The Seven-Year Itch

September 11, 2008

Seven years ago today, we woke up to a frantic friend’s phone call telling us to switch on the tv. The image of a pair of towers smoking, in flames, has been on a playback loop ever since. The image has been captured, framed, and delivered from so many different visual perspectives and political platforms, by so many people, for so many people. A monumental image in its multiple imprints to fill this monumentally empty crater blasted out of space and time by mad men.

What have we, collectively and individually, done with this image, this absence? As a nation, we’ve decided to fight. Given in to an endless rage that’s begun to erase the boundaries that define a democracy. Scratched the primal itch for war, for many wars. As an individual, what have I decided? This is a crucial question (and thus, the 40+ day blogging hiatus…)

In an attempt to remember an event that changed my life so viscerally, I thought I’d borrow Judith Butler’s words. She writes in “Precarious Life”, a selection of five essays on the “Powers of Mourning and Violence” (Verso, 2004).

That we can be injured, that others can be injured, that we are subject to death at the whim of another, are all reasons for both fear and grief. What is less certain, however, is whether the experiences of vulnerability and loss have to lead straightaway to military violence and retribution. There are other passages. If we are interested in arresting cycles of violence to produce less violent outcomes, it is no doubt important to ask what, politically, might be made of grief besides a cry for war

…What role will we assume in the historical relay of violence, who will we become in the response…?

After the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army adopted the slogan “Be All That You Can Be”. After 20 years in use, it was dropped for the current “An Army of One”. Is that what we have become? Individuals fighting a perpetual war?

Decapitation on a Canadian Greyhound Bus

July 31, 2008

A friend just told me about this insane act of violence. BBC News reports that a 40-year-old man traveling on a Greyhound bus with a large hunting knife stabbed a fellow passenger 50+ times, severed the victim’s head, and gutted him.

The bus had 37 other passengers and was traveling from Edmonton, Alberta to Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada. It seems that when the attack began, the driver pulled over, allowing others to exit and brace the door to keep the killer inside.

The still-unidentified killer was apprehended by police after a confrontation that lasted several hours. He has not been charged.

According to BBC, the attack appeared unprovoked. The victim was a 20-year-old who had been listening to music through headphones.

What instigates such extreme yet seemingly random acts of violence, leading not only to death, but to disfiguration of another living being? When does one cross the line of civilization into madness? And what will society choose to inflict as punishment? How deeply sad for all involved.

Mixed Martial Arts: Elite XC Live Fighting on CBS

June 1, 2008

In late February, Yahoo News reported that ProElite’s Elite XC fight division and CBS television network had signed a multi-year agreement to bring Mixed Martial Arts to broadcast tv. CBS agreed to air four live fights per year as primetime Saturday night specials.

Kelly Kahl, senior EVP of CBS Primetime, talked about the agreement in February:

Mixed martial arts is one of the fastest growing sports in the country and a wildly popular entertainment vehicle for upscale, young adult audiences [i.e., 18-35 year old males].

Showtime network, part owner of Elite XC, began airing the live fights to cable audiences in 2007. Since both Showtime and CBS are owned by CBS Corp., the expansion into broadcast makes sense. But just last month, Reuters reported that Sumner Redstone, CBS Corp.’s CEO, disagrees with the deal, saying it

…probably was a mistake, not because CBS won’t turn a profit from it but because it is not “socially responsible” to air the typically bloody bouts on free, broadcast TV… I’m a lover not a fighter. I don’t like the sport.

In the same report, Ed Goren, Fox Sports president, echoed this sentiment saying “We don’t need money that badly.”


I have to agree with these network heads. Extreme fighting is one of the bloodiest, most violent spectator sports since gladiator fights were conceived as mass entertainment in Rome. Two fighters wearing little more than fingerless padded gloves enter a ring and proceed to knock each other out with a combination of boxing, kickboxing, and martial arts such as jujitsu. Fighters can use their arms, hands, legs, and feet. Based on last night’s broadcast from Newark, many fighters leave very bruised and very hurt. The spectacle is nauseating.

This is CBS’ attempt to increase ratings on Saturday nights when network viewership has declined significantly. I have to ask: why is this kind of violence drawing increasing numbers of viewers in? As much as the majority of Americans now seem to want to stop the war in Iraq, this type of programming begs the question: are we really built for peace? We seem to salivate so much at the sight of bloody warriors.

Photo: Dusten Cook for The Daily Texan Online. The photo shows Matt Thompson taking down Steve Jimenez in an extreme fighting match in 2006.