"I Want to Pump You Up!" Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez, and the Biopolitics of Data- and Analogue-Flesh

Graham Potts


The copyrighting of digital augmentations (our data-flesh), their privatization and ownership by others from a vast distance that is simultaneously instantly telematically surmountable started simply enough. It was the initially innocuous corporatization of language and semiotics that started the deeper ontological flip, which placed the posthuman bits and parts over the posthuman that thought that it was running things. The posthumans in question, myself included, didn't help things much when, for instance, we all clicked an unthinking or unconcerned "yes" to Facebook® or Gmail®'s "terms and conditions of use" policies that gives them the real ownership and final say over those data based augments of sociality, speech, and memory. Today there is growing popular concern (or at least acknowledgement) over the surveillance of these augmentations by government, especially after the Edward Snowden NSA leaks. The same holds true for the dataveillance of data-flesh (i.e. Gmail® or Facebook® accounts) by private corporations for reasons of profit and/or at the behest of governments for reasons of "national security."

While drawing a picture of this (bodily) state, of the intrusion through language of brands into our being and their coterminous policing of intelligible and iterative body boundaries and extensions, I want to address the next step in copyrighted augmentation, one that is current practice in professional sport, and part of the bourgeoning "anti-aging" industry, with rewriting of cellular structure and hormonal levels, for a price, on the open market. What I want to problematize is the contradiction between the rhetorical moralizing against upgrading the analogue-flesh, especially with respect to celebrity sports stars like Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriquez, all the while the "anti-aging" industry does the same without censor. Indeed, it does so within the context of the contradictory social messaging and norms that our data-flesh and electric augmentations receive to constantly upgrade. I pose the question of the contradiction between the messages given to our analogue-flesh and data-flesh in order to examine the specific site of commentary on professional sports stars and their practices, but also to point to the ethical gap that exists not just for (legal) performance enhancing drugs (PED), but also to show the link to privatized and copyrighted genomic testing, the dataveillance of this information, and subsequent augmentations that may be undertaken because of the results.     

Copyrighted Language and Semiotics as Gateway Drug

The corporatization of language and semiotics came about with an intrusion of exclusively held signs from the capitalist economy into language. This makes sense if one want to make surplus value greater: stamp a name onto something, especially a base commodity like a food product, and build up the name of that stamp, however one will, so that that name has perceived value in and of itself, and then charge as much as one can for it. Such is the story of the lack of real correlation between the price of Starbucks Coffee® and coffee as a commodity, set by Starbucks® on the basis of the cultural worth of the symbols and signs associated with it, rather than by what they pay for the labor and production costs prior to its branding. But what happens to these legally protected stamps once they start acting as more than just a sign and referent to a subsection of a specific commodity or thing? Once the stamp has worth and a life that is socially determined? What happens when these stamps get verbed, adjectived, and nouned? Naomi Klein, in the book that the New York Times referred to as a "movement bible" for the anti-globalization forces of the late 1990s said "logos, by the force of ubiquity, have become the closest thing we have to an international language, recognized and understood in many more places than English" (xxxvi). But there is an inherent built-in tension of copyrighted language and semiotics that illustrates the coterminous problems with data- and analogue-flesh augments. "We have almost two centuries' worth of brand-name history under our collective belt, coalescing to create a sort of global pop-cultural Morse code. But there is just one catch: while we may all have the code implanted in our brains, we're not really allowed to use it" (Klein 176). Companies want their "brands to be the air you breathe in - but don't dare exhale" or otherwise try to engage in a two-way dialogue that alters the intended meaning (Klein 182).

Private signs power first-world and BRIC capitalism, language, and bodies. I do not have a coffee in the morning; I have Starbucks®. I do not speak on a cellular phone; I speak iPhone®. I am not using my computer right now; I am writing MacBook Air®. I do not look something up, search it, or research it; I Google® it. Klein was writing before the everyday uptake of sophisticated miniaturized and mobile computing and communication devices. With the digitalization of our senses and electronic limbs this viral invasion of language became material, effecting both our data- and analogue-flesh. The trajectory? First we used it; then we wore it as culturally and socially demarcating clothing; and finally we no longer used copyrighted speech terms: it became an always-present augmentation, an adjective to the lexicon body of language, and thereby out of democratic semiotic control.

Today Twitter® is our (140 character limited) medium of speech. Skype® is our sense of sight, the way we have "real" face-to-face communication. Yelp® has extended our sense of taste and smell through restaurant reviews. The iPhone® is our sense of hearing.  And OkCupid® and/or Grindr® and other sites and apps have become the skin of our sexual organs (and the site where they first meet). Today, love at first sight happens through .jpeg extensions; our first sexual experience ranked on a scale of risk determined by the type of video feed file format used: was it "protected" enough to stop its "spread"? In this sense the corporatization of language and semiotics acted as the gateway drug to corporatized digital-flesh; from use of something that is external to us to an augmentation that is part of us and indeed may be in excess of us or any notion of a singular liberal subject.

Replacement of Analogue-Flesh?

Arguably, this could be viewed as the coming to be of the full replacement of the fleshy analogue body by what are, or started as digital augmentations. Is this what Marshall McLuhan meant when he spoke of the "electronic exteriorization of the central nervous system" through the growing complexity of our "electric extensions"? McLuhan's work that spoke of the "global village" enabled by new technologies is usually read as a euphoric celebration of the utopic possibilities of interconnectivity. What these misreadings overlook is the darker side of his thought, where the "cultural probe" picks up the warning signals of the change to come, so that a Christian inspired project, a cultural Noah’s Ark, can be created to save the past from the future to come (Coupland).

Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio, and Guy Debord have analyzed this replacement of the real and the changes to the relations between people—one I am arguing is branded/restricted—by offering us the terms simulacrum (Baudrillard), substitution (Virilio), and spectacle (Debord). The commonality which links Baudrillard and Virilio, but not Debord, is that the former two do not explicitly situate their critique as being within the loss of the real that they then describe. Baudrillard expresses that he can have a 'cool detachment' from his subject (Forget Foucault/Forget Baudrillard), while Virilio's is a Catholic moralist's cry lamenting the disappearance of the heterogeneous experiential dimensions in transit along the various axes of space and time. What differentiates Debord is that he had no qualms positioning his own person and his text, The Society of the Spectacle (SotS), as within its own subject matter - a critique that is limited, and acknowledged as such, by the blindness of its own inescapable horizon.

This Revolt Will Be Copyrighted

Yet today the analogue - at the least - performs a revolt in or possibly in excess of the spectacle that seeks its containment. How and at what site is the revolt by the analogue-flesh most viewable? Ironically, in the actions of celebrity professional sports stars and the Celebrity Class in general. Today it revolts against copyrighted data-flesh with copyrighted analogue-flesh. This is even the case when the specific site of contestation is (at least the illusion of) immortality, where the runaway digital always felt it held the trump card. A regimen of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and other PEDs purports to do the same thing, if not better, at the cellular level, than the endless youth paraded in the unaging photo employed by the Facebook or GrindrBodies®. But with the everyday use and popularization of drugs and enhancement supplements like HGH and related PEDs there is something more fundamental at play than the economic juggernaut that is the Body Beautiful; more than fleshy jealousy of Photoshopped® electronic skins. 

This drug use represents the logical extension of the ethics that drive our tech-wired lives. We are told daily to upgrade: our sexual organs (OkCupid® or Grindr®) for a better, more accurate match; our memory (Google® services) for largeness and safe portability; and our hearing and sight (iPhone® or Skype®) for increase connectivity, engaging the "real" (that we have lost). These upgrades are controlled and copyrighted, but that which grows the economy is an especially favored moral act in an age of austerity. Why should it be surprising, then, that with the economic backing of key players of Google®—kingpin of the global for-profit dataveillance racket—that for $99.95 23andMe® will send one a home DNA test kit, which once returned will be analyzed for genetic issues, with a personalized web-interface, including "featured links." Analogue-flesh fights back with willing copyrighted dataveillance of its genetic code. The test and the personalized results allow for augmentations of the Angelina Jolie type: private testing for genetic markers, a double mastectomy provided by private healthcare, followed by copyrighted replacement flesh. 

This is where we find the biopolitics of data- and analogue-flesh, lead forth, in an ironic turn, by the Celebrity Class, whom depend for their income on the lives of their posthuman bodies. This is a complete reversal of the course Debord charts out for them:

The celebrity, the spectacular representation of a living human being, embodies this banality by embodying the image of a possible role. Being a star means specializing in the seemingly lived; the star is the object of identification with the shallow seeming life that has to compensate for the fragmented productive specializations which are actually lived. (SotS)

While the electronic global village was to have left the flesh-and-blood as waste, today there is resistance by the analogue from where we would least expect it - attempts to catch up and replant itself as ontologically prior to the digital through legal medical supplementation; to make the posthuman the posthuman. We find the Celebrity Class at the forefront of the resistance, of making our posthuman bodies as controlled augmentations of a posthuman. But there is a definite contradiction as well, specifically in the press coverage of professional sports. The axiomatic ethical and moral sentiment of our age to always upgrade data-flesh and analogue-flesh is contradicted in professional sports by the recent suspensions of Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez and the political and pundit critical commentary on their actions.

Nancy Reagan to the Curbside: An Argument for Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez's "Just Say Yes to Drugs" Campaign

Probably to the complete shock of most of my family, friends, students, and former lovers who may be reading this, I actually follow sports reporting with great detail and have done so for years. That I never speak of any sports in my everyday interactions, haven't played a team or individual sport since I could speak (and thereby use my voice to inform my parents that I was refusing to participate), and even decline amateur or minor league play, like throwing a ball of any kind at a family BBQ, leaves me to, like Judith Butler, "give an account of oneself." And this accounting for my sports addiction is not incidental or insignificant with respect either to how the posthuman present can move from a state of posthumanism to one of posthumanism, nor my specific interpellation into (and excess) in either of those worlds. 

Recognizing that I will not overcome my addiction without admitting my problem, this paper is thus a first-step public acknowledgement: I have been seeing "Dr. C" for a period of three years, and together, through weekly appointments, we have been working through this issue of mine. (Now for the sake of avoiding the cycle of lying that often accompanies addiction I should probably add that Dr. C is a chiropractor who I see for back and nerve damage issues, and the talk therapy portion, a safe space to deal with the sports addiction, was an organic outgrowth of the original therapy structure). My data-flesh that had me wired in and sitting all the time had done havoc to the analogue-flesh. My copyrighted augments were demanding that I do something to remedy a situation where I was unable to be sitting and wired in all the time. Part of the treatment involved the insertion of many acupuncture needles in various parts of my body, and then having an electric current run through them for a sustained period of time. Ironically, as it was the wired augmentations that demanded this, due to my immobility at this time - one doesn't move with acupuncture needles deep within the body - I was forced away from my devices and into unmediated conversation with Dr. C about sports, celebrity sports stars, and the recent (argued) infractions by Armstrong and Rodriguez. 

Now I say "argued" because in the first place are what A-Rod and Armstrong did, or are accused of doing, the use of PEDs, HGH, and all the rest (cf. Lupica; Thompson, and Vinton) really a crime? Are they on their way, or are there real threats of jail and criminal prosecution? And in the most important sense, and despite all the rhetoric, are they really going against prevailing social norms with respect to medical enhancement? No, no, and no. What is peculiar about the "witch-hunt" of A-Rod and Armstrong - their words - is that we are undertaking it in the first place, while high-end boutique medical clinics (and internet pharmacies) offer the same treatment for analogue-flesh. Fixes for the human in posthuman; ways of keeping the human up to speed; arguably the moral equivalent, if done so with free will, of upgrading the software for ones iOS device. If the critiques of Baudrillard and Virilio are right, we seem to find nothing wrong with crippling our physical bodies and social skills by living through computers and telematic technologies, and obsess over the next upgrade that will make us (more) faster and quicker (than the other or others), while we righteously deny the same process to the flesh for those who, in Debord's description, are the most complicit in the spectacle, to the supposedly most posthuman of us - those that have become pure spectacle (Debord), pure simulation (Baudrillard), a total substitution (Virilio). But it seems that celebrities, and sports celebrities in specific haven't gone along for the ride of never-ending play of their own signifiers at the expense of doing away with the real; they were not, in Debord's words, content with "specializing in the seemingly lived"; they wanted, conversely, to specialize in the most maximally lived flesh, right down to cellular regeneration towards genetic youth, which is the strongest claim in favor of taking HGH. It looks like they were prepared to, in the case of Armstrong, engage in the "most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen" in the name of the flesh (BBC). But a doping program that can, for the most part, be legally obtained as treatment, and in the same city as A-Rod plays in and is now suspended for his "crimes" to boot (NY Vitality). This total incongruence between what is desired, sought, and obtained legally by members of their socioeconomic class, and many classes below as well, and is a direct outgrowth of the moral and ethical axiomatic of the day is why A-Rod and Armstrong are so bemused, indignant, and angry, if not in a state of outright denial that they did anything that was wrong, even while they admit, explicitly, that yes, they did what they are accused of doing: taking the drugs.

Perhaps another way is needed to look at the unprecedentedly "harsh" and "long" sentences of punishment handed out to A-Rod and Armstrong. The posthuman governing bodies of the sports of the society of the spectacle in question realize that their spectacle machines are being pushed back at. A real threat because it goes with the grain of where the rest of us, or those that can buy in at the moment, are going. And this is where the talk therapy for my sports addiction with Dr. C falls into the story. I realized that the electrified needles were telling me that I too should put the posthuman back in control of my damaged flesh; engage in a (medically copyrighted) piece of performance philosophy and offset some of the areas of possible risk that through restricted techne 23andMe® had (arguably) found.

Dr. C and I were peeved with A-Rod and Armstrong not for what they did, but what they didn't tell us. We wanted better details than half-baked admissions of moral culpability. We wanted exact details on what they'd done to keep up to their digital-flesh. Their media bodies were cultural probes, full in view, while their flesh bodies, priceless lab rats, are hidden from view (and likely to remain so due to ongoing litigation). These were, after all, big money cover-ups of (likely) the peak of posthuman science, and the lab results are now hidden behind an army of sports federations lawyers, and agents (and A-Rod's own army since he still plays); posthuman progress covered up by posthuman rules, sages, and agents of manipulation. Massive posthuman economies of spectacle, simulation, or substitution of the real putting as much force as they can bare on resurgent posthuman flesh - a celebrity flesh those economies, posthuman economies, want to see as utterly passive like Debord, but whose actions are showing unexpected posthuman alignment with the flesh.  

Why are the centers of posthumanist power concerned? Because once one sees that A-Rod and Armstrong did it, once one sees that others are doing the same legally without a fuss being made, then one can see that one can do the same; make flesh-and-blood keep up, or regrow and become more organically youthful, while OkCupid® or Grindr® data-flesh gets stuck with the now lagging Photoshopped® touchups. Which just adds to my desire to get "pumped up"; add a little of A-Rod and Armstrong's concoction to my own routine; and one of a long list of reasons to throw Nancy Reagan under the bus: to "just say yes to drugs." A desire that is tempered by the recognition that the current limits of intelligibility and iteration of subjects, the work of defining the bodies that matter that is now set by copyrighted language and copyrighted electric extensions is only being challenged within this society of the spectacle by an act that may give a feeling of unease for cause. This is because it is copyrighted genetic testing and its dataveillance and manipulation through copyrighted medical technology - the various branded PEDs, HGH treatments, and their providers - that is the tool through which the flesh enacts this biopolitical "rebellion."


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posthuman; human growth hormone; biopolitics; Lance Armstrong; Alex Rodriguez; aument.

Copyright (c) 2013 Graham Potts

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