Fighting in the Age Of Loneliness
November 27, 2018 6:18 PM   Subscribe

Fighting in the Age of Loneliness (previously) is a feature length documentary series about the history of MMA from a political and cultural perspective, made "for MMA fans, people who don’t care about MMA, and people who feel that it’s a stupid bloodsport for idiots and assholes." The series was written and narrated by Felix Biederman (Chapo Trap House, Carl Diggler), directed and produced by Jon Bois (17776, Breaking Madden, more). Here is the cast of characters. A sampling of the topics covered thus far: Anderson Silva's jell-o leg; samurai honor; the invention of Ju Jitsu and Judo; the Gracie family; Ronald Reagan's attempt to primary Gerald Ford in 1976; the birth, decline, and eventual sale of the Ultimate Fighting Championship; the rise of P.C. culture in a newly corporatized America. Content warning: This series contains depictions of graphic displays of violence.

So far, the first two episodes are live, with three more to be released this Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

Chapter I: The invention of fighting for money (24:28) "We begin with the legendary encounters between UFC champions Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman, the touchstones of this modern era of fighting. How did we get here? The origins of this sport trace back to centuries ago, when a 5’2, 90-pound young man named Kano Jigoro revolutionized martial arts forever."

Chapter II: The unwashed masses clamor for weird men brutalizing each other (18:21) "The 1990s saw the introduction of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which quickly proved hugely popular within a certain demographic. Why then? Why did these unwashed masses suddenly clamor for these weird men brutalizing each other? And could it possibly survive within a newly sanitized, bloodless, corporate America?"
posted by JimBennett (37 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
You had me at “Jon Bois.”
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:24 PM on November 27, 2018 [11 favorites]


I'm not familiar with any of this stuff, but after a few minutes in it seems like some bizarre mash up of Adam Curtis and Sports Center. I'm in.
posted by gwint at 6:34 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Why did these unwashed masses suddenly clamor for these weird men brutalizing each other?


Boxing as a popular spectator sport has been around forever. Wanting to see weird men brutalizing each other has been part of human society at least since Ancient Rome.


Why now?


He says a lot about the social psyche, which may be relevant, but it seems the simplest arguments are (1) the expansion and profitability of Cable TV as a pay-per-view sporting outlet and (2) the critical mass of adults with disposable cash that had grown up since the martial arts craze really took hold in the US in 70s and 80s.
posted by darkstar at 6:56 PM on November 27, 2018 [9 favorites]


i really enjoyed the plot twist at the end of chapter 2
posted by JimBennett at 7:28 PM on November 27, 2018


I remember watching UFC 1-8(?) with my brother on an nth-generation VHS tape. I liked it because it felt like something underground and new. I didn't really watch boxing or martial arts, but I was swept up in the search for the "best" style. I think one Gracie or another won all of those early fights; part of the fun was watching them display agility and just destroy some expert in a rigid style.

I was a sucker for any "underground" or weird import tape that crossed my path. Part of that was the rarity of such things pre-Amazon/eBay/YouTube.

Meanwhile we're at UFC 299 or something and people will pay $30 to watch it on TV, at a bar.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 7:31 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


I'm not going to watch the documentary (I guess "WTFD" in MeFi parlance), but I'm a little confused about this statement:

And could it possibly survive within a newly sanitized, bloodless, corporate America?

UFC was founded in 1993. The top movie in 1993 was Jurassic Park, a family movie about dinosaurs eating people. Two of the top TV shows of the year, released that year, were Homicide: Life on the Streets and NYPD Blue, and Howard Stern had his own TV show. Two of the top video games released that year were Mortal Kombat II, a game about ripping out your enemy's spine, and Doom, a game about making your enemies explode into giblets. The top musicians of the year included Dr. Dre, 2Pac, Rage Against the Machine, and Ice Cube.

The idea that corporate American entertainment was sanitized and bloodless doesn't really track... Unless maybe you're the sort who has an axe to grind about "the rise of P.C. culture." (Incidentally, 1993 is when articles bemoaning "political correctness" really started taking off.)
posted by ejs at 7:55 PM on November 27, 2018 [13 favorites]


Can I also just say how tickled I am at seeing an Internet comment I made was “favorited 1 time, recently by some loser“? XD
posted by darkstar at 8:10 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


The idea that corporate American entertainment was sanitized and bloodless doesn't really track... Unless maybe you're the sort who has an axe to grind about "the rise of P.C. culture." (Incidentally, 1993 is when articles bemoaning "political correctness" really started taking off.)

ejs, They directly address this in Chapter II. I'm not sure why you're set against watching it - aside from the violence, which is very graphic at times. It's astoundingly well done and thought provoking, as most Jon Bois projects tend to be. Give it a shot, I think you'll enjoy it.
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 8:24 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


Felix and Bois?
This might be good.
Is it produced in google maps?

I kid, I'll check it out.
posted by lkc at 8:45 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Man when I was a kid and all i had done was karate, I was just becoming a teen when these first UFC videos started coming out. I remember watching them in disbelief. Yelling at the tv! Why is fred ettish just lying there getting his ass beat? He's supposed to be a 7th degree black belt! wtf? is this fake? but no, those injuries were not fake. It blew my mind. Fast forward about 10 years and I'm rolling with wrestlers and guys who trained with one of the graices. I can't believe that those first UFCs were really popular tho because the fights were usually just heavily 1-sided and any close matches (severn vs grace mainly) were intollerably long and not very... visually stunning.
(read:boring, even if you knew what was happening, technically, and could appreciate it).

Gracies in action videos are a lot more fun if you like 1-sided beatdowns with little or no bloodshed.
Just guys surprised they're getting choked out.

darkstar: ;)
posted by some loser at 9:00 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm a little disappointed, to be honest. It's good, but not the Jon Bois I was looking for, and with a tendency to oversimplify that is less present in the best Pretty Good and Chart Party stuff. The fact that Bois didn't write it shows.
posted by pykrete jungle at 9:12 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Yeah it's definitely more Biederman and the narration is a bit uneven in tone. I like the (slightly Adam Curtis-esque) discursiveness, though.
posted by atoxyl at 9:38 PM on November 27, 2018


The idea that corporate American entertainment was sanitized and bloodless doesn't really track... Unless maybe you're the sort who has an axe to grind about "the rise of P.C. culture." (Incidentally, 1993 is when articles bemoaning "political correctness" really started taking off.)

That exact observation about the beginning of the use of the term "political correctness" is in the documentary, and Felix is too smart to buy in to the idea that anti-PC is a real fight worth having, but his explanation of why it became such a thing then is a bit handwavey and unsatisfactory. I think the observation that the early UFC was part of a wave of hyperviolent entertainment along with the likes of Mortal Kombat and DOOM would have been worth including, and one easy context to mention for that would have been the P.M.R.C. and 80s moral panics, especially since they were just talking about Reagan right before that.

Though Jurassic Park is an odd inclusion, to me - that seems like an example of a more sanitized sort of violence.
posted by atoxyl at 9:51 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


The idea that corporate American entertainment was sanitized and bloodless doesn't really track... Unless maybe you're the sort who has an axe to grind about "the rise of P.C. culture." (Incidentally, 1993 is when articles bemoaning "political correctness" really started taking off.)

the documentary is making a much more nuanced and complicated point than your reading of it's summary entails. i encourage you to watch episode 2 if this topic really interests you, because i am not going to be able to explain it as well as the doc does (and pretty much all of what we're specifically discussing is covered in the first 10 or 11 minutes). but to try my best to summarize: Felix isn't talking about the pop culture of the era during that section but specifically the professional and political climate. episode 2 starts with a discussion of the Reagan/Thatcher 80s which saw much of the social safety net removed which "the west once felt protected it's people from the worst excesses of their own systems." then the culture of the 90s came along promoting a new world built on tolerance while the Clinton crime bill put a huge number of minorities into the prison system and our economic system continued funneling capital upwards. the safety net was still gone, but there was now an air of respectability and progress to the way the systems were taking advantage of us.

i think the entire doc is building to a point about capitalism creating a class of lonely, isolated people even in an era where technically we're all more connected than ever. the entire Gen X aesthetic was a proto version of this: people trying to find meaning outside of lifeless, listless corporate jobs. i think you're right that MMA and Doom and 2Pac all sort of come from the same cultural wave, and i think in this episode felix is trying to pinpoint where that wave came from, specifically through the lens of MMA.

Felix is too smart to buy in to the idea that anti-PC is a real fight worth having, but his explanation of why it became such a thing then is a bit handwavey and unsatisfactory.

i do kind of agree, but what he mentioned about the blurring of personal and work lives really rang true to me and again is a major contributor to the isolation people in this country feel. i think right now felix is laying the groundwork for the central idea of the doc, and all of these little loose ends will hopefully be tied up by the time the series concludes.
posted by JimBennett at 10:00 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


Perhaps it is good to, uh, "WTFD"—as you say—before setting off a derail.
posted by standardasparagus at 10:12 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


I think the other thing it may be doing is tracing how the UFC itself went from this genuinely crazy thing nobody had seen to being just another billion dollar sports juggernaut - while still turning people's body parts to Jello without even paying most of them that much of course.
posted by atoxyl at 10:20 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Or, man, wasn't that when ECW was big, too? Followed by Vince McMahon co-opting the brutal stuff? I have a feeling he might get mentioned at some point, though.
posted by atoxyl at 10:24 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


The origins of this sport trace back to centuries ago, when a 5’2, 90-pound young man named Kano Jigoro revolutionized martial arts forever.

This is very misleading because Kano is not an ancient martial artist. He died in 1938 after having founded the modern sport of judo. Surely the producers know this and just were using some hyperbole.
posted by MovableBookLady at 10:57 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


(tiny derail.. does anyone know where to find the Pretty Good about the near nuclear holocaust in the early 80s? It was taken down due to copyright shortly after upload and is my white whale.)
posted by wibari at 1:26 AM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


This is very misleading because Kano is not an ancient martial artist. He died in 1938 after having founded the modern sport of judo. Surely the producers know this and just were using some hyperbole.

i think this is just an error by whoever wrote the summaries, the documentary’s timeline starts in the 1400s. Kano was born in 1860 though, so it was a century and a half ago.
posted by JimBennett at 6:03 AM on November 28, 2018


I'm really the only one not to know (before clicking) what MMA was?
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:06 AM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


and Doom, a game about making your enemies explode into giblets

Well, they did kind of deserve it.
posted by Naberius at 6:29 AM on November 28, 2018


Kerry Howley's Thrown has lain on my to-read pile for the last several years. I haven't gotten to it yet and I'm not all that interested in MMA, but I note it here for anyone who might be.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:52 AM on November 28, 2018


Chapter III: The yakuza find something to do with their money (19:52)
Japan’s garish, spectacular Pride Fighting Championships captured the imaginations of people beleaguered by an economic recession. Meanwhile in America, those struggling to process devastating and endless warfare suddenly rediscovered the cathartic refuge of competitive fighting: one person hit another, the other fell, no one died, and nothing about it lied to us.
posted by JimBennett at 10:19 AM on November 28, 2018


Pretty great, so far (I've seen up to episode two). Covers a lot of ground, and answers a few questions I've wondered about the early days of MMA.

It does have a slight problem of oversimplifying/not-quite-getting-it-right. There a few details (simplifying/mislabeling the combatants and details of the Sengoku Jidai, for example) that does make sense in the sense of trying to present an overall narrative, but it does make the mistake of propagating the "Zuffa Myth", where Zuffa takes credit for "cleaning up the sport" (creating a unified ruleset, as well as prohibiting moves like head-butting and eye-gouging)

SEG did a lot of work to get the Unified Rules of MMA approved by various state athletic commissions well before Dana White and Zuffa purchased them.
posted by ishmael at 10:39 AM on November 28, 2018


but it does make the mistake of propagating the "Zuffa Myth", where Zuffa takes credit for "cleaning up the sport" (creating a unified ruleset, as well as prohibiting moves like head-butting and eye-gouging)

It's funny that you say that because I'm pretty sure I saw them say something online about "taking on the Zuffa Myth." From what I've seen in the first two parts it seems like their angle on that is to suggest that both the early difficulties of the UFC in "going legit" and its eventual success were political and somewhat shady.
posted by atoxyl at 1:12 PM on November 28, 2018


Yeah, in part two, the documentary seems to intimate from their phrasing that is was largely the efforts of Zuffa that cemented the Unified Ruleset, which is not true. Many others contributed significantly to that process.
posted by ishmael at 1:53 PM on November 28, 2018


Instead I went down the Breaking Madden rabbithole again and laughed and laughed at Jon Bois going all Event Horizon on NHL 13
posted by Existential Dread at 8:56 PM on November 28, 2018


Instead I went down the Breaking Madden rabbithole again and laughed and laughed at Jon Bois going all Event Horizon on NHL 13

And here in turn is one of my favorite Jon Bois gems: the trailer to the season finale of Breaking Madden set to Godspeed You! Black Emperor's "Dead Flag Blues"
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 7:55 AM on November 29, 2018


Chapter IV: As the world fell apart, the only magic was in the cage (25:40)
As Pride Fighting fought for its life in Japan, the UFC enjoyed unprecedented popularity in the wake of America’s own recession. The golden age of mixed martial arts had finally arrived, ushered in by the some of the most captivating personalities and rivalries the sport has ever seen. There was no magic out there in the world. The magic was in the fights.
posted by JimBennett at 11:47 AM on November 29, 2018


I'm going to throw this in because I found it particularly insightful listening after watching the first two episodes but the Waypoints podcast shared some thoughts about this series here (coverage starts around the 17min mark): https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/pa537v/finally-we-have-an-excuse-to-explain-evangelion

They're broadly positive about it but do pick up on some of the surprising near-idolisation of the Gracies by Biederman as sort of self-driven bootstraps "just need to work hard enough" liberals, which definitely struck an odd note when I was listening to it. They're also decent at digging into some of the handwavey theorising on anti-PC stuff brought up in the series (which atoxyl mentions above) and how while it's probably not wrong in the early days, it does leave out the many current women and queer folks who are into MMA.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 6:23 AM on November 30, 2018


They're broadly positive about it but do pick up on some of the surprising near-idolisation of the Gracies by Biederman as sort of self-driven bootstraps "just need to work hard enough" liberals, which definitely struck an odd note when I was listening to it.

I guess I'll have to listen to it because I don't quite get what you mean here. He may admire the Gracies' accomplishments as fighters but he makes it very clear that the story of BJJ isn't really a bootstraps story.

it does leave out the many current women and queer folks who are into MMA.

It was sort of a nice touch that their hypothetical post-2008 fan was a young woman but they haven't got into women in MMA at all yet - though I assume Rousey and the following era at least will make an appearance in the last part.
posted by atoxyl at 9:11 AM on November 30, 2018


Chapter V: Someyimes we feel a little self-conscious about our dumb sport (30:48)
This is our stupid, violent spectacle sport for freaks and assholes that’s as legitimate as any other sport in the world. At least, it was ours at some point. The UFC has spent the 2010s sacrificing much of its magic in its desperation for mainstream legitimacy. This sport once transcended our world. Now, it is our world.
posted by JimBennett at 11:00 AM on November 30, 2018


Just finished it. I don't know enough about the UFC to know how accurate Biederman's analysis is but I thought the last segment was particularly well done.
posted by atoxyl at 1:36 AM on December 2, 2018


In the end, I feel like this was a fascinating documentary about the rise of MMA (as an outsider I can't speak to the accuracy of the reporting, just to the quality of the narrative flow-- they told a great story) but fell short as some kind of grand unifying theory of how it was connected to the major political developments of the past half century. A certain percentage of the population have always loved to watch people fight, probably starting with a bunch of guys in mastodon singlets. I don't think you needed the financial crisis, or Obama, or Trump to explain a generational shift to a slightly modified version of the previously sanctioned way guys pummeled each other in a ring.

I had no idea how international MMA was in both its formation and current scope, which was really interesting, as was the fact that it has always drawn from all these different fighting styles and traditions (even though, duh, its right in the name) which for the first few decades made it fresh and exciting but now has supposedly blended into something more technical and potentially boring (?)

Ultimately for me, the shit is just too gruesome. Like every moment of athleticism and skill shown by flying kicks and lightning fast jabs is countered by a guy pinned to the floor getting punched in the face a dozen times before the ref does anything. When does it go from enjoying a sport with some violence to enjoying watching others suffer? The last line of the doc is "For the rest of your life, touch gloves and fight"-- after we watch a dude get punched in the head one hundred times.
posted by gwint at 9:00 AM on December 2, 2018


You've reminded me of the moment where the narration suggests that fighting fans don't feel so bad about it these days because they know it's not worse than football. Because I thought - that very well might be true, psychologically, but plenty of people think they're both stupid blood sports, now.

On the other hand, there is something about a lot of fighting fans I know that I have to respect, which is that a lot of them have participated in some kind of combat sport themselves. I'm not one hundred percent sure but I think Felix Biederman is one of those people.

The last line of the doc is "For the rest of your life, touch gloves and fight"-- after we watch a dude get punched in the head one hundred times.

Well, the intended implication is - whatever your fight is in life you're probably going to lose, you're probably going to get your ass kicked trying, but you have to go out there and do it anyway, right? But the extent to which the symbolism works depends on the extent to which you see anything honorable in whatever drives those guys to stand out there and beat the hell out of each other.
posted by atoxyl at 11:23 AM on December 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Jon Bois went on Chapo (Fanfare self-link). In the episode they go into more about some of the weirder personalities that grew up in and around the sport especially Jon Jones whose existence I somehow managed to miss entirely before seeing the doc.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:09 AM on December 3, 2018


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