on sport fighting, porn, entertainment, and objectification

March 4, 2013

mma bout

A few days ago, I mentioned a hobby that has absolutely nothing to do with blogging, computers, or skeptical transhumanism to keep my head clearer and take my mind off work. To those of you who read the post and didn’t click on the link, the hobby is krav maga, a mixed martial art. If you think this is some sort of weird male nerd overcompensation, let me tell you that my wife goes to the same practice sessions and what I see her do on the canvas definitely makes me doubt her claim that she’s a lover not a fighter. So considering how much time I spend learning how to do what you’d see in a UFC fight, when a Facebook friend posted a link to an article about a high profile bout and the first comment called MMA a low point of civilization and base entertainment not unlike pornography, exploiting people for profit, I got a wee bit steamed. My reply was swiftly followed by assertions that MMA fighters are working class kids with no other job prospects who get savaged in the ring to cheering crowds and are then cast aside like porn starlets who simply aren’t keeping up with the pace of the industry anymore, ending up broke and alone.

Now aside from the fact that there’s no evidence for this assertion and my own experiences at the gym definitely contradict this (the vast majority of the people I see doing sport fighting have office jobs during the day or are college students), I was obviously riled up. What the hell was all this? Was the person making these sweeping statements and going by old stereotypes in boxing movies on the lookout for a victim to defend from an oppressive society? Did his visceral hatred of seeing someone take a blow to the head make him blind to the fact that some people want to fight and challenge themselves, and that fighting is an insanely complicated sport? Now, we did settle the discussion like adults, and one of the points brought up did make me think. Are UFC’s top fighters objectified much in the same manner as adult performers? Are they just kept around as long as they provide entertainment and then dismissed while those who watch them work are only interested in what they can do, not who they are as people? Well, yes. But who isn’t?

If you dwell in a cubicle farm for most of the day, especially in a large company, you’re reduced to the amount of work you do, just like an MMA fighter is reduced to stats, and porn stars are reduced to the amount of views and money they bring in from a certain demographic. Constant objectification lies at the core of post-modern nihilism that rejects the patterns of life we’ve been told we should follow and the documents that sum up who we are in a resume. And one big part of living in today’s society is coping with being objectified in one way or another, though we only really complain about it happening in public when the objectification happens in an area of life that we’ve been conditioned to see as base vices. The MMA critic on Facebook complained that fighters get pummeled for entertainment (wrath) and that porn stars become sex objects in adult videos (lust), but he probably didn’t even think to make a peep about HR seeing you as John Q. Public, employee number 1375-23J, cubicle 44B. If anything, this last type of objectification can be even worse, reducing a person to hours on a spreadsheet or burndown chart.

And that makes me wonder. If I am going to be objectified, is it really so bad that I was objectified when doing something uniquely human, something raw, emotional, and irrefutably alive than as lines of code, items in production, and hours billed? If anything, being seen as a unit of work on dashboards and charts is far more dehumanizing than having your technique for elbowing your opponent in the ring analyzed and trainers making sure you can execute a really painful block enough times? At least here you have a chance to excel in a way that lets people see your pain but also your dedication and the ability to control your aggression as a sequence of techniques rehearsed a thousand times to commit them to muscle memory. We can ask the same question about adult video performers. Yes they’re a gateway for someone’s sexual gratification but they get the benefit of being objectified in raw passion and emotion, uniquely human qualities that a slot on an office chart could never have. Having a personality is what we reserve for those who become famous by distinguishing themselves enough to be featured in the mass media…

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  • Darrell Davis

    I just started checking out your blog. I came across it by accident looking up pictures of Hong Kong. It’s refreshing to see someone on the internet with an actual opinion that has the skill to write about it. I can’t say I agree with you on everything, but I do respect a well thought out and well researched opinion on anything. Keep up the good work. I subscribed to your blog through Google Reader and looking forward to some more insightful articles as i try to develop the discipline to keep my own blogs updated.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1367402498 Amy Edmonds

    I studied krav maga for a few years in Washington DC. My school presented it as realistic self-defense, not MMA training. I actually used it on the street, too. They they did have a sparring class. MMA as a pro sport is nothing like krav maga. For one thing, running away is part of the self defense drills! I actually got points off on a belt test for not running after doing my self-defense plus combatives.

    I wouldn’t say that cube dwellers are objectified, rather their output is quantified. For x amount of money you have to put out x amount of output. Nobody wants to see them suffer, or for that matter watch them do their work in any way! That’s not to say their jobs can’t be fulfilling in their own way. Having an office job doesn’t rob a person of their personality. Some office workers never had much personality to begin with, or imagination, or drive, or whatever. A lot of us intellectual types have what would appear to be boring jobs to other people but they’re fascinating to us. We all have our spheres of our lives and our jobs are only 40 hours out of our 168 hours of life each week.

    I think porn and MMA and other forms of entertainment are vicarious activities for their audiences. So the victim of a brutal punch is the object of a person’s (man’s most likely) fantasy of beating someone up. One or more of the parties in porn is the object of a fantasy of sex, so I can see that parallel.

    My favorite krav maga video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OBkmSvglUc

  • Paul451

    I’m wondering why you took a criticism (whether justified or not) of a professional contest personally, since you aren’t actually part of that professional league.

    “In the last few years I’ve taken up bike riding in a big way, so when some random person on the internet claimed that Tour de France is riddled with drug use, you can imagine how my blood boiled.”

    Well, no. Not really. They haven’t insulted you, or what you are doing. They’ve criticised a specific professional competition.

    “I think beauty pageants are degrading to women/children…”
    “Well, as an attractive person, I take offence at that comment!”
    “You compete in beauty pageants?”
    “No.”
    “Wha’?!”

    [Argh! Fucking Disqus. Stop reforming my text.]

  • gfish3000

    Well, it was really “people who ride bikes are supporting drug use, and bike riding is all around a degenerate activity that doesn’t even deserve to be called a sport.” So yes, the full content of the comments that upset me were calling what I was doing morally repugnant and exploitative.

    MMA is not a professional league, UFC is, so if the comment was that the UFC was exploiting its fighters, your critique would be spot on. I just was trying to move on to the point rather than give a lot of detail on the offending comments, but again, this was not an argument about the business of a professional league, it was calling the entire idea of martial arts as a sport immoral and casting those who practice them as victims.

  • gfish3000

    You’re absolutely right, try doing krav maga in a UFC ring and you’ll be disqualified in a couple of seconds, but we get a fair bit of overlap at my gym because a lot of the trainers come from an MMA background and like to teach those fundamentals before doing self-defense drills. I’ve never used what I learned on the street and I hope that I never will. I’m just doing it to keep in shape because it’s a lot more fun that lifting weights at a gym like a robot…

  • Paul451

    Fair enough. “People who take MMA classes are responsible for the exploitation by big money professional MMA competitions.” Agreed that it is a stupid thing to say.

    “People who take up painting are responsible for the theft of indigenous art by the art industry”.