First They Came for Sarah Conner, Then They Came for Our Baseball Records

7 Aug

It’s hard to know how to react to this Kenneth Goldsmith post about the “Posthuman future” that Barry Bonds supposedly represents.  Goldsmith so willfully ignores any of the relevant contexts surrounding Bonds (professional sports, bioethics, law) that I’m tempted to regard it as unserious.  Truth is though, in Goldsmith’s postmodern zeal I think he just doesn’t consider these contexts terribly interesting–or relevant anymore.  But really, what are you supposed to say about this:

 More machine than man, chemically enhanced, Bonds is our first mainstream Posthuman public figure. Moving awkwardly, robot-like, festooned with machines — a barrage of cameras following his every move and enormous noise-canceling headphones to silence the jeers — he’s a media-made technologically-supplemented Frankenstein. We dismiss him a as fraud, but we know in our hearts that his way is the way of the future; regardless, we cheer his accomplishment. We disdain his Posthumanism, but we shall soon come to realize that we created the phenomenon of Barry Bonds.

Let’s be clear, Goldsmith sees Bonds as a hero, because 1) Bonds is a martyr for the future and 2) that future is totally awesome.  My problem here is that I don’t know where to start with the laughing and guffawing and whatnot.  Goldsmith quickly replaces what would be an interesting–if speculative–discussion with a serious of fantastic (and reductive) assumptions.  Bonds is a martyr because…we won’t admit we’re heading where Bonds is going?  Even if we all take steroids one day, so what?  Right now, it’s against the rules.  That “we created the phenomenon of Barry Bonds” is fairly axiomatic.  Of course we created Bonds; we also created Ruth and DiMaggio, Mantle and Aaron.  Our demands on athletes and the era in which they play inevitability shapes the sort of game they play.  But how does that make Bonds heroic?  Because his critics lack self-awareness?  That’s a pretty weak standard.

Nor is hypocrisy (the most common unspoken argument) terribly important here, because the oft-repeated rejoinder of “the pot calling the kettle black” always overlooks the fact that, despite the fact that the pot is black, the kettle is still black too.  That Maguire and Sosa got a pass for their home run records after a strike is no consolation for Bonds.  Bonds is paying his “jerk premium” for being an aloof and arrogant ass over the years in the form of scrutiny and disdain.

Goldsmith forgets that much of the appeal of sports comes from the dominant “discourse” of codified justice.  Every game has a set of rules that people agree to play by that are officiated by umpires and referees.  We argue for values like “sportsman-like conduct” because the conduct and rules of a game reflect they way we’d like our world to be, and for justice to achieved on a larger scale.  Bonds represents an affront to that sense of justice, flawed though it may be.

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