“I’m an old broken-down piece of meat and I deserve to be all alone” — Mickey Rourke in ‘The Wrestler.’
You’d be crazy to call them a chicken to their faces, but broadly speaking, a UFC champion is just the winning rooster in a cock-fight. This is why a recent call to bring UFC themed programs into public schools should give one pause. Doug Ford may not know who Margaret Atwood is, but I bet he knows all about Randy (the “Natural”) Couture and Chuck (the “Iceman”) Liddell. Toronto’s esteemed city councillor is recommending that Toronto Schools look at a program that creates links between UFC (ultimate fighting championship) and school kids (see link below).
I have to admit, I’m of 2 minds here. On the one hand, I am a strong supporter of martial arts for kids. When I’m at the YMCA, I love seeing kids running around in their little karate suits, practising their flying kicks and katas, and crushing on their senseis. I was one of those kids, and martial arts did a lot for my self-esteem. I was also kind of excited when MMA fighting came to Canada, and I’m quite prepared to shell out some cash to go see a fight for myself. On the other hand, I also see how UFC fetishizes male violence and a caveman-style struggle for dominance (or perhaps the jockeying for status evidenced among our primate cousins). It’s a cock-fight writ large in which macho men give it all they’ve got in order to establish their spot in the pecking order. In the same way that beauty pageants make a spectacle out of selecting for the “fittest” females, UFC glorifies the macho competition for alpha status by turning it into a major mass media event.
Moreover, just as we see beauty pageants over-emphasising the importance of women’s physical attractiveness, UFC reinforces a stereotypical and limiting conception of masculinity. Namely, manliness is depicted as consisting merely of physical prowess and aggression. However, like the winning rooster in a cock-fight, any sense of superiority that can be won in such fights is largely an illusion. Socially speaking, for the vast majority of people, traits such as beauty or fighting prowess only get one so far in life. I would hazard that even champion fighters are but pawns of much greater corporate interests, while they have a grossly underwhelming impact on the sorts of socially significant decision-making that goes on in modern industrialized societies. Spartacus aside, these guys, these UFC fighters, they don’t influence modern policy any more than your average gladiator influenced the Roman senate.
Is this really a conception of success that we would want to be emphasising in our public school system? For one thing, I would predict that such a program will largely alienate young women. Apart from this, it valorizes a social role that is in reality, fairly limited. Even the fact that UFC programs are currently directed at at-risk (aka “poor”) youth worries me. It seems to reinforce the notion that if you’re low in the hierarchy to begin with, the best you can hope for is celebrity status based on your physical traits, minus any real empowerment. Moreover, and here’s the clincher, if you stop winning, your bloodied and broken body goes into the trash while your masters go shopping for a new bird.