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COCKFIGHTING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
A simulated fight to the death might settle this age-old debate in the Bayou State
Friday, July 21, 2006
By Doug MacCashStaff writer
To cockfight or not to cockfight, that is the perennial question in the Bayou State. Again this session, the state Legislature declined to criminalize the activity. Again, the Legislature was decried for its barbarity. And again, we in Louisiana were left to search collectively for a satisfactory solution.
Search no further. I have found the solution, one that's combative and humane, that embraces the age-old cockfighting tradition and new technology, a solution so theatrical and preposterous that it fits perfectly with Louisiana politics. Here goes.
I propose that representatives of the two sides of the issue be cajoled, in the public's interest, into a sort of symbolic duel. Rep. Troy Hebert, D-Jeanerette, who represents a part of Acadiana where fighting cocks are raised, seems the obvious pro-cockfighting combatant. Perhaps Sen. Art Lentini, R-Kenner, who filed this year's failed bill that would have outlawed Louisiana's blood sport, could represent the anti-cockfighting contingent.
The pair of lawmakers would be brought together at a seedy, cellar venue, where they would don computerized chicken suits -- yes, computerized chicken suits -- that would allow them to use their body movements to control digital fighting cocks projected on a large screen. When they flapped their fake wings, the digital cocks would fly. If they nodded their heads, the digital cocks would peck. And if they kicked their heels, the digital cocks would deal virtual stab wounds with their little spurred feet.
As supporters on both sides of the issue cheered from the sidelines, the feathered gladiators would flap and bob in sweaty, yet harmless combat. Bets would be placed, electronic birds would struggle on screen, points would be scored, the best man would win, the issue would be settled and the only injured chickens would be on the buffet .
Just a daffy daydream, you say?
Members of a smart-aleck Los Angeles-based art team known as C-LEVEL developed just such a virtual cockfighting game in 2001.
As C-LEVEL representative Eddo Stern, 34, explained, the idea was an outgrowth of the group's earlier creative venture called the "Tekken Torture Tournament," which was a one-on-one computerized karate game modified to allow couch potato combatants to zap each other with real electrical jolts. The jolts were both painful and momentarily paralyzing, making it difficult for a wounded player to use his joy stick to fight back.
Stern said the cockfighting motif allowed for more live-action role playing. The game was set up in a basement in L.A.'s Chinatown, "behind the Dumpster."
"We were working the fantasy of an illegal cockfight into it," Stern said. "We had gambling, smoking and drinking . . . The main impetus was putting the players in the role of performers. They become perfect actors, because they become oblivious of their surroundings."
Did I tell you this was tailor-made for Louisiana politicians?
Beneath the feathers, there's some meat to Israeli-born Stern's conceptual art hijinks. He's made a career of challenging the video game industry, which he believes has some responsibility for "a culture that revels in fantasy violence." His custom-made virtual combat games and videos are as blood-thirsty as any, but they're based on unusually uncomfortable topics such as the romance of the Vietnam War, the defense of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco and Israeli assassination squads. It's as if the sardonic Mr. Stern wants to take all the fun out of digital death.
"I don't care specifically about cockfighting," he said, "but I do care a lot about the relationship between real and electronic violence. As people consume more mediated (digital) violence, they crave more real violence. . . . Bringing the body back into these violent games is directed at evoking this strange contrast between simulated violence and real violence."
When I asked Stern if he thought that politicians in computerized chicken suits could be used to settle Louisiana's endless cockfighting controversy, he laughed, then offered a possible solution of his own.
"They could hook the birds up to it," he said. "They could train the birds to actually fight using the equipment. It would kind of fold the whole thing onto itself. . . . They'd really have to work hard to train them. You could probably motivate them, train them through electric shock and bird feed. They say the best soldiers are the ones that play the video games best. The best birds would be the ones that played the game best."
To view the cockfighting, visit: www.eddostern.com/cockfight_arena.html.
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Columnist Chris Rose is on vacation. His My City column will resume Aug. 4.
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