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Monday, January 9, 2012

Moneyball: The Order of Seduction and Challenge OR The Order of Production and Accumulation

Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill
The flashbacks of Billy Beane as a child, a young baseball player in high school, etc are shown in the order in which Beane/Pitt remembers them. While we may live our life linearly, we remember it in clusters.(Reconstruction - Josephine Hart)

As a child we see the joy and thrill in Billy's eyes. Playing. Then his child's uniform that makes him so proud. Little League probably. His doubt at signing so young with a full scholarship to Stamford in hand, the worry lines in his face that will deepen as he ages.

If you have ever loved baseball in any way, spent a great deal of time planning around games, then you will know the pure seduction of the game. Playing as a child puts you in Baudrillard's Order of Seduction and Challenge. It is a time you will always treasure, and in seeing this film, it all comes back, along with the feelings.

In the film we watch the great former Yankee Justice, now on the downward curve of his career. He is bitter. No wonder. A love of his life is coming to an end as it does for all of them. It's a terrible loss. Justice stands there and practices hitting a mechanical pitcher that keeps throwing the ball at him, keeping in shape, trying to maintain his edge as long as he can. But now we observe Justice in the Order of Production and Exchange, no longer in the Order of Seduction and Challenge. And this is a sad moment, a real moment, a Baudrillardian moment.

This moment will happen to all of us, unless we reflect on it carefully.

An object does not exist until and unless it is observed. - William Burroughs

This moment came very soon to Billy Beane, the boy of such great promise who couldn't deliver. Brad Pitt enlightens us as he reveals his superior intelligence to us. An intelligence that perhaps wanted more than just physical expertise and eye hand coordination in playing a game? He knows when destiny opens that window to him in the form of Pete/Jonah Hill, the recent Yale graduate, who has invented a mathematical model for predicting the value of undervalued players. He gets on base being the mantra

And so begins the change in the Dominating Discourse of major league scouting. Gone completely now the Order of Seduction and Challenge as baseball enters the Order of Production and Exchange, a mathematical calculation spreadsheet that determines who gets chosen.
Joltin' Joe DiMaggio

Will winning games ever replace the thrill of seeing DiMaggio in motion on the field or at the plate? Or watching the aged Satchel Paige come in as relief pitcher for the Indians at home in Cleveland in 1953? Finally in the big leagues at last.

Young Satchel Paige

By Saam Philadelphia Sports Announcer
Or the Phillies' Whiz Kids, or Bobby Feller the first $100,000 check in baseball? Or By Saam's excitement on radio and then TV as "It's going! It's going! It's over the fence!"  

In  Connie Mack Stadium at Shibe Park. No, I cannot even remember 

who won the games I watched when I saw these players. Nor I bet did 

Hemingway when he wrote Old Man and the Sea. This model is

going to implode the game just as Scummit is imploding the 
Hollywood machine. Unless the personalities remain intact, as is seen at the end of the movie. Let us pray.

Philip Seymour Hoffman
Pitt of course is remarkable in this film. But then he always is, after being used as eye candy when young with his self-described "wonder-bread look". 

Seymour Hoffman is that special character actor who always surprises without surprising us. How does he do it!

Connie Mack
Connie Mack was the original owner and mastermind of the Philadelphia Athletics, now the Oakland Athletics. I cannot forgive them for leaving for the West Coast. They played at Shibe Park, later renamed Connie Mack Stadium in honor of the original.

Shibe Park - Connie Mack Stadium
Billy Beane received the "gift" of a large contract offer when just out of high school.
Has he given the "counter-gift" that will destroy baseball
as Baudrillard gave Foucault the "counter gift"
with his book Forget Foucault.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Review: Moneyball; Foucault and the Dominating Discourse;The CUT

Moneyball is not an art film, an Oscar film, a best anything film. What it is is a "Foucauldian CUT" about the Discourse of baseball. Just like Warhohl's Campbell Soup Can in art historical criticism and Stephenie Meyer's Twilight in the history of sexuality.

The Foucauldian grid of power/knowledge so revealed and concealed in Ides of March is front and center in Moneyball. The grid is revealed clearly in the Discourse. In one of the first scenes we see Billy Beane/Brad Pitt in a manager meeting with his field coaches. They have lost their three major players and must rebuild their team with less than a million dollars, a quarter of a million dollars to be exact for the Oakland A's who will be up against Boston, the Yankees, etc, the multi-million dollar clubs. They have been the farm team for the big players. And isn't Hollywood the same. The independents develop the unknown stars who win awards, and the big studios grab them. and then ruin them in some franchise or CGI dumb fuck film or other.

Agnes Martin - a visual power/knowledge grid
So we listen to the Discourse of the general manager and his under managers. These men know baseball. They have often been players themselves when younger. Including Billy Beane whose backstory we get in bits and pieces of flashback. Handled very well I think.

They talk about how they throw, how they hit, how they play, whether they have ugly girlfriends (men who have ugly girlfriends lack confidence) and so on. This folks is the Dominating Discourse of locker room coach picking new talent to recruit.

It is physical talk, psychological talk, interpretive talk, theoretical talk. It goes round and round like picking a deck chair on the Titantic. This is what the Dominating Discourse sounds like in any field of study. It is the Foucauldian Grid of power/knowledge in linguistic action. When you are in it, you are like the goldfish in the water, in the bowl.

Beane/Pitt keeps saying they don't have the money to compete, that they must "think different". What does thinking different mean? How? Impossible within the Discourse. This is what Foucault spent his life doing. Teaching us to think differently. To follow Nietzsche and think genealogically. Thinking genealogically, says Baudrillard, and I agree, is the ONLY way to think.

Beane/Pitt goes to a higher up meeting to bargain and meets a young man, a very fat young man, whom he talks to aggressively. Jonah Hill/Pete is a math and stat wizard recently graduated from Yale and he has developed a model for picking talent. Mathematically. With spreadsheets. Beane/Pitt goes with him all the way.

And the managers' Discourse begins to change as Beane/Pitt tells them what they are gonna do now. They argue, dismiss, but Beane is the General Manager with the authority, so subterfuge and undermining begins. Seymour Hoffman is the field manager who is most articulate and stubborn, refusing to do it. Pitt begins to trade his players out from under him to force him.

The team Pitt/Beane and Jonah/Pete have assembled must be used for the purpose they assembled them for, not for the whim and purpose of the field managers.

Ignaz Semmelweis
I digress here to discuss the same Discourse roadblock concerning women's childbirth. Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis was a Hungarian doctor saying that doctors should wash their hands with antiseptic before assisting in childbirth. A furor akin to the managers in Moneyball erupted. This is what happens when a change in the Discourse begins to occur.

...statements like Dr. Charles Meigs', a leading obstetrician and teacher from Philadelphia: “Doctors are gentlemen, and gentleman’s hands are clean”, were the attitude of the time. So women continued to die in larger numbers when male doctors assisted them in hospitals, but less so when midwives did, or when they gave birth at home. Such is the power of the Dominating Discourse. Semmelweis was committed to an asylum and died at 47 in an asylum. He could not prove his assertions.

A Discourse is composed of words and they often kill.

Foucault: People know what they say. Frequently they know why they say what they say. What they don't know is what they say does.

As the Oakland Athletics go on a winning streak the likes of which have not been seen in a very long time: 20 games in a row! Resonating beautifully with that subtle and marvelous book by Paul Auster The Music of Chance.

Beane/Pitt is offered a contract with Boston for 12 million, the highest offer any general manager has ever been offered or received. And along with that check, the Boston CEO tells him:

The game has changed. The older ones who keep on in the old way are finished. They are the dinosaurs.  Baseball will be done according to your model from now on. What you have done with a quarter of a million against millions to be spent on a team by us and by the Yankees, to beat us and show us, has changed the game.

And this is the "FOUCAULDIAN CUT"! In just a few sentences the Dominating Discourse has changed. And as Foucault has told us it can change with lightening speed.

Kuhn - The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
It is a cousin to Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It is different. Kuhn has demonstrated with Pasteur that change does occur in scientific paradigms, but it is slow as the older dinosaurs in power must die out.  Reading Kuhn through Foucault it is the Discourse that must die out, the power/knowledge grid in any given field that must change. And Discourses do not change in all fields at once. It seems like a meteor hit the dinosaurs though. An EVENT coming from "elsewhere" unpredictable, unplanned, unprogrammed, unprecidented, an aberration.

At the end we are shown 2 Events. Seymour Hoffman sends in a pinch hitter. The Oakland A's have had an 11 home run lead towards their 20 game in a row winning streak. Now they are tied 11-11. The pinch hitter chosen for exactly that by the stats, hits the winning home run for a 12 -11 win for the A's. Almost an Event except that it had been predicted by the stats. Then Jonah/Pete shows Beane/Pitt a film. An overly heavy player hits and runs to the base and then slides back not knowing he has hit a home run. Astonished he runs around the bases. This is the Event described by Foucault.

Seymour Hoffman is so excellent in every film he does. He is always Seymour Hoffman and always the character he plays. In the same way Humphrey Bogart inhabited his character and was still Humphrey Bogart. No matter how small the part, he owns it.

Brad Pitt does not look healthy. He has aged far too much in such a short time. Nicotine is taking its toll on him.