September 19, 2008

Choke hold

Is Fight Club to be believed? Do men share an innate violence that can be contained for a while but eventually spirals out of control into mayhem? Does the rise in popularity of extreme fighting (Mixed Martial Arts) coupled with the decline in ratings for scripted violence found in professional wrestling (WWE) signal any cultural warning signs?

What implications can be made of a society that finds enjoyment in actual brutality, but is unable to suspend disbelief when it is staged?

Ultimate Fighting is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. Founded in 1993 under the motto "There Are No Rules!" only three additions have been made since:
-No throat strikes
-No attacking an opponent on or during the break, and
-No kicking to the kidney with the heel

The first time I watched, years ago, a man caved in another man's cheek with his knee; the eye was just hanging there; it didn't look much like a sport. Lack of restraint is the point, and is more vital to UFC's appeal than any display of skill or athleticism.

I don't doubt the athleticism and technique involved at the professional level, but the spectacle - and thus the sport - has been dumbed down to a visceral feeling of domination. This reaction, and consequently UFC's rise in popularity is witnessed in the cheerful crowd reactions to blows, kicks and punches without any understanding or appreciation of the technique involved. The result is a spectacle of glamorized violence, manifesting into a culture de-sensitized to violent acts.

Media coverage of UFC is an example of a subtle culture shift in the viewing public. Its circus-like edge has a growing hint of unhealthy blood thirst. Boxing, is by no means bloodless, but by contrast, its pre-fight media seems sterile - almost gentlemanly. The UFC appears to have blown clear through the gentleman-like aura of its predecessor.

Typical coverage includes the "I'll kill this guy" trash talk, complete with sophisticated re-runs of slow motion devastation, ad campaigns driven to the beat of heavy metal, quickly edited shots of steel cages; shiny and overbearing. It has become a media campaign that screams: A new age is here. A more vicious one. A more brutal one.

UFC culture justifies its obsession with violence as a way of educating and entertaining the public through sport, but I worry that instead what exists is nothing more than a savage exibition - wherein even the athletes are blinded by its dire consequences.

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