Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Context of Dope in Cycling

The use of drugs and blood enhancement techniques in the highest levels of competitive cycling has been an almost daily feature of the sports media for some time and there's even been some discussion of its place in the more  popular team sports.  Why does anyone care?  First of all, use of proscribed drugs by athletes is against the rules in most sports.  And why is that?  There are two reasons generally given for this:  1. Dopers have an unfair advantage over "clean" athletes, in that pharmaceuticals are enhancing their abilities.  Ergo the best athlete may lose to an inferior because of drug use.  2.  Many performance enhancing drugs produce negative health outcomes.  Like early death.

But cycling, and other sports, don't operate in a vacuum.  They're simply part of the cultural milieu in which we're immersed.  And performance enhancement is everywhere.  Take music, for instance.  A vocalist records a song in a studio.  The equipment used for this is capable of altering the song in many possible ways, screening out unwanted  frequencies, adding others, modifying in it ways that the recording engineer hopes will make the final product more popular with listeners.  This is common and no one denies it, though it's not emphasized either.  And often live performances use modified recordings to supply the vocals while the performers "lip sync".  You might say, "So what?"  But this is cheating in an even grander sense than PEDs in cycling because of the money involved.  A singer with access to electronic assistance has a huge advantage over one that is forced to rely on their own talents.  CD sales, I Tunes downloads, concert appearances, all hinge not on individual vocal talents but on the ability of a sound engineer.  ASCAP doesn't care, however, if its member performers are stoned, engage in blood doping, or electronically modify their artistic endeavors.  Just so long as the money rolls in.  And the consumers that supply that money don't seem to care if the music is genuine or an electronic facsimile that the performer can't actually produce, even when sober.

Photography, a technological process designed to preserve history, has relied on post-shutter modifications to change that history since its infancy.  Negatives and prints were altered from the beginning to convey an altered reality.  Soviet Politburo figures that became victims of the purges were air-brushed out of group photos.  Technological development of software like Photoshop makes the likelihood that any photograph is a portrayal of reality increasingly unlikely.  However, there does seem to be a limit to how far a photographer can go in at least some situations.  Digital modifications are even more spectacular in the motion picture industry, where computer-generated cartoons have replaced their hand-painted predecessors, live actors are mingled with special effects and the most advanced features consist almost entirely of computerized visuals, a total denial of reality.  Portrait painters have always made an attempt to flatter their subjects by enhancing their appearance. Playboy magazine centerfolds are the product of artistic license.

What about cosmetic surgery?  The orthodontics industry?  Fashion, itself?  Isn't a large part of the way people dress designed to enhance their prospects for success?  In literature authors employ research assistants and ghost writers that get no public recognition for their contributions, similar to bike mechanics.
Screen plays are dissected and modified by re-write men in the often vain hope that something presentable will be produced.

None of this is meant as an apology for PEDs in sports.  It's simply to point out that cheating in one form or another is standard operating procedure in all walks of life, not just sports.

1 comment:

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