Recently I’ve been thinking about our agonistic society -- how can one avoid it in the two-party struggle for control of the country? Here are some non-political examples:
PROTagonist (good guy) against ANTagonist (bad guy)
Father against son
Brother against brother
Dictator against rebel
One nationality against another
Man against angel
Man against machine
Man against beast (alligator, bear, lion, dragon)
Man against woman or women (!!)
Man against nature (weather, eruptions, storms, mountains)
What’s the attraction? Because we ARE attracted. We want to figure it out, to vicariously join in the struggle, to ramp up the tension, then let it resolve. It appears to be deeply embedded in us, so much so that it comes out in “road rage” or “bullying.” Everyone is careful to say this is a behavior, not a person, a bully. Oh, we can’t stigmatize someone. That would be bullying.
A bully against a victim
One nationality or skin color against another
A criminal against a cop
People recoil in horror at the idea of S/M between two adult consenting men: A top against a bottom.
So why, then, is there one whole page story about extreme cage fighting in my newspaper? If this is okay, why is it bad for copycat boys in Cut Bank to be duking it out behind warehouses or for predators to be picking fights with drunks in front of bars? Why have we established that boxing will destroy the brains of the boxers in spite of headgear, boxing gloves, and rules -- and then go right away to permitting and glamorizing extreme cage fighting?
Is it different from our fascination with women boxers? Or from our love of tennis where people hit a ball instead of each other? Then how?
Man against ball?
Maybe rugby players have leather balls, but truly extreme ball games use human heads. Was it Aztec or Inca? I always forget. Maybe I don’t want to know.
The Official Website of the Ultimate Fighting Championship proclaims it’s as "real as it gets." But it is not. Somewhere I read a critique of “Fifty Shades of Gray” that pointed out the limits of the lady-porn “S/M” in the book: “no fire, no faeces, no blood loss, no gynaecological instruments, no children or animals, no permanent disfigurement, no breath control and no direct electricity.” Extreme fighting strikes me as having the same kind of limits: the limits that nice middle-class people don’t imagine. Idi Amin would laugh. Then he’d pick up a machete and slash off your hands.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktwTN9TzkHk&feature=endscreen is a history of the “sport.” Partly the appeal is the status, the adulation, and partly it's the slightly mysterious aura of what might happen, and partly it's the fact of not needing money for equipment to get a start. It’s like bull riding. It can become a consuming way of life requiring discipline and self-starting drive. Pretty soon there’s a community, the initiated, the knowing. There’s the chemical aspect: the adrenaline surfing. The show biz lighting and promotion. (There IS a referee. There ARE medical responders on hand. People CAN signal surrender.) Ju Jitsu mystique. Overt Gladiator imitation. Gang initiation. Entourage. (Promoters and handlers dependent on the contestant for their incomes.) The cyclone fence is a psych -- it’s probably safer than the ropes of a boxing ring since you can’t fall off the platform and it’s harder to throw things on or climb on.
Submission: broken bones, gouged eyes, crippling -- but short of death. It’s claimed. (Submission sounds better than crying “uncle.”) Experience combat vicariously, diluted. The contestants claim boxing is worse -- there are deaths in that ring. Then slowly it is revealed that there are rules. They are “educated, professionals, family men.” All safe. It’s all politics.
Then why does a straight-up politician. combatant, and survivor of torture like John McCain want it ended? Of course, it’s better if there’s opposition -- then you’re into the agonistic stuff verbally and philosophically, for and against. And it’s supposed to be redemptive -- saves the participants from becoming criminals. The more the powers-that-be oppose it, the more the rednecks want it. (They say it’s not a class thing, but it is.)
Bottom line: there’s money in it. Esp. if it’s in the hands of the promoters and not the actual combatants. Get the suits into it. Well, heck, that’s reality isn’t it? Now no one wants the contestants to die -- they are worth money! They need to have a “platform” just like any other theatrical performer or even garden variety writer or artist. So now who’s smart: the guy who’s making money by hurting and being hurt, or the guy who’s charging admission and sending out publicity?
“Oz” the series, demonstrated a lot of things to a lot of people, not so much “how far you can go” as how much people love the forbidden, how much we love to see how the underclass lives and how they suffer. If it brings down a lawyer (One of the main protagonists is a drunk-driving lawyer convicted of manslaughter), how bad can it be? Like cage fighting, "Oz" kindled ordinary fantasies into mythic tales. Like those in the Old Testament.
Father against son.
Brother against brother.
Lover against lover.
Man against beast.
Man against angel.
Man against alien.
This stuff goes deep, way back to the days before there were cities and we were just tribes and bands wandering the land, protecting our families. We need to keep this alive, because we still have to fight wars and we need tough guys who KNOW how to fight. Right?
Before you decide, it appears that today’s fighting man, particularly officers as compared to cannon fodder, are not just people who beat each other up. In fact, it appears that even the military academies are not producing today’s fighting men. Consider this story from the radio: http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2012/10/18/military-academies-fleming
Today’s agonistic combat is about being tough-minded, not being a glutton for punishment. It’s about discipline, calculating trajectories, using technology. Maybe that’s the problem, maybe that’s why these guys want to fight without even shoes. They have not offered to fight without trunks and athletic belts, so far as I know. Maybe they heard that buck rabbits fight by hooking their rear toe claws over the opponents’ balls and jerking them off. Now that’s extreme. Are you a man or a rabbit? Rabbits DO cage fight.