and NASCAR's Kentucky Speedway and college basketball recruiting and ...

There is no end, there is never an end. The videocentric show goes on, and 120 Sports will learn what you want the more you watch it. You are about to have access to unauthenticated video programming through a new platform built to intuitively integrate video and data in ways you haven't experienced. 

There were some good things about it, some bad things too.  Overall, it probably represents progress in sports viewing, simply because of the hurdles it overcame trying to license so much stuff from various leagues, and the sheer disruption that produces for the model of distribution whereby the leagues each have their own special devoted cable channel.  In other words, it is remarkable for the amount of "content" that it has made available out of mere "broadcasting."

The result though, isn't as entirely surprising as this makes it sound.  The end result is something like a Facebook news feed that is nicely selected for you.  Meaning, really--because the newsfeed isn't really anything new in itself either--that it's just channel changing done for you.  The British cultural critic Raymond Williams coined a nice name for the resulting effect in the 1970s: 120 Sports produces a constant content "flow."

As such, it may be the future, or simply the retrofitting of an outmoded gesture/haptics that now (like the Facebook news feed) restores a little bit more control to the provider side of things and siphons it slightly away from the consumer, by shifting the consumer-producer relationship to one centralized media hub or output point.  Basically, its the internet's version of a cable sports package.

The one thing that may be the wave of the future involves the way the channel changing (as it were) changes for you: it does so according to the development of stories along social media.  After live-tweeting some basketball games like the press guys do at the games, I can tell you, it's REALLY fun, and much more fun than following stories as they are ultimately processed by sports highlight shows.  The more that it is raw twittering that determines narratives, the less those narratives get processed, and the more interesting are the possible ways that the story develops.

This is just like enlarging the stadium so that people who don't sit next to each other can sit next to each other.  The strange result, in other words, is that we no longer become spectators interested in a representation but participants in a media event.

Pessimists thought this most likely would produce worse writing, but the exact opposite has happened.  It makes for a whole new mini-genre of writing: the sports zinger genre.  This is something that has purchase at the moment and will have it later when its outmodedness (anticipated and in a way built in to the form) is taken into account, but never quite fully captures the instant, never quite fully commentates upon it authoritatively, just shapes and solidifies and concretizes and memorializes.

Together with other types of writing that pop up around media-integration like this, it is productive of content that centers around the fundamentally great fact about sports writing as a whole: namely, that there's no need to craft a full narrative, not only because the narrative is ongoing continually, but because the words may have an effect, and at any time--like a cheer of support or of derision--affect the nature of the game it comments upon.  Any time there is a sign of narrative closure, events rupture it--I've never seen a field of storytelling that spends so much time pushing anti-narrative as sportswriters.  Contact with the immediate event, shaping that event and giving it significance or linking it to various networks, and then letting the thing go before anything more than a network of association, facts, statistics, what have you crystallize into anything too definite... that is sports writing, and it is glorious, and there is no other form of writing that comes close to it.

But for that, all you need is a Twitter app and a TV, really, not a whole sports platform, as it were. And that means that Twitter's auto-emojiing of the hashtags for the World Cup may be actually, in the end, a bit more relevant than 120 Sports.  In a way, while it moves towards mediatizing sports, it still conceives of its audience as a set of consumers still watching something like a channel and a flow.  And consumers have become users, fellow producers or mediators.  The ultimate irony for 120 Sports in general may be that, in the end, after working so hard to bring a good product to an audience, that audience depends not on the quality of their product, but just how much and in what ways it gets used.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Barthes, self-awareness, and irony

As I'm revisiting Mythologies lately I keep thinking back fondly on Writing Degree Zero, and just how brilliant and important a book that is.

It's also an interesting book from the perspective of our current, post-ironic moment of post-post-modernism or the New Sincerity or whatever you want to call it.

Barthes uses the analogy of the "degree zero"--I do indeed believe he used it as an analogy merely, as he would with various linguistic terms, not stretching them to apply literally scientifically but almost by metaphor extending their range and applicability instead--to talk about the type of writing that he is concerned with.  But I do think there was a tendency to interpret this, in the coming years, in certain, other ways.

The degree zero of writing I think for Barthes meant something more like writing that behaved as if it was aware of its status as writing.  As such, it was more like writing that was the parody of writing.  If it were to manifest itself at its purest, there was something campy about the writing that was writing degree zero.  It's like how spaghetti westerns are the purest type of westerns by also being some of the least original, the least authentic.  Or the Batman series, which is goofy but more perfect than any other kind of comic book adaptation.  All the elements are there, and there is a satisfaction, a YES that you utter privately to yourself when you read some writing of the type Barthes is talking about.

The Pleasure of the Text, despite being a great book, I think may have made this pleasure out to be a more serious thing than it was.  Because the pleasure you take in something campy isn't jouissance.  Barthes' use of that word was misleading and strange.  Only when he later got around to talking about writing and death did he seem to give us an accurate picture of the other face of the satisfaction he was originally talking about: it is something like nostalgia, something like mourning.  It isn't what he says it is in this work, which is that sort of bizarre ecstasy that so fascinated Lacan.

But it was an influential interpretation of the kind of reaction to the writing he was originally talked about. And it was of a piece with the times.  Self-awareness moving into parody around the time of that text seemed to become a much more serious, but also a much more superficial thing: the enjoyment wasn't in the nearness-to-parody anymore, but in something like the transformation of of the state of discourse, the change in the conversation, that that sort of writing--writing that was understood to be writing--produced.

In short, pleasure in self-awareness seemed to morph into a pleasure in irony, in the way that writing understood as such changed entirely the plane on which we as humans conversed and communicated.  No longer was any meaning to be taken literally.  Writing as writing was supposed to be the death of literalism.

We all know how well that turned out.  Literalism came back with a vengence, and the New Sincerity is in many ways a product of it.  But there is, I think, too, an acknowledgment that what most distinguishes irony as a vehicle is that it is safe: for all the crowing about how reckless and dangerous a figure it is, irony is most remarkable for the way that it seals off a domain of discourse from the rest of communicated speech, creates a group of people in the know, and forces others to be included in that group if they want to know the deeper meaning, the other meaning, both simultaneously behind and on the face of the text.

It can't be stressed enough how much this was an attempt, originally, to kill off literalism: in all the bashing of postmodernism that we do now, we forget just how bad literalism is, how bad the master-narratives that evolve out of it genuinely are, and how noble was the effort to try and do away with all that.

But it also can't be stressed enough how interpreting the degree zero of writing not just as a kind of self-awareness, but as a kind of special zone of meaning, makes writing into a very, very safe thing.  The pleasure in it that people had, I think, was a kind of pleasure in the sheer fact of its non-literalism. In many ways, it was a reactionary, even a resentful pleasure.

I have recently myself been at war with myself on this issue, as I try and figure out whether my writing is a little too self-aware, and whether it should become more self-aware to the level of being ironic.  Revisiting Writing Degree Zero, I found it quite liberating to see just how unironic was the sort of behavior of the text that Barthes was talking about.  Irony isn't bad, but self-awareness shouldn't be frowned upon just because it is associated with irony.  In many ways, the upshot was for me, was that writing that is self-aware in a way resists being taken ironically, and becomes more purely just a product, just writing.  Maybe, then, writing that moves beyond irony isn't a mere reaction against the excesses of postmodernism.  Nor does it thereby have to be sincere.

It may simply be really a return to an appreciation of writing as writing, in the sort of innocent pleasure in the corrupted text that knows it is what it is--writing--and that it can't do anything more about that.