February 23, 2016: Matthew Ferrari

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Replay Culture: The Mediated Afterlives of Combat Sports

This paper considers one aspect of the afterlives of action media –the re-play, re-mediation and re-narration of combat sports, and in particular cage fighting (or MMA) in the form of ultra slow-motion highlight videos. The UFC’s Phantom Cam highlights are one example of an afterlife of cultural objects, in the sense of Walter Benjamin’s historiographical concept. In her essay, “Why Media Aesthetics,” Miriam Hansen argues for the importance of interrogating the interrelations between industrial technology and aesthetics. I consider the phantom cam as just such an industrial technology. These highlight videos are not merely an extension of, but also a re-iterating and a transforming of a prior historical event. I propose that the plentitude of the image (and in this sense, quite literally, more information) compels an impulse of refinement, in the sense of a technological act of removing unwanted substances from something. Furthermore, anticipation of media afterlives arguably propels the adoption of new technologies informing the making of the initial object. I also consider the performative dimensions of associated fan replay cultures, one that offers up new possibilities for understanding desire, fantasy, and commodity fetish involved in these genres. These evolving technologies of visualization, pushing spectator ecologies towards greater intensification and customization, affirm Steven Heath’s point that “narrative never exhausts the image.”  While these are re-narrations, they are also moving away from narrative, further removed from the original event –as rationalized by commentators, by liveness of duration, and by generic expectations. Drawing from Benjamin, then, I argue that these replays might be best understood as a cultural objects whose afterlife is motivated by an attempt to remove rationalizing consciousness, to bring already anaesthetized viewers closer to the shock they seek.

Matthew Ferrari earned his doctorate in the Department of Communication at The University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2014. He earned a B.A. in Art History and Visual Culture from Bates College, and an M.A. in Film studies from Ohio University. Matthew’s work has appeared in the edited collections Storytelling in World Cinemas (Columbia University), Reality Television: Oddities of Culture (Lexington), Fighting: Intellectualizing Combat Sports (Common Ground), in the journal Environmental Communication, and in the online media studies forums Flow and In Media Res. He is currently a lecturer in the Department of Communication at UMass.

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