Blood and gore are by no means the cravings of the beast. Human civilization — history will stand as witness — has demonstrated a discernible weakness for both. What is interesting is that war and conflict are not the only manifestations of the human lust for blood. The sporting arena — arena being the indicative epithet in this case — has been the stage of many a bloody contest. The ancient Romans could not take their eyes off sweaty gladiators drawing blood — human and animal — inside the amphitheatre. Save for the Matador, the ‘civilized’ descendants — modern man — no longer slay by way of sport but remain addicted to games which, in George Orwell’s maxim, resemble war minus the shooting. Boxing, Kick-boxing, Lethwei, Thai-boxing, Sanda — the various jewels in the crown of combat sports — may not lead to cracked skulls or ruptured spleens. But they do provide blood, sweat and tears aplenty for public consumption.
But a punch in the gut awaits men and women who get their kicks out of jabs and punts. This is because the harmless pillow fight has, in a manner of speaking, attained adulthood. What was once associated with benign bedroom combat between siblings or friends has now been given a professional coat of paint. The first-ever Pillow Fight Championship took place in Florida last month, featuring 16 men and 8 women combatants who apparently charged at each other with queen-sized pillows stuffed with foam and encased in nylon sailcloth. The organizers of this novel competition hope that the PFC would, in the years to come, become the most popular genre in the diverse universe of martial arts.
The jury may still be out on such hopes. But some broad inferences can be drawn from the emergence of the weaponized pillow with a twist. Sport, much like such other spheres as science, technology, and commerce, uses innovation as a form of capital. It is this ingenuity that has been instrumental to the evolution and, also, extinction of a number of sporting activities. Modern football, for instance, traces its roots to ‘folk football’ that was played with variable rules in medieval Britain. But ‘Auto Polo’ — polo played on automobiles instead of horses — has failed to retain its charm. The other issue also pertains to transformation — but of a different kind. Could the evolution of the PFC and its subsequent induction into the ring of combat sports be indicative — in theory — of a waning collective interest in the violence that is latent in some kinds of sporting activity? If this were to be true, it may suggest that the fetishization of violence, glorified through agents of popular culture — films, books, toys — may have finally spawned intriguing forms of resistance within the world of sport. The Pacifist Pillow — would the Mahatma approve? — may be just the right thing to put an end to senseless rituals of violence enacted within the ring.