Perched upon a bar stool at the Playwright Tavern on Saturday night, flanked by my brother Frey on my left and Raj on my right, I witnessed the ultimate testosterone-crazed blood-fest: Ultimate Fighting Championship ("UFC"). The pay-per-view event, for which each bar patron was charged a whopping cover of $20, consisted of six to eight almost-no-holds-barred matches between fighters competing for various weight class championship titles.
UFC is freakin' crazy. Fighters are allowed, and indeed encouraged, to commit all manner of imaginable brutality upon each other. With the exception of the standard rule against contact with the male genitalia (of course that would be off limits), and another rule against kneeing fighters in the head while they are on the ground (kneeing them in the head, face, and directly in the nose are all okay as long as the fighter is not lying on the ground), pretty much every other act of deliberate violence is considered fair game. The point, per my brother Frey, is to knock your opponent unconscious.
In the matches I witnessed, I saw fighters wrestle, attempt to suffocate one another, punch each other repeatedly in the face, head, and ribs, break each others noses, box, kick, throw each other to the ground, and scrape each other across the chain link fence that encloses the octagonal fighting ring. There was so much violence and blood - particularly in the third match - that I got queasy several times; more so about the violence than the blood. The way the men were throwing each other around, it was easy to see how they could kill or paralyze one another, and my stomach kept flipping over imagining one of their necks breaking and the irreparable harm that would cause to the victim.
I was also a bit queasy about the crowd. Most of the people in the bar were men, although there was a strong female contingent, many of whom were drinking, dancing, and shrieking up a storm - encouraged of course by many of the male patrons and the bartenders. With the exception of me, and perhaps Raj, everyone in there seemed to be gunning to see some blood; my own brother included. Every time a fighter delivered a nasty hit, particularly when it drew blood, it was met with a roar of approval from the crowd. The crowd cheered even more fanatically on the replays where you could actually see fists connecting with noses, bones breaking, faces crumpling and then re-expanding, and blood dripping all over in slow motion. Before seeing those replays, I hadn't realized that faces could cave in on themselves and then re-expand like beanbag chairs. I couldn't contain my winces, imagining my own face being broken into pieces.
This all made me think about men, testosterone, and the spectacle of male violence. Rome had its Gladiators, we've had our boxers, and now UFC - clearly a step closer to the Gladiators, and I don't mean that as a compliment. Prior to witnessing UFC, I had thought boxing was the ultimate in stereotypical male-ness. UFC, however, made boxing look like a cake-walk. And in its almost-no-holds-barred mentality, UFC is far closer to gladiators than boxing, with it's big puffy gloves, could ever be. What is it about setting human beings upon one another and letting them battle as close as possible to the death that we as a people find so fascinating? What's the bloodlust about? And isn't there something severely wrong with our society that we celebrate such spectacles of violence, depravity, and brutality?
It also made me think about questions of exploitation. It seems to be a generally accepted fact that most of the competitors in UFC, and even boxing, come from the disadvantaged in our society. Upper-crust, highly-educated members of the privileged classes do not appear to be well-represented in the ranks of the UFC participants, nor boxing or Gladiators for that matter. Members of the elite do not fight with each other for the right to get beaten to a bloody pulp for a a fee. They don't have to because they have money and they have options, something I suspect many of the UFC contenders lack.
The more I thought about the UFC contenders, the more they started to remind me of another group of individuals: Strippers and prostitutes. Both groups sell their bodies, one for violence and blood, and the other for sex. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive). Both groups meet demands in our society, and it could be argued that the participants willingly choose to meet those demands. But when you look at who is "choosing" these particular career paths, and you consider the tremendous costs to both groups of individuals, you have to wonder whether the decision to pursue either is a true choice.
If my only viable option for success, however that word is defined (i.e. food, clothing, shelter, financial security, the ability to raise a family, and the ability to direct the course of my life), was to sell my body, I think I would "choose" to sell my body. Similarly, if my only viable option for success was to get beaten to a bloody pulp for a fee, I think I would "choose" to sell my body and my blood to the crowd. What rational being wouldn't in the absence of any viable alternatives?
But, it shouldn't be that way; there should be viable alternatives. Neither men nor women should have to allow their bodies to be brutalized in order to survive, and the spectacle of their exploitation - however "willingly" entered into - should not be the source of our society's cheers. It's so unseemly.