Press Box Panopticon?

Ok, so it's really hard to come out and rant about anything on a night where our pop-gun offence decides it has signs of life, giving the mighty Oil a much needed 7-2 win, but some things needed to be said, especially considering we were still outshot 39-19 despite the score. I was expecting BCB to say at least something today after (likely) walking out of Joe Louis Arena with a paper bag on his head and covered in overpriced, watered down yankee piss beer, but he has blown his chance and left it up to me. This may be the post that gets me fired, but I'm willing to accept this, especially given that I'm going against the rules and traditions of my own heritage and working for free.

I'm going to go against the grain here and "praise" Mac T for throwing Penner under a bus, but please understand, dear readers, that this is kinda like reverse praise, but its not exactly a critique either. MacT did exactly what any other leader in the modern world would have done to bring about something resembling discipline. The big guy needed a wake up call, and responded with his best game of the season, and possibly his best in copper and blue...he was mean, physical, skating, going to the net and was a threat to score every time he was on the ice. He was +2, with a beauty goal, a shorthanded breakaway opportunity, creating traffic on Cog's goal and on the ice for both PPGs. That's why we pay him. Now, if he could pull his head up from the sand and do that every night....In truth, I can't believe it worked, but I also understand why it did. Mac T created a classic case of the public spectacle as a method of both punishment and deterrence. In most situations, this has been a doomed failure. Has it really failed here?

I read a lot of dense post-structural theory for what I do in school. The guy I read the most of is one Michel Foucault (photo above), who amongst other things, wrote a great big book called "Discipline and Punish." I think Mac T should think about reading it, I think Souray should think about reading it, I think K-Lowe and Penner should too. Here's the deal: Foucault basically deals with the idea of power in the prison system and many other institutions of power and control in the 18th and 19th centuries, but the ideas that he brings up are very applicable to our current situation.

Foucault argues that the public spectacle of torture was a theatrical forum which served several intended and unintended purposes for society. The intended purposes were:

* Reflecting the violence of the original crime onto the convict's body for all to see.
* Enacting the revenge upon the convict's body which the sovereign or, in this case, coach
seeks for having been injured by the crime. Foucault argues that the law was considered an extension of the sovereign's body, and so the revenge must take the form of harming the convict's body.

Some unintentional side effects of the spectacle were:

* Providing a forum for the convict's body to become a locus of sympathy and admiration.
* Creating a site of conflict between the masses and the sovereign at the convict's body. Foucault notes that public executions often led to riots in support of the prisoner-much like the media frenzy lambasting MacT for his very public roast. It could have gone either way here, really. Trust me, Coach could have very easily lost the players with this one.

Thus, he argues, the public execution was ultimately an ineffective use of the body, qualified as non-economical. It is the antithesis of the more modern concerns of the state: order. Yet, in the case of Mac T's public execution of Penner's character, Penner responds with the best game he has played all season. Hmmm. Could Foucault have been wrong? Or does a pro sports team not have the same basic institutional power structure as the modern nation state? Is a coach not the sovereign? Does the press box not feel an awful lot like the solitary confinement chamber in the Panopticon? But that is found in a new disciplinary regime, one that, like Foucault suggests, does not necessarily follow the flow of linear time, but instead evolved as something of a rupture or shift in the logic of the state. This regime, one of discipline rather than spectacle will be the subject of my next point.

Next point: As a team, the mighty Oil lack a thing called discipline. Stupid penalties are taken night after night. Sometimes the team plays with more conviction (yes, I am choosing my words both carefully and with some degree of irony to prove my own intellectual capacities to myself and myself alone. I lack discipline and have a large ego.) and the penalties don't bite them in the proverbial ass. Other nights, like Monday in Detroit, they fail, allowing the most talented opposition the opportunity to score goals seemingly at will. Why give the Wings a 5 on 3 that early in the game? Because the team lacks discipline. Why did the Oilers get called for 6 straight penalties and 7 overall in the game against the Jackets? Because the team lacks discipline. When the team lacks discipline, they are punished, usually by losing in a humiliating fashion at the hands of a more disciplined team that started their backup goalie, who happens to be the jerk that cost us the cup in 2006....but I am losing my train of thought by reliving Conks giving the puck away in that awful moment...Trauma of the Freudian variety...

Foucault's argument is that discipline creates "docile bodies", ideal for the new economics, politics and warfare of the modern age, bodies which function in factories, ordered military regiments, and winning hockey teams. But, to construct docile bodies, the disciplinary institutions must be able to observe and record the bodies they control-that is, discipline must come about without too much excessive force and through careful observation and molding of the bodies into the correct form through observation. This requires a particular form of institution, which Foucault argues, was exemplified by the previously mentioned Panopticon.

The Panopticon was the ultimate realization of a modern disciplinary institution. It allowed for constant observation characterized by what Foucault and Bentham (who is the criminologist from the 18th century who first designed the Panopticon) called an "unequal gaze"; the constant threat of observation. Perhaps the most important feature of the panopticon was that it was specifically designed so that the prisoner could never be sure whether s/he was being observed or not, like in the press box. The unequal gaze caused the internalization of disciplinary individuality, and the docile body required of its inmates, and the potential to go a bit insane. This means one is less likely to break rules or laws if they believe they are being watched, even if they are not. Thus, prison, and specifically those which follow the model of the Panopticon, provide the ideal form of modern punishment, so its eventual dominance was natural.

The unequal gaze is also a function not only of the press box for consistent breaking of the law, but also the penalty box where you are given a mandatory minimum sentence depending on the severity of the in game crime, and have to sit under the gaze of the coach, your teammates and of course the drunken fans. Too many trips to the sin bin can pave a path to the press box. Ultimately, too many undisciplined plays will cause the team to lose, creating a secondary feedback loop that could cause the sovereign (coach) to send you back to prison/press box/exile (farm team in Springfield).

Having laid out the emergence of the prison as the dominant form of punishment, Foucault devotes the rest of the book to examining its precise form and function in our society, to lay bare the reasons for its continued use, and question the assumed results of its use. I now question the results of disciplinary tactics employed by the Oilers coaching staff, especially in light of the fact that (and I really hate to go there, because Mac T is a great guy, one of the friendliest people I ever met and it pains me to have to bring this up, but...) Mac T has first hand experience with the real prison system. He knows all about the spectacle, the gaze, the fear, and the threat of violence when one is undisciplined.

Okay, that's enough of this talk for now. The bottom line is that players are going to be punished for not having enough discipline. That means either time in the press box where they suffer the humiliation or they lose games by taking stupid penalties and cause themselves to suffer the alienation and lack of respect from their teammates and peers, due to some form of basic lacking of the order of required to survive in the modern world. Stay out of the box, score goals and then we can win more games. Happy?

On the plus side, 7-2 Oilers. Maybe the threat of disciplinary action/punishment/violence lit a fire under the team's proverbial ass. I sure hope so.

Go Oilers



B.C.B. said...

I think that the Oilers were quite disciplined early in the season, and the discipline problems started on the losing streak (in Det and in Columbus it reached its peak).

I think the two ref system also has increased the effectiveness of the panopticon (in terms of the officials), since I find players less likely to retaliate behind the play.

The problem with the Oilers is not that MacT isn't watching but a lack of depth. Players like Horc, Nilsson, and Penner have not been playing well for awhile now. But there is no room to carry Schremp or Brule on the roster with the three headed monster in net. Skilled offensive players cannot sit while Huggy Bear, SMac, or Bowl-of-rice play. No matter how bad they were (till MacT got really pissed at Penner) the Oilers still have a better chance to win with Horc, Gagne, or one of them in the line up. Having more depth (at center) would likely allow MacT to sit unproductive players quicker: it is not that he lacks the will to Discipline but rather a method of punishment. A third line center with two way ability could help fix this lack (in a Lacanian meaning), bring on Mike Fisher.

Anonymous said...

One does not expect to see a reference to post-structuralism and Michel Foucault when surfing the Oiler blog-o sphere looking for commentary on the Dustin Penner/MacT situation. The thrill one feels upon this discovery ranks right up there with the first time ever experience of a young woman/girl letting you caress her breasts...... well not right up there but its close. Were you to do a post on the Oilers referencing the writings of Jacques Derrida I think the experience might even surpass it, especially if the post helped me understand what the hell he is talking about.
A couple of comments on the DP/MacT conflict. It would be a mistake to think that DP would have the same reaction to the public trashing that you or I would i.e. feelings of shame, anger, lingering resentment followed by nurturing fantasies of revenge. This kid is made of different stuff than most, not better or worse, but very different. Have a close look at the interviews he's done since the trashing and notice his calm, his lack of defensiveness and the twinkle in his eye when in response to an interviewer's follow-up question to DP's very brief answers :"Do you think less is more in this situation. The less said the better?", DP responds with a smile and a twinkle in his eye, "You're catching on aren't you..(pause) I'm saving it for the book I'm going to write".
This kid had to deal with public rejection three years running when each time he tried out for his small town junior teams he was cut during training camp. And this during adolescence when acceptance in the group feels like its essential to survival. Public failure/rejection is something he has learned to cope with. Like most of us he would rather be loved than reviled but he can cope with the latter if he has to.
Randy Carlisle in Anaheim once told a reporter he needed an electric cattle prod to motivate DP. DP loves to play hockey with the emphasis on play. He genuinely, and sensibly in my view, does not see playing hockey as a serious profession worthy of getting one's knickers in a twist about... to be enjoyed yes. Coaches and fans sense this in him and become incensed ....."This lazy lug is being paid 4 1/4 mil per year and he doesn't give a shit." ... and he doesn't at least not in the sense that they do, so to get seriously intense about the game has always been his biggest I said he loves to play and sees hockey as play. Have a look at the Anaheim on-ice Stanley Cup celebrations or any of the goals he has scored. His understated response always seems to say "that was nice". To survive he will have to learn to fake more consistently and more convincingly that he too thinks winning hockey games is the most important thing in life and worthy of great sacrifice. Or as George Burns (look it up young 'un's )once said, " The most important thing in show business is sincerity. Once you learn to fake that you've got it made."

shepso said...

Thanks for that..nice to see that aside from us, there's a few Oilers fans out there who like the integration of academic douchebaggery and hockey goodness. BCB's posts usually have that in spades, and are generally much better than mine. As far as the Derrida is concerned, that's on my list of things to do.
Thanks for reading!