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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Thursday, February 6, 2014


For the purpose of another essay on the narrative function of violence in works about sports, promised at the end of this essay, I'll resort once more to this passage from an even earlier essay:

While there are ways in which sexual partners can attempt to "assault" one another-- ways which include, but are not confined to, rape-- sex is dominantly isothymic, in that sex usually requires some modicum of cooperation. Violence, then, dominantly conforms to Fukuyma's megalothymic mode insofar as it usually involves a struggle of at least two opponents in which one will prove superior to the other, though in rare cases fighters may simply spar with no intent of proving thymotic superiority.-- VIOLENCE *AIN'T* NUTHIN' BUT SEX MISSPELLED, PART 2.

The majority of sports-narratives, while they may deal with risks to life and limb, do not normally emphasize battles to the death.  Opponents who simply pit their skills against one another in a distanced manner, as in the various forms of racing, are not supposed to battle one another at all. Opponents who pit their skills against one another directly, as in boxing, are expected to fight within certain limits that keep the violence at a non-lethal level.  The term "blood sports" has been coined for those sports that increase the risks for participants, be they animal or human, so that the opponents not only fight but shed blood and so put their very lives at risk within the context of a direct fight.

Needless to say, almost all of these struggles do involve "proving thymotic superiority," whether they are in the direct or the distanced mode of competition.  Even purely intellectual board-games like chess involve one opponent proving superiority over another, and even in sparring matches, where the only purpose is to measure one's skills, both participants want to do their best, i.e., to win.  At the moment I can think of only one sequence, from a MASTER OF KUNG FU comic, in which duelists Shang-Chi and Leiko engage in a fluid kung-fu fight in which the participants are tranquilly above all personal striving as they exchange moves in a balletic exercise.  Most sparring-bouts, however, are all about the win, like this one:

In PROPPING PONDERINGS PT. 2 my concern was to show the contrast between Propp's categories for heroic personas, the "seeker" and the "victimized hero," with respect to two futuristic
sports-narratives, THE RUNNING MAN (1987) and THE BLOOD OF HEROES (1989).  I determined that the heroes of these respective sports-films were both "seekers," even as the heroic ensembles I compared in this essay were both "victimized heroes."  Not to put too fine a point on the matter, but in these essays my major aim has been to show that my two types of will transcend Propp's categories, as well as my own roughly related categories of "hero" and "demihero." At the end of PONDERINGS PT 2 I said that I would draw yet another hero-demihero contrast.  This one is devoted to sports-protagonists who, unlike Ben Richards and the Juggers, get drawn into extraneous life-and-death struggles while just trying to make a go of their particular sport.

At first SPEED RACER might seem to line up with what I've written of other demiheroes, for his main purpose in life is not to battle evil but to win races with his "powerful Mach 5." Nevertheless, it's the intent behind the narrative, not the conscious intent of the protagonist, that denotes the nature of his persona. And Speed, rather like the castaway-heroes of the 1999-2002 teleseries THE LOST WORLD, constantly plays the role of a greasemonkey Galahad, pitting his personal fighting skills and the fabulous gadgets of his race-car against a rogue's gallery of crooks, spies, assassins, and so on. I confess that because only a tiny amount of the original manga has been translated, I can only judge SPEED RACER from the translated TV cartoon, but I don't imagine there's a great deal of disconnect between the original manga and the anime.  Speed may be all that Speed *thinks* he needs, but viewers recognize that he functions to mount impromptu crusades against evil at the drop of a hat, rather than worrying about his personal survival.

The teleseries POKEMON, another work adapted from a Japanese anime whose manga-versions I have not read, has always been a tough nut for me to categorize. At times I felt tempted to term its Fryean mythos to be one of "comedy," given the general appearance of protagonist Ash Catchem and his various Poke-animal allies.  But I resisted this, and eventually formulated the rule that "having a "cute" or "funny" appearance-- as is the case with Underdog, Plastic Man, and the Adam West Batman-- does not necessarily denote that the character's adventures must fall into any of the "funny" categories," as demonstrated here.  I finally determined that the general context of the TV show's narrative-- which regularly involve Catchem pitting his Pok√©mon-critters against other Poke-antagonists, in generally bloodless matches-- falls into the mythos of adventure.

Still, unlike Speed Racer, Ash really does seem fixated first and foremost on his competitions.  Whenever adventure calls him to put himself or his beasties in harm's way, he does so out of a generalized sense of good will toward others.  But there is in my view no sense of "glory" in his actions, as there is the actions of Speed Racer.  Ash's adventures follow the pattern I described in EXPENDITURE ACCOUNTS PT 3 with regard to the teleseries LOST IN SPACE:

Though the Robinsons are potrayed as being willing to go to the wall to save persecuted or put-upon victims from aggressors, they only do so as a last resort, which makes them very different from the concept of the hero as a more active defender of right.  For this reason I find that the tenor of the Space Family Robinson's adventures is concerned with "persistence" first and "glory" second if at all.

So, in symmetry with PONDERINGS 2, both of these follow Propp's structure of "victimized heroes," but Speed Racer's narrative nonetheless emphasizes the "idealizing will" that manifests in "glory," while Ash Catchem's belongs to the "existential will" that manifests in "persistence."

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