Sport and Drama

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Drama is a form in which sport, in a formal sense, most closely resembles art. Speaking of the relation between sport and acting, Christopher Lasch says: “By submitting without reservation to the rules and conventions of the game, the players (as well as spectators) cooperate in creating an illusion of reality. In the way the game becomes a representation of life, and play takes on the character of play-acting as well. In our time, games – sports in particular – are rapidly losing the quality of illusion. Uneasy in the presence of fantasy and illusion, our age seems to have resolved on the destruction of the harmless substitute gratifications that formerly provided charm and consolation. (….)  Play has always, by its very nature, set itself off from workday life; yet it retains an organic connection with the life of the community, by virtue of its capacity to dramatize reality and to offer a convincing representation of the community’s values. The ancient connections between games, ritual, and public festivity suggest that although games take place within arbitrary boundaries, they are nevertheless rooted in shared traditions to which they give an objective expression. Games and athletic contests offer a dramatic commentary on reality rather than an escape from it – a heightened re-enactment of communal traditions, not a repudiation of them. It is only when games and sports come to be valued purely as a form of escape that they lose the capacity to provide this escape.” (6) Since “sports contests” offer a dramatic commentary on reality and that they are “in the organic connection with the life of the community”, and not a confrontation with reality which strives to overcome it, the organizers of today’s sports spectacles follow the demands put forward by Lasch. Their main task is to turn sports contests into a “higher form of existence” which will in the most authentic form reproduce the drama of everyday life. To be “organically connected” with the life of today’s community does not mean to be close to the original spirit of competition, but to the spirit of domination and destruction. Idealization of sport, as a dramatic commentary on life, involves idealization of the ruling relations and values – which are shaped in sport. It is interesting that Lasch does not see a connection between professionalization (commercialization) and trivialization of sport: „What corrupts an athletic performance, as it does any other performance, is not professionalism or competition but a breakdown of the conventions surrounding the game. It is at this point that ritual, drama, and sports all degenerate into spectacle. Huizinga’s analysis of the secularization of sport helps to clarify this point. In the degree to which athletic events lose the element of ritual and public festivity, according to Huizinga, they deteriorate into „trivial recreation and crude sensationalism”.“ (7) By glorifying sport as play Lasch „forgets“ that sport is dominated by the principle of competition and the principle of performance, which means that man’s relation to himself and others is mediated by quantitative measures in which both cultural and individual human expressions are alienated. It is dominated by the absolutized principle of performance which in monopolistic capitalism, ruled by the principle „Destroy the competition!“, becomes the totalizing power of profit that deals with „individual achievement“, which was (together with principles „Equal chances!“ and „Let the better win!“) the ideological cover-up for the original spirit of capitalism (liberalism). The development of relations in sport is best seen on the example of car-racing. It is actually a fight between the most powerful car-manufacturing concerns, their expert teams, while man is reduced to the „driver“ who will appear on the throne, in the wheel-chair or on the cemetary. Not only in individual sports (dominated by strenght, speed and stamina) but also in „playing sports“ – the play has been completed before the players run out onto the field.

Huizinga’s criticism of sport from a cultural point of view throws light from another angle. Speaking of the medieval “sport”, Huizinga concludes: “The medieval combative sport (…) is different from Greek sport and modern athletics in that it is far less natural. In order to increase the combative tension, sport is invested with aristocratic proud and honour, romantic-erotic charm and the charm of artistic beauty. It is filled with radiance and decorations, full of rich fantasy. In addition to play and physical exercises, it is at the same time the applied literature. The desire and dream of a joyful heart seek a dramatic performance, play enacted in life. Real life was not nice, it was cruel, horrible and perverted; in the court and military career, there was little room for the feelings of courage that springs from love, but the soul is full, people want to enact those feelings and create a nicer life in a beautiful play. The element of true courage at a chivalrous tournament surely is not less worthy than in the pentathlon. A very erotic character requires bloody fierceness. The tournament is, in its motives, most akin to the contests in the old Indian epic; to fight for a woman is the central idea in Mahabharata.” (8) For Huizinga, the duel is a ritual form of expressing man’s complete submission to the established order. The same can be found in sport: in a fair-play man’s right to life is subordinated to the right of order to survival. Life itself becomes a stake which proves the loyalty to the established order, while fight to life or death becomes the most authentic form of natural selection. Huizinga’s homo ludens is the picture of a “noble knight” who is the idealized incarnation of the warring aristocracy and aristocratic values. Instead of humanism and love of freedom, prevail ambition and love of power. However, what “honour” is proved by killing a man? What is the nature of the erotic impulse achieved through “bloody fierceness”? What is beautiful in a cruel fight to life and death, in cutting throats and butchering, in taking out the intestines, in mutilated bodies drowned in mud? And all that only “to win the favour of court ladies”? Huizinga proclaimed the pathology of medieval society the source of the highest human ideals. Huizinga insists on the “art of life”, and not on a free artistic creation. That is why he attaches such importance to “fashion”: clothes are not the confirmation of human independence, but a class leveling shroud man is predestined to. It is quite logical that Huizinga gives priority to the “art of life” as opposed to art itself, for it, above all, involves “nicely stylized forms of life, which should raise the cruel reality to the sphere of noble harmony”. “The high art of life” (“fashion”) becomes the form in which a decorative esthetics triumphs over art as a creative act. Speaking of the Middle Ages Huizinga says: “All these nicely stylized forms of life, which should raise the cruel reality to the sphere of noble harmony, were parts of a high art of life, and did not find a direct expression in art proper.” (9) Huizinga goes as far as to proclaim the apparent forms of the established relations “pure art”. By way of the “artistic” form Huizinga actually seeks to prevent the original human creativeness from crossing the normative firmament of his esthetics, destroying the world of illusions and questioning the existing order. Man is not the creator of his own world; he is part of the sets on the scene of the present world.

Drama is possible because life is alienated from man. It is an alienated form of “playing” the essence of life alienated from man. Ultimately, the essence of life is given by the ruling ideological firmament and it becomes the prism through which man sees himself and society: a masked slavery, masked nothingness, mutilated human image, capitalist “pendulum of horror” becomes a lollypop, people laugh and cry over their destiny… In the theatre, life is being acted out, man being only an observer. The powers that keep him in obedience in society acquire a caricatured form. Apparently, man has control over them, he resists them. In reality, drama is such a “relation” of man to the world that pins him down to the existing world. A “good performance” is the other side of a bad life. Actors are tragic products of a tragic world. Man does not experience the essence of his life by way of a life activism, it is given to him by way of the “cultural sphere” which becomes a compensatory mechanism, a form of sterilization of the critical mind and active will. It is “cultural” to watch human sufferings on the stage, but it is “uncultural” to fight to eradicate injustice in life. The destruction of the human pleases the petty-bourgeois: it helps him to get rid of the responsibility for the survival of the world and to lull himself in the existing hopelessness. The theatre does not produce revolutionaries, but the “audience”. It is a form in which culture becomes devoid of the libertarian. Orpheus without Prometheus becomes Narcissus. All that proceeds in a virtual reality, which, as it becomes more realistic, offers man a better opportunity to escape reality. The theatre, cinema, concert halls, galleries, the church – all these are forms in which the illusory “world of culture” is institutionalized, and it, as a “parallel world”, is created as against the everyday hopelessly uncultural world and enables the (petty) bourgeois an (apparent) escape from the capitalist nothingness ensuring him an “elitist” (class) social status.

The nature of sport as drama is conditioned by the role of sport in society. It is not an activist integration of the ruling class, like the ancient Olympic Games and medieval chivalrous tournaments, but is a “supraclass” phenomenon and as such means the integration of the oppressed into the spiritual orbit of the ruling class and their depolitization according to the principle panem et circences. Its purpose is to inseminate man with the ruling spirit, to pin him down to the existing world, destroy his mind, imagination, hope of a better world… A sports spectacle is a modern pagan festivity which gives a fatal dimension to the ruling relations and values. It does not enable man to treat the existing world in a reasonable way, but completely integrates him into it. Man becomes the toy of destiny, which means of the basic processes of capitalist reproduction. Sport abolishes the dualism of reality and ideals. In it, there is no opposition between play and life: it represents life in its existential and essential sense. Sport is the authentic form of the playing of life and thus is its glorification which is supposed to create a religious relation to the ruling values. Sport does not reflect the human; it is rather that man becomes a means for deification of the ruling relations and values. Sport is not an innocent children’s play; it is a ritual manifestation of the submission to the ruling spirit and thus is the highest religious ceremony with a liturgical character. It is pervaded with a sacred serenity. Hence the importance of the “Olympic oath” (serment olympique): sport is the cult of the existing world, while man appears in the sports ritual as the symbolic incarnation of the spirit that rules the world. A sports spectacle is not an enactment of life; it is its reproduction: in it, the essence of the capitalist world appears in a condensed form. Rugby, boxing and other bloody sports are immediate expression of the “American way of life”, which is based on a ruthless Social Darwinism and a destructive progressism – and which becomes a planetary way of life (“globalism”). The sports drama is the authentic way of the playing of life – in which life itself is the stake. Sport is a drama without masks, without petty bourgeois lies, without invented plots which are to glorify criminals and obtain meaning for the capitalist nothingness. Life itself continues without a “humanistic” and “artistic” veil. It is legal in sport to inflict serious physical injuries and kill, to mutilate children, apply medical “treatments” which reduce sportsmen to laboratory rats, to turn the young into fascist hordes… The theatre represents the scenery of the world of lies and crime; sport represents its foundation. At the stadium, there is no human distance, there is no comical: gladiators are not entitled to laughter. The increasingly bloody life requires increasingly bloody sports spectacles, which are the compensation to the oppressed for the increasing everyday misery. “The spectators love the smell of blood!” – this is the “golden rule” of sports show-business in the USA and other countries of the “free world”. Sports stadiums were not built for well-to-do (petty) bourgeois, as is the case with the theatre which has an elitist status, but for the working “masses” deprived of their rights and for their children reduced to “hooligans”. The modern stadium appeared along with the modern industrial proletariat, at the time when workers managed to obtain the eight-hour working day – when the bourgeoisie endeavoured to “colonize the leisure time” of workers and thus prevent their political organization and integrate them into the ruling order. Stadiums are not designed for “cultural education” of the oppressed, but for their “pacification” (depolitization) and idiocy. “Sport is the cheapest spiritual food for the (working) masses that keeps them under control.” – this is the most accurate sociological (political) definition of sport reached, after the First World War and the then revolutionary movements in Europe, by the “father” of modern Olympism Pierre de Coubertin. Sport is becoming a way of destroying the class consciousness and shifting the fight from the political to the sports arena. Stadiums are not the temples of culture but bonfires for burning out the discontent of the oppressed. This is what determines their appearance: stadiums are modern concentration camps for people deprived of their civil and human rights. Everywhere in the capitalist world, where people are becoming increasingly poor, and fewer and fewer people are becoming rich, we have the same picture: wire fences, special police forces, trained dogs… A match is an occasion for giving vent for a man increasingly deprived of his rights, and it does not reflect human “evil” but suffering and despair. Sports spectacles are a way of turning the critical and change-oriented potentials of the people deprived of their rights into aggression directed towards the so called “opponents”, who belong to the same class of the oppressed, and a way of provoking a war between them. This is the basis on which supporting groups are formed: instead of turning their discontent towards the ruling order, young people turn it towards other supporting groups, who are also the victims of an inhuman order. “Supporting masses” are a form of degeneration of the working youth, while fanaticism of supporters is a form of degenerating its critical and change-oriented consciousness. Symbols and slogans under which the youth gather do not speak of freedom, brotherhood, peace, cooperation, love: they are of a fascist character. “Patriotism” without culture is barbarism. As far as sports “idols” are concerned, they are not fighting for freedom; they are the tool of capitalism for combating the libertarian mind and integrating the youth, reduced to the supporting “mass”, into the existing world. The increasingly bloody conflicts between different supporters are an inevitable consequence of the increasingly difficult position of young people in a world based on the principle “Money does not stink!”, and on the increasingly ruthless manipulation of the young, which springs from the fear that their discontent might turn against the ruling order and be used for building a new (just) world. On sports stadiums, fresh mountain water, which can overflow the increasingly rotten capitalist dam, turns into a swamp. Firecrackers and other supporting equipment do not express joy of life: they are symbols of destruction. Torches are not the source of light: they are a symbolic form of burning the world without a future.

The “intensity of life” of the ancient man was conditioned by his tragic position as the “God’s toy” and his endeavours to do all that is possible during his short and meaningless life in order to gain “fame” and thus reach the Olympic peaks and eternity. In capitalism, the “intensity of life” is conditioned by the logic of capitalist reproduction: to achieve a better result (profit) in the shortest possible time. This logic prevails not only on a sports track, it conditions man’s life. In sport, there is no confrontation between life and human tragedy. It is one of the most important ways in which capitalism “reconciles” man to the existing world, in which he is reduced to an impersonal member of the working-consumer “mass”: sport removes the tragic from the capitalist cosmos by depriving man of humanity.

 

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