Monday, October 16, 2006

UFC: Ultimate Testosterone Overload

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.


violence is icky said...

I agree. There just seems to be something innately wrong with human beings harming each other in such violent ways.

It is odd, as you said, that both prostitutes and these fighters are meeting a real demand. Enough of a demand for them to make a living at it. That means that there are a whole lot of people paying to see such violence and a whole lot of men going to prostitutes. Ick.

Gypsy said...

And to think -- only one of these occupations is legal in our society. Only one gets shown on television for outrageous sums of money. Only one gets a "respectable" audience. Only one gets wads and wads of money made and lost for gamblers.

InterstellarLass said...

The blood-lust of the Romans remains un-matched in modern society. I hate boxing, UFC, WWE Wrestling, and anything similar. It's just sick, and why people want to watch that kind of stuff remains beyond my scope of imagination. Perhaps it's that primal lust for dominance that men have.

Bacchus said...

These poor gladiators... they were never given a chance, if only we had happened upon them years ago... prior to it being to late... possibly, maybe, we could've saved some of these poor lost souls...

glad you experienced it, this is going to make boxing obsolete. One thing I will say is that this in all actuality is safer than boxing b/c the rules in boxing, if someone gets up prior to a 10 count, the ref holds their gloves gives them a once over and allows them to continue which more often than not leads to much graver results per the fighters down the road... concussions, irreperable damage to the brain, etc

So an argument can be made that it is safer, it's up and coming

Per the anology to strippers and prostitutes, not many of the strippers/prostitutes get an adrenalin rush to do what they do per se, think more so they are forced into their dire situations then say these fighters...

but that's a post for another time from your other brother...

Prue said...

You make a good point, Buttercup. The only man from a privileged background that I am aware of participating in the Ultimate Fighting Challenge is a Jon Favreau character. Favreau played this really rich guy who dated Monica for a while on Friends. She eventually dumped him, due in large part to him getting beaten to a bloody pulp in the ring. I wish I could remember his name...

Buttercup said...

Violenceisicky - There is undoubtedly a huge demand for both.

Gypsy - I can't believe I didn't make that point!! I was thinking that in both it's only those at the top echelons that make real money (championship fighters and sex-workers like escorts that cater to the wealthy and privileged). But dang girl, it's true, even at the level of societal exploitation (assuming you buy into that point), the men get the respect of society, while women get denigrated. Whereas violence against one another is a crime, in UFC and boxing when violence is perpetuated for money, it becomes a spectacle worthy of public admiration. In contrast, sex which is not a crime, suddenly becomes worthy of public condemnation when women start to make some money off of it. The bottom line: men get to legally profit off of their own exploitation; women are marginalized and denied the right to profit legally off of their exploitation.

Lass - I'll have to think if I agree the Roman bloodlust remains unmatched in present day society... It probably does have something to do with dominance.

Bacchus - Adrenaline comes with fear and I wouldn't be surprised if many prostitutes got adrenaline rushes prior to prostituting themselves. In many cases, a sexual encounter could turn into a threatening, abusive, and sometimes life threatening situation and knowing that I'd think the adrenaline would be flowing at least in some cases. A lot of prostitutes also say the same thing that many of the UFC fighters would say, that they "chose" their path. But do you really thinnk most UFC fighters grew up wanting to become fighters? Maybe they did. It seems unlikely simply b/c it's such a dangerous brutal occupation.

Prue - And as you point out, that man is a character on Friends, and thus not real. I'd be shocked if any of them had other viable alternatives. It would be interesting to study.

Bacchus said...

Regarding few of the upper class, who are we referring to? A great deal of these fighters had full scholarships to college as many are/were All-American wrestlers. Having gone to UNC @ Chapel Hill and being friends with many of the top wrestlers there, few of them were thugs that fought there way into their present situations, most had a ridiculous amount of talent @ exploiting the weaknesses of their opponents.

With that said, many go on to exploit weakness of their opponents on a grander scale, rather than making money in the form of education via a scholarship, these guys are making money.

I think you had me speechless until I thought of Matt Hughes and some of these other guys that had full rides to school, I was left under the impression that you were referring to guys that came from low income, impoverished neighborhoods that never had a chance, and I that is not valid.

So speaking of these Division 1 athletes that have entered this realm, they are taking their athletic ability to the next level, as are basketball, baseball, football, volleyball, soccer, track and field, golf, tennis, etc

the list goes on and on

Why are these athletes getting this negative publicity, there are plenty of more people that have died consequently from injuries in hockey and football then have in either this or boxing

what sayeth you?


Norma said...

I was with you until the next to last paragraph when you seem to conclude that due to their status or class, they really had no other choice in order to be successful. Nonsense. Millions in the same situation do not make that choice--either to be gladiators or prostitutes.

Buttercup said...

Bacchus - Good points about the Division 1 athletes. I'd still like to look at their economic backgrounds, but you may be right that this is a path that "fighters" (i.e. wrestlers, etc.) who do have viable alternatives based on their college educations are actually "choosing." It's possible.

Norma - Thanks for commenting. You are correct that many in the same situation make the decision to NOT enter prostitution or fighting. I'm not denying their agency in making that decision. I didn't intend to suggest that anyone who goes into prostitution or fighting has "no other choice"; just that they might disproportionately come from economic and educational backgrounds such that their viable choices are more limited than the choices available to the more privileged members of our society. And that to me is problematic.

R'acquel said...

I took up kickboxing for health & fitness and enjoyed it immensely. What empowered me was to see other women who were fit & strong. My teacher was a 3x world champion and she looked nothing like a supermodel. It changed my perceptions on how being "thin" wasn't necessarily an advantage, nor automatically a sign of great health either. It also made me reflect on women's bodies within different sports at the olympics too.

My reasons for taking it up was more in the spirit of self-defence rather than engaging in a sport that sets out to hurt others.

I was initially interested in martial arts, but it was the 'boxing' component that i fell in love with. It was the way that the sport pushed my reflexes, speed, strength & endurance. I've never experienced such a cardio intensive workout in my life. It had a powerful effect on my body.

I did classes where it was with just punching bags, but i enjoyed the classes when i was sparring with other women even more - using heavy padded bags on top of the puffy boxing gloves ;)

My partners were not enemies, though at times - it felt like a great way to deal with the fear/trauma/terror feelings attached to sexual assualt in my life. They were like sisters encouraging me to get strong.

Something like UFC would not be my cup of tea at all.

On the prostutition front - it was like my surrounding culture, via media in particular, was encouraging it.

I'm glad i chose better.

Great blog.

Anonymous said...

Hey Buttercup,
Bacchus's last comment summarized some of my own thoughts on this post, but I'll throw in my $0.02 anyway...

I think the main problem with the prostitute analogy is that little boys are taught that being tough is good, while little girls are taught that having sex with strangers is very, very bad. Therefore, when a man steps into "the octagon," he's fulfilling a role, and it gives him a feeling of pride that most men try to attain in some way during their lives -- and if six minutes of pain is all it takes to achieve that, then hey, bring it on. (Nobody has ever died or been paralyzed in UFC competition, fyi.) On the other hand, when a woman sells her body, it's nothing but a violation -- both of her emotional/physical well-being and of societal values.

After a prostitute's customer is finished with her, the following things *do not* happen:
1) The prostitute takes inspiration from an auditorium full of cheering fans, who validate that what she had just done was Good (both as a performance and as socially acceptable behavior).
2) The prostitute and her customer embrace in a gesture of mutual admiration, aware of the physically harrowing experience they shared together, knowing that they're part of an extremely select group of people marked by the possession of enormous talent.
3) The prostitute calls her family and friends to tell them how she did.
4) The prostitute gets to keep her money and go to bed that night feeling safe and secure.
5) Etc. Etc.

But in general, my problem with this post is that you've tried to intellectualize your own tastes. You can't imagine people choosing this life path unless there were coercive circumstances, because you could never imagine *yourself* following such a path -- not just because you're a woman, but because you have a special sensitivity regarding physical abuse, and are unable to detach your related emotions even when presented with a violent scenario that is totally consensual. So you've come to this conclusion that economic deprivation and lack of options is what leads men to fight. But, two things...

1) What is repulsive to you is attractive to most men. I'm not going to speculate on why this is the case (I'm not a geneticist or sociologist), but men generally enjoy watching people do violence to each other in the context of entertainment (UFC, mafia movies, Jackass, etc.). We laugh and cheer and smile while we consume these entertainments -- it's a positive experience. What stops the average man from *participating* in UFC competitions is not lack of interest, but lack of ability. I feel like I'm digressing for a second, but it takes years and years of *really* intense training to get to the level of a UFC fighter. Not to bust another hole into the prostitute analogy, but this would be like a woman saying, "I have no money, no support, and no job prospects. Thus, my only option is to join a very expensive prostitute training school for six years and hopefully I can start selling my body after that, though I realize I will need some sort of other job through all of this to support myself until I become a champion in my prostitution weight class, which probably won't happen."

2) These guys have as many employment options as anybody else. Sure, "upper-crust, highly-educated members of the privileged classes do not appear to be well-represented in the ranks of the UFC participants" (though I don't know how you could tell that just by looking at them), but these guys generally come from middle-class backgrounds. They may not be sons of senators or shipping heirs, but they are certainly productive members of society. Forget this nonsense about "options," all of these guys had jobs before turning pro, and many have other jobs while they fight. They're computer programmers, restaurant managers, police officers -- guys who make the country go 'round, in other words. Somewhat ironically, one guy on the last season of "The Ultimate Fighter" (UFC's reality show) was an EMT.

The truth is, these guys don't *need* to fight for a living. They do it because they want to chase glory -- as we all do. They want to be recognized as individuals, and have memorable accomplishments. But unlike most people, the men who participate in the UFC actually have the means to *obtain* glory -- inborn talent, cultivated skills, and the drive to succeed. Maybe if they had the ability to write beautiful novels, throw a 95 mph fastball, make popular music, they would pursue one of *those* other options for a career path. But a person is lucky to have even one outstanding talent, and I'm sure most of the UFC's fighters feel blessed.

I really need to go to sleep now. We'll talk...