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MMA and the Perfected Man
literaryguru | December 7, 2010 at 05:14 pmby
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Ideas concerning the perfected form of the idealized physical man are not new. Plato, in his work, The Republic, extrapolates on the idea of the perfect form of human being, the exact image all others should aspire to replicate. For human society, there has always been an idealized representation of who we should be and, generally, every culture has a socially-constructed methodology for attaining a position close to that state of perfection. For an Islamic society that path is walked by adherence to particular values and religious behaviours. For the western world, it is conventional belief that successfully completing a degree, the proper amount of exercise, the right diet and, possibly, the correct pharmaceuticals to balance our emotions will result in a better physical form of what we are and what we are capable of doing for ourselves and those in our intimate social circles. We can become more cognitive of our environment, our minds can become more able to comprehend our reality, our bodies are capable of more physical exertion and we are able to keep our emotions in check so as to not hinder our attempts to overcome the debilitating pressures from our modern, competitive paradigm. We can look better, feel better and be more sexually desirable to potential mates. We can attain greatness for ourselves and those who we choose to network with. We will never be perfect; but, we can be vastly improved. This conventional belief has remained with us since at least the time of Plato and has inspired entire genres of sociology, such as Eugenics.
Eugenics, from its first moments as a cohesive belief system, embraced the notion that improving the human being is a fundamental necessity for the evolution of mankind to an improved state. Sir Francis Galton, the architect of the Eugenics movement, describes in his work, Hereditary Genius, how every generation has enormous power over innate qualities of being and it is our duty to maintain that power in a way that becomes advantageous to all future generations of the Earth. Galton emphasized the notion that there are certain persons within society that perfect society as a whole and these people are less foolish, less excitable, less frivolous, and more politically provident. These males are more masculine, these females are more feminine and the general health of this group is above those in the society around them. These are the preferred leaders of their communities and their traits should be revered and preserved, through hereditary transmission, in Galton’s perspective. Character is hierarchical and those perceived as greater humans should be defined as such so actions can be taken to propagate their characteristics throughout their culture. For Galton, this isn’t just an idea; it is a responsibility for mankind and future generations will be rewarded by the constructed nature of their society’s leadership. These ideas were not meant by Galton to be taken lightly.
Galton paid special attention to developing a cohesive understanding of the abilities of wrestlers from Northern England. These wrestlers were categorized by the awards they had won and labelled with a general synopsis of their physical prowess over a five year period. The goal of this exercise was an evaluation of who held the optimum physical form in an attempted application of that form to a particular, physical endeavour. Highlighting the effect of positive attributes reinforced the idea that a perfected man was capable of more than those around him and this should be qualified as an improvement for their communities as a whole. A better man makes a better community.
The first step in this process is defining who the better men are. Empirical data must be compiled, examined and evaluated for this to occur in a scientific fashion. Galton made the decision to choose wrestlers (and oarsmen) as the perfected male, human form not just for their physical ability; he chose them for their reputations as gentlemen, a quality demanded under the rules of their respective sports. The idea was that a perfect physical male was not only in great physical shape; he must also have temperance, a respectful disposition and a qualified cognitive ability as well as an aggressive nature inside the ring. He had to fight like a demon within the boundaries outlined in the rules of his sport, while still being a perfect gentleman in all his other social interactions. This idea of the perfect male has a long history in the traditions of the warrior caste in a multitude of cultures; however, the scientific examination of who best personifies this archetype begins with Galton.
For males seeking role models to emulate for their maleness and ability to draw sexual partners, the warrior caste has always provided an attractive archetype. In its role as the source for this archetype, there has been an evolution in what is expected from those providing a role to be revered and this expectation has moved beyond what can be considered natural into the supernatural. Warriors are no longer restricted by typical human capabilities, emotions or physical limitations. The expectation is for them to have become perfect men capable of exerting super-human physical power, paranormal dexterity and an absolute mastery of all emotion. The audience wants these individuals to be beyond human, something only attainable by a perfect combination of genetics and training. The audience wants a superhero. Once this criteria has been met, the audience then wishes to connect with these individuals on the most personal level available, so they will feel an association with someone they believe to be the dominate, alpha-male in their constructed community. This modern-day community need not be physically connected in a world where communities are no longer restricted by geographic location.
With the advent of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the practical analysis for deciding which male-fighter archetype rises above the rest has never been greater. Inspired by Vale Tudo tournaments in Brazil that allowed fighters somewhat unregulated matches where there were no restrictions by weight class, the UFC created a dynamic whereby fighters would fight a series of opponents in a round-robin tournament in order to decide who the toughest man in the world was. Every style of martial arts was allowed. When this mixed-martial art format went global with the arrival of the UFC in 1991, a true examination of which combination of martial arts was most effective commenced. Moreover, the examiners were no longer just those in the Brazilian audiences of the Vale Tudo tournaments; the UFC was broadcast worldwide for all interested parties to view and conclude their own summations. More interestingly, viewers not only decided which fighting styles were the most effective; they decided which fighters they wanted to watch, affecting who got contracts within the UFC. A massive audience had now become a participant in the sport. This predominantly male audience was now deciding who they felt represented the perfect male warrior and there was a mechanism for testing their hypothesis. In a myriad of sport magazines, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) websites, blogs, social networks and multi-media outlets, millions gauged one fighter’s merits against another. And, it wasn’t just fighting prowess on the table for judgement. Attitudes, respectful behaviour outside of the ring and personal affiliations all played a role in how fighters were judged by their viewers. If a fighter exhibited disrespectful behaviour before, during or after an event, condemnations and comments would follow by all interested parties with a public sphere of influence. These comments inspired a dynamic where contracts with the UFC became contingent on audience reactions.
The most damning condemnations came when fighters would be caught using illegal methods to increase their physical abilities –specifically the use of illegal steroids and other pharmaceuticals of the same ilk. When a fighter failed a drug test, all his previous successes would be called into question. His marketability within the UFC would also be affected in a negative way. Although the demonization and subsequent estrangement of athletes caught using steroids in other sports was far greater, sometimes eliciting lifetime bans from their respective sports, the consequences in the UFC were apparent: they were removed by their audience from their place at the top of the MMA food chain by shows of mass disapproval through the public sphere. However, they were not necessarily removed by the association itself. In fact, a bad attitude could get you removed far quicker than steroid use. As with Galton and his North-England wrestlers, it was the audience deciding what constituted the perfect male fighter and getting caught using steroids exempted a fighter from this designation. The irony in this situation is that condemnation only comes from getting caught using steroids; those fighters who produce supernatural fighting abilities due to regular steroid use elicit a very positive reaction from their international audiences. Ken Shamrock, a legendary MMA fighter who was placed at the top of his sport for many years, admitted to having done steroids throughout his entire MMA career. Moreover, he said he did it because it produced the effects the fans wanted. Shamrock was exalted for his perfected condition using pharmaceuticals and then ostracized when he admitted it. The reality: most MMA fighters likely use steroids on a fairly regular basis in order to maintain their size, muscle density and to repair themselves from injuries at an accelerated rate. The audience just doesn’t want to know it. They prefer to suspend disbelief to reinforce the notion that these fighters are beyond human, beyond natural human boundaries and, therefore, above the natural restraints faced by the rest of male society. In other words, they are no longer human. They are a product of science.
R.C. Lewontin, in his work, Biology as Ideology, discusses how science has become revered for its objective nature. He speaks of how science offers “continued prosperity of the social structures of which they are a part.” It is assumed that anything science delivers is a positive evolution from the past and, therefore, above criticism as long as it falls inside of the moral and ethical guidelines of State and scientific tradition. We expect science to improve our physical longevity, standard of living and our ability to produce the perfect male warrior, one that stands above the evolutionary model provided to us by nature. The pharmaceutical enhancement of humans by scientific means has produced this expectation exactly. The fighters and sports figures of today run faster, fight longer, look better and are stronger than ever before in history. Science has succeeded in giving us a perfect male figure to emulate. We just don’t want to know how they did it. We prefer to trust in the integrity of the scientific community providing the artificial means for perfection. This model of intra-generational Eugenics no longer carries the stigma of Galton’s theories, bastardized by the Nazi movement in the early 20th century, as long as the intricacies of how it’s done are not revealed. Once that occurs, the facade crumbles and the human beneath the superhero becomes exposed, human and pitiful. Science itself comes under suspicion and society is not comfortable with this kind of self-doubt. We just want our supernatural hero to emulate and connect with. We want a leader for inspiration that is not restricted by the natural human condition we feel we must evolve out of.
Just as Galton placed his wrestlers in a hierarchical pyramid of ethos based on ability and behaviour, society has designated certain preconditions for idolization of its professional athletes. They can no longer be perceived as human. They must have perfect bodies and emotions provided by ethical scientific methods as agreed upon by the scientific community. They must remain in top physical conditions unavailable to the rest of humanity without the assistance of science. They must endure extraordinary physical injury and pain without resistance or any attempt to resolve these conditions by unethical means. In short, we want something that can no longer be called human. We want androids.
Bajema, Carl. Eugenics: Then and Now. Pennsylvania: Dowden, Hutchinson and Ross, 1976.
Fighting-MMA Website. Top Ten Best Pound for Pound Mixed Martial Arts Fighters. Accessed online 15/11/10. http://www.fighting-mma.com/top10/pound-4-pound.php
Galton, Francis. Hereditary Genius. The Galton Collection. Accessed 15/11/10: http://galton.org/books/hereditary-genius/text/html/galton-1869-genius.html
Lewontin R.C. Biology as Ideology. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2003.
MMA Fighting Website. Dana White talks UFC 119, Chael Sonnen, Recent cuts. Accessed 15/11/10: http://www.mmafighting.com/2010/09/23/dana-white-talks-ufc-119-chael-sonnen-recent-cuts/
MMA Fighting Website. In the UFC, Threat of Being Cut Weighs Heavily on Fighters' Minds. Accessed 15/11/10: http://www.mmafighting.com/2010/10/05/in-the-ufc-threat-of-being-cut-weighs-heavily-on-fighters-mind/
MMA Fighting Website. Ken Shamrock Admits to Steroid Use, Says Fans Wanted It. Accessed 15/11/10: http://www.mmafighting.com/2010/06/11/ken-shamrock-admits-steroid-use-says-fans-wanted-it/
Plato. The Republic. The Internet Classics Archive. Accessed 03/11/10: http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.7.vi.html
USA Today Website. USATF Board Recommends Lifetime Ban for Steroids. Accessed 15/11/2010. http://www.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/summer/track/2003-12-04-usatf-steroid-ban_x.htm
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