Why Baudrillard was (posthumously) right

Contrary to malicious rumors emanating from God-knows-where, your favorite Finnish idrottsforum blogger has not retired yet. In fact, he has been rather busy with an unexpected research project which led him to revise a key thesis of a formerly famous French philosopher.

Anybody still remembers Jean Baudrillard (1929–2007), the late great guru of postmodernism? Among other things, Baudrillard professed to have discovered the protagonist of an ‘easy-does-it Apocalypse’ somewhere in California in the 1980s:

‘Nothing evokes the end of the world more than a man running straight ahead on a beach, swathed in the sounds of his Walkman, cocooned in the solitary sacrifice of his energy, indifferent even to catastrophes since he expects destruction to come only as the fruit of his own efforts, from exhausting the energy of a body that has in his own eyes become useless.’ (America, 1986; trans. Chris Turner)

Baudrillard exaggerated, as all fashionable French philosophers tend to do. I simply refuse to believe that the American joggers constituted ‘a sign from the beyond’ at that particular stage. Rather, Baudrillard anticipated developments that culminated with the emergence of the apocalyptic jogger in or about 2014, as witnessed by my compact research team.

Having recently purchased a rustic jogging stroller, I rediscovered running with my three-year-old daughter. Soon enough, our aimless excursions turned into research trips as we encountered a curious tribe – the very same tribe that Baudrillard claimed to have stumbled on three decades earlier.

In my youth, which also happened to take place thirty years ago, runners made a point of greeting fellow runners. We acknowledged each other with vigorous gesturing or friendly words, and I’m pretty sure it was no different in California. Today, by contrast, runners appear to be totally immersed in the strenuous task of putting one foot in front of the other. Not unlike Baudrillard’s joggers, their field of vision ends at the tip of their nose. ‘Shy’, my research assistant reasoned, that’s what they are!

It could also be that it’s physically impossible for them to notice you. Sporting iPods, pedometers, mirrored sunglasses and other ludicrous gadgets, twenty-first century joggers sweat it out in a world of their own. This is precisely what Baudrillard envisioned (or ridiculed) more than a quarter-century ago. Why don’t they just settle for the treadmill?

Of course, no meaningful method can differentiate running from jogging. Drawing on my own observations, however, I can safely conclude that today’s so-called recreational runners are, in fact, plodders who my daughter could easily follow and possibly overtake. I wouldn’t be surprised if their heart rate monitors were set to give minor electric shocks on the threshold of what would imply a running gait.

Since our preliminary fieldwork yielded truly stimulating results, we intend to adduce evidence in support of the fulfilled French prophecy. But we no longer seek to fraternize with our research objects. ‘You stop a horse that is bolting’, Baudrillard argued. ‘You do not stop a jogger who is jogging. Foaming at the mouth, his mind riveted on the inner countdown to the moment when he will achieve a higher plane of consciousness, he is not to be stopped. If you stopped him to ask the time, he would bite your head off.’

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