On Saturday night I was at Clearview Cinemas in the Chelsea section of New York to watch another such event, the live, HD-streaming (I think it was called a closed-circuit TV back then) broadcast of the welterweight-title fight between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Juan Manuel Marquez. Golden Boy Promotions, which handles Marquez, inked the deal with chains like Cinemark, Regal, Cobb, and National Amusements to bring the fight and the undercard bouts to some 170 movie theaters for about $15 per ticket.
The digital aspect of it makes it quite a different experience from "No Mas" back in the day and not only because of the HD-level quality. Here I am, sitting in a movie theatre in New York, texting a friend who happens to be sitting in the MGM Grand arena, where the fight is taking place, and who I can actually see when the camera pulls back for a wide shot of the boxers going mano a mano. That's him, a dozen rows back behind a B-lister, and he's reading my text to him: "Shoot, I think I see you." All night, during round-breaks in the ensuing bouts we text back and forth.
"Oh, the Aussie is kicking ass and taking names."
"WOW. What a round!"
"This fight is about as stimulating as Ambien. Excuse me while I sleep walk."
"Hey, when I give the signal -- which will be when I text 'now' -- raise your arms and wave them around."
"You're wearing a blue shirt."
"No, that's Steven Seagal."
Now that's digital convergence. I'm in a theatre watching a movie in which my friend figures as a kind of bit player. But in the movie, my friend is suddenly looking up, looking at the camera, and watching me watch him because we are having a simultaneous digital conversation about the fact that I can see him. I look around to see if any others in the cinema audience are texting a friend they also happen to glimpse onscreen, friends who shelled out enough to have seats fairly close to the camera. None, I'm sure of it. I text my friend as much.
Even HBO engaged in this kind of digital self-referential weirdness. During the endless half hour leading up to the actual fight, and as people filed into the sold-out event (both the cinema and the MGM Grand), HBO ran this ridiculous documentary. It was the usual apotheosis of the fighters; rather, it was about the making of a short promo clip they kept running over and over and over between segments of the documentary about the making of that very promo.
So not only did we have to watch that idiotic promo again and again with its portentous voiceover about Mayweather "returning to claim what's his" but also we had to watch a documentary about the making of that very promo. That kind of infuriating endless vortex that Borges could have written about was the kind of thing I found myself getting sucked into with my friend: Me watching him text a response to my text about the fact that he was probably missing the fight because he was so busy texting me about the fact that I could see him in the broadcast. So I actually found myself missing key moments in the fight myself because I kept looking to see what he was up to.
As for the promo for the fight: That promo was packed with endless slow-mo repetitions of Mayweather knocking out Hatton, and Gatti, and of Marquez knocking out various foes of his, and of him giving Manny Pacquaio fits in their fights, and with endless requisite shots of heads snapping back, sweat flying, bodies falling.
I felt like I'd seen enough knockouts to last several months by the time Michael Buffer was in the ring making his famous pre-fight announcement (I thought I'd never be actually relieved to hear his bit about getting ready to rumble) for the first under-card bout.
I felt like I was the one who had been taking the punches. My head hurt. My jaw was broken. I was bleeding from the nose. I spit out a tooth. Maybe next time I'll go back to the small screen where the audience is just an amorphous crowd, the action isn't so big and I can flip to reruns of "Curb Your Enthusiam" or Loony Tunes during the pre-fight pomp and circumstance.