February 4, 2011

Brian Massumi on the Super Bowl

The Superbowl airs this Sunday and I probably won't be watching it. But I make mention of it because I've been waiting to share this excerpt from a reading I did last semester from Brian Massumi's Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Affect theory is a relatively new/current stream of Deleuzian thought that attempts to explain social phenomena (power relationships, and so on) not relying on theory of subjective agency, but focusing instead on the interactions which occur between bodies as they are played out along a plane of immanence. Here, he distinguishes between the stadium crowd and the audience watching at home on their televisions; and the way in which the affective response of the domestic (predominantly male) audience spills out in unexpected ways and/or is recontained:
The way in which the audience's perspective is included in the game is not through the regulatory application but by affective means. The excitement of disappointment of the stadium audience adds auditory elements to the mix that directly contribute to modulating the intensity of the field of potential. The audience feedback is itself modulated by the spectators' accumulated individualizations of the game--their already-constituted knowledge of and attachment to the histories of the players and teams.

The point of view of the television audience is quite different. Its individuations do not fold directly back on the field of play. Quite the contrary, through the TV audience the play folds out of its own event space and into another. The televised game enters the home as a domestic player. Take for example American football. Superbowl Sunday, the peak event of the football season, is said to correspond to an increase in domestic violence. The home entry of the game, at its crest of intensity, upsets the fragile equilibrium of the household. The pattern of relations between household bodies is reproblematized. The game even momentarily interrupts the pattern of extrinsic relations generally obtaining between domestic bodies, as typed by gender. A struggle ensues: a gender struggle over clashing codes of socieality, rights of access to portions of the home and its contents, and rituals of servitude. The sociohistorical home place coverts to an event-space. The television suddenly stands out from the background of the furnishings, imposing itself as a catalytic part-subject, arraying domestic bodies around itself according to the differential potentials generally attaching to their gender type. For a moment, everything is up in the air--and around the TV set, and between the living room and the kitchen. In proximity to the TV, words and gestures take on unaccustomed intensity. The home space is repotentialized. Anything could happen. The male body, sensing the potential, transduces the heterogeneity of the elements of the situation  into a reflex of readiness to violence. The "game" is rigged by the male's already-constituted propensity to strike. The typical pattern of relations is reimposed in the unity of movement of hand against face. The strike expresses the empirical reality of the situation: recontainment by the male-dominated power formation of the domestic. The event short-circuits. The event is recapture. The home event-space is back to the place it was: a container of asymmetric relations between terms already constituted according to gender. Folding back onto domestication. Coded belonging, not becoming. 

Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002.

1 comment:

  1. The fans love the players, and the players love the fans.