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The UFC’s Phantom Cam: Refining the Spectacle of Corporeal Damage and Durability

by Ethan Tussey

by Matthew Ferrari for IN MEDIA RES

“Phantom” cameras enabling super slow-motion are now commonplace from mainstream to “extreme” sports. For MMA, this technologically enhanced vision deepens opportunities to scrutinize reciprocal bloodletting; for fetishistic replays of a body’s reaction when struck. The two lacerations opening the 166 highlights are part and parcel with fighters regularly posting Twitter and Instagram photos of their injuries. As highlights do, they focus on the most sensational elements, which for MMA is an isolation and emphasis on the spectacle of corporeal damage and durability. What these re-narrations elide is also revealing.

One crucial ommission here is the ringside doctor examining dos Santos twice during the fight, shining a flashlight in the heavyweight’s eyes, both times allowing the fight to continue in a parody of the Texas Athletic Commission’s mandate to protect fighters. Even UFC president, Dana White, whose performance bonuses reward (or more appropriately, compensate for) a brawling style, said the fight should have been stopped earlier. But White’s paternal rhetoric, his “taking care” of fighters, belies MMA’s fundamental design as a spectacle not merely of martial skill and technique, but of bodily destruction and durability. This is, of course, rationalized through the neoliberal market logics of individual choice, “freedom,” and familiar deflecting discourses of warrior nobility.

Considering the afterlife of sports media, and accompanying technologies of visualization constantly moving spectator ecologies towards greater intensification and customization, I am reminded of Steven Heath’s point that “narrative never exhausts the image.” This plentitude of the image propels a kind of refinement, in the sense of a technological “act of removing unwanted substances from something.” Here UFC events are reduced to protracted moments (plus a glorifying score) – refined to their most valued (and possibly disturbing) imagery  while the brutality of actual duration and key narrative information (audio, corner cams) is elided, not unlike in fictional action genres.

A techno-minimalist sport, MMA certainly benefits from such high-tech visualizations. In a moment of increasingly negative media attention and growing public awareness surrounding traumatic brain injury in football and MMA, one might imagine businesses trading in such fare would seek to avoid calling further attention to the evidence, much less hyper-visualizing it. But, given that the circulation of pain is MMA’s stock-in-trade, this refining of the UFC's spectacle of corporeal damage also “highlights” the potential disconnect between the viewer/consumers' knowledge of exploited bodies and the complicity in returning for more.

The UFC’s Phantom Cam: Refining the Spectacle of Corporeal Damage and Durability

by Ethan Tussey

by Matthew Ferrari for IN MEDIA RES

“Phantom” cameras enabling super slow-motion are now commonplace from mainstream to “extreme” sports. For MMA, this technologically enhanced vision deepens opportunities to scrutinize reciprocal bloodletting; for fetishistic replays of a body’s reaction when struck. The two lacerations opening the 166 highlights are part and parcel with fighters regularly posting Twitter and Instagram photos of their injuries. As highlights do, they focus on the most sensational elements, which for MMA is an isolation and emphasis on the spectacle of corporeal damage and durability. What these re-narrations elide is also revealing.

One crucial ommission here is the ringside doctor examining dos Santos twice during the fight, shining a flashlight in the heavyweight’s eyes, both times allowing the fight to continue in a parody of the Texas Athletic Commission’s mandate to protect fighters. Even UFC president, Dana White, whose performance bonuses reward (or more appropriately, compensate for) a brawling style, said the fight should have been stopped earlier. But White’s paternal rhetoric, his “taking care” of fighters, belies MMA’s fundamental design as a spectacle not merely of martial skill and technique, but of bodily destruction and durability. This is, of course, rationalized through the neoliberal market logics of individual choice, “freedom,” and familiar deflecting discourses of warrior nobility.

Considering the afterlife of sports media, and accompanying technologies of visualization constantly moving spectator ecologies towards greater intensification and customization, I am reminded of Steven Heath’s point that “narrative never exhausts the image.” This plentitude of the image propels a kind of refinement, in the sense of a technological “act of removing unwanted substances from something.” Here UFC events are reduced to protracted moments (plus a glorifying score) – refined to their most valued (and possibly disturbing) imagery  while the brutality of actual duration and key narrative information (audio, corner cams) is elided, not unlike in fictional action genres.

A techno-minimalist sport, MMA certainly benefits from such high-tech visualizations. In a moment of increasingly negative media attention and growing public awareness surrounding traumatic brain injury in football and MMA, one might imagine businesses trading in such fare would seek to avoid calling further attention to the evidence, much less hyper-visualizing it. But, given that the circulation of pain is MMA’s stock-in-trade, this refining of the UFC's spectacle of corporeal damage also “highlights” the potential disconnect between the viewer/consumers' knowledge of exploited bodies and the complicity in returning for more.

UFC 166 and Circulating Pain

Highlights from Phantom cam at UFC 166

from UFC 166 Phantom Cam Highlights (2013)
Creator: Fox Sports
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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