If America were a prescription medication, the TV spot would go something like this: a 70-year-old man running down the beach pulling a kite imprinted with the word ASS. A small child at the wheel of an SUV, his sandaled feet dangling over the pedals and a can of Red Bull in his hand. A Dalmatian puppy, expectant-eyed, barking joyfully into its cell-phone headset. Soaring hosannas of lite metal, and then the slogan: America. Because your comfort means everything. Finally, as the imagery climaxes with a montage of lake views, skydivers, apple blossoms, and smiling post-coital women, a low voice, talking very fast: “America is not for everybody. If you have a strong commitment to reality, ask your doctor before taking America. Possible side effects of America include: road rage, depersonalization, free-floating anxiety, compulsive blogging, gas, hives, and addiction to Internet pornography.”
VIDEO: Kimbo Slice vs. Sean Gannon
This is a dangerous year for America. Next year will be worse. But look at us — spaced out by the everyday, lightheaded with triviality. Can it be a coincidence, I ask rhetorically, that we have all of a sudden become very interested in watching highly trained men smack the shit out of each other? In choke-outs, elbow strikes, and roundhouse kicks to the head? Behold the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Octagon — the caged canvas, with blood spatters by Jackson Pollock, around which bazillions of Spike TV viewers are ringed in distantly baying terraces like a coliseum made of bong smoke. Is this the temple of the end? I say no. There are those who will tell you that Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), or Ultimate Fighting, is a symptom of imperial decline — Jessica Simpson on steroids. I tell you that, far from being a symptom, it is the beginnings of an antidote.
It’s no accident that the breakthrough MMA figure of the hour is Kimbo Slice, whose three-round fight with James Thompson on May 31 was the first MMA event to be broadcast on network television. Frowning, tonsured, humped with muscle, bearded like a pirate or a great Victorian, Slice is a figure of nearly cartoonish menace. If the UFC is raw, Slice is still on the bone: he made his name not by diligently wrestling his way through the ranks but by knocking people out, on camera, in parking lots, back yards, and private gyms, and then throwing the footage up on YouTube. Each of these productions is a viral-marketing mini-masterpiece: sturdy narrative, lightning pay-off. On an asphalt expanse behind what looks like a boat warehouse, with the veiled sleek hulls of speedboats all around, Slice takes on an overweight man called Afro Puff, and then another overweight man called Big Mac. His effect on them is Tyson-esque — a psychic juggernaut. They sink to their knees, appalled: these blows, this aggression, have terrible implications. Afro Puff takes a few shots and then goes into a deep inscrutable funk, half-turning from Slice and refusing to take his hands out of his pockets. “That’s it, man?” taunt Slice’s handlers. “That’s it?” Big Mac, down on one knee, snorting like a drugged bull, is more hopelessly macho. “Get up, dog,” says Slice with tender magnanimity, offering him a hand. “I ain’t no fucking pussy, man!” blurts Big Mac, struggling to his feet, only to get flattened again.