A couple of weeks ago I came across a YouTube channel called StorrorBlog that features a group of guys* and their parkour goings-on across the world.
This combination of gymnastic techniques, balletic balance, and martial-artistic strength may not have competitive presence like traditional sports (all the team sports involving a ball or a puck) or extreme sports (surfing, skate-boarding, snowboarding), but there are organizations devoted to the cultivation of parkour skill and artistry. See USA Parkour and World Freerunning Parkour Federation.
NPR did a story a few years ago about how parkour could find itself as part of the Olympics and be modeled after the way snowboarding became included. What category would be under, though? Would it be considered outdoor gymnastics? Obstacle-course track and field?
I’m in awe; I can also see why authoritative figures aren’t so keen on it. Issues of trespassing notwithstanding, accidental death (with or without dismemberment), property damage, and unsolicited attention (to specific locations) must be considered.
And yet, why not proceed with the understanding that one’s very act of participating in parkour means that they are responsible for whatever may come to pass?
* There may be gals too but I haven’t seen enough videos to be sure.
The Fung Bros.’ video on NBA Moves got me thinking about the artistic nature of the athletic performance of basketball moves and scoring.
Even though the ultimate goal is to win by outscoring one’s opponent, it isn’t enough that the players just get the ball into the hoop as many times as possible. Methodology necessitates that players try to keep the other team from scoring by getting the ball back or “fouling” them. In baseball, the pitcher strikes out the batters; in football, the defense keeps the other team from getting another set of downs, sacks the quarterback, or intercepts the ball; in hockey and futbol, and I imagine to a similar extent basketball, each team tries to get the puck/ball to score. Hence, the back-and-forth quality of these three sports compared to baseball and football, where the former is more stationary and the latter consists of a series of stop-and-go’s.
In addition to the technique and skills required to put the ball in the hoop, though, does a player have to execute these plays with ostensibly intentional rhythmic and complex footwork? Is the footwork a byproduct of trying to get the ball close enough to the hoop to dunk? The more I watch a variety of basketball plays, the more I see artistry in the physics of that choreography no matter how (co)incidental.
Basketball game-play impresses me as being more unpredictable than football. The gridiron is a much larger stage and the fluidity of certain plays contributes to the notion that every outcome is planned. It seems that basketball invites and involves more improvisation down the court.
Sure, athletic competition is certainly not a fine (high) art form (painting, pottery, sculpting, architecture, music, opera, theatre, poetry). The activity itself, though, is a performing art as much as dance. Moreover, as televised football and mixed martial arts are very much part of the visual arts (photography, film, video, digital media), I argue that the representation of these athletic experiences, especially with an audience, is artful in their own voyeuristic physics-at-work ways. Sanctioned body trauma and sometimes in slow motion. Sweat ricochets, inertia observed, crash-test dummy whooshes, and it is a wonder why some of us like to watch adults inflict physical pain onto each other for entertainment.*
And now for some other performing arts that is just as athletic but without all the violence.
*Of course, NFL Films changed profoundly how we think about football game play vis-a-vis how we see it.
I love these songs and the music videos. I know that cheerleaders, lacrosse players, and football players are not exclusively North American “properties.” Nonetheless, I wonder about the line that separates an effective incorporation of another’s look-and-feel from satire from shameless borrowing.*
It’s harder to avoid consciously emulating others’ visual representations of themselves because their lifestyles and fashion choices are but an app and internet connection away. The disconnect for me is that the clothes and sets signify North American culture but the people in it are not North American (geo-politically speaking). It seems real but it isn’t.
* The art direction of Shinee’s “1 of 1” mv is a fantastic nod to New Jack Swing and fashion trends of the 90s. Uncut version of Troublemaker’s “Tell Me Now” mv. Psy’s “Gangnam Style” does not satirize directly American culture but because much of American popular culture is tied to excess and luxury, I thought it a fitting example — and the blog post is excellently written.
PS. Many members of Kpop groups (and likely creative staff) were born in or group up in Canada and the US, so it makes sense why they would bring a Westerner’s visual style perspective. They still have to abide by the customs of their ethnic heritage (what is considered offensive and what isn’t), so depictions of violence, sexuality, and mind-altering landscapes would necessarily be affected.