ENFORCERS, BOXERS & VIEWERS: OUR LOVE OF VIOLENCE
A review of and thoughts on Ice Guardians (2016), a sports documentary available on Amazon Prime.
An ex once asked me what my philosophy degree did for me. She meant monetarily and directly, but given I have a degree in philosophy I don’t like direct thought. Masticating questions and then problematising the ones you don’t understand or can’t answer, it isn’t tangible. It certainly isn’t physical. The skill of evasion, dispassion and unabashed academic avoidance of conflict is a string the degree did add to my bow, with admittedly little effect on my wallet.
What I am not is an enforcer.
As a devout boxing fan but poor boxer, rugby player of limited ability and man who would get into watching ice hockey if his eyesight allowed him to actually enjoy it, I am all for contact sports. Violence thrills me and I’m not squeamish. Despite this, Ice Guardians is a documentary I really only put on in a pinch. What I got was something which reached far deeper into me, as a thoughtful man of hurtful ambitions, than your average rent-a-dom can conjure.
Brett Harvey’s film is not a simple observation of the culture of fighting, it is a brutal examination of our motivations to fight, enjoyment of seeing fights happen and of fighting’s consequences. Enforcers are the guys on the ice whose role is to protect their team’s skillful but less physically imposing players, to maim either the skillful players on the opposition team or the enforcers on the other team out to protect their guys. As you might imagine, it’s a gladiatorial role (which lends itself to cinema: see The Goon).
Ice Guardians, through its admirably diverse and intellectual interview subjects, posits a human, societal structure where enforcers might be a necessity. A defence of defenders, but not one which tells you you have to agree with it, and I think that is what is clever about the film.
I’m going to hark back to it here, but because I like violence both in film and for sport, I am very much on the side of allowing it and people who try to ban any kind of contact are barking up the wrong tree. Ban headers in football? Fuck off. Limit tackling in grass roots rugby, a game which like boxing, has an inherent level of consent in its contact and fun. Ban driving, ben tennis for its knackering your knees and having to be around dullards, Christ ban having kids if you’re that scared.
In Ice Guardians the enforcers mostly come across as intelligent, well spoken guys with a full grasp of what they do and why they do it. Yes it has consequences and undoubtedly sport needs to do more to protect its athletes during and after competing, but is erasing the sport ever going to quell the love of violence?
Would it be nice to have a world where nobody fought anyone over anything, ever? Maybe. But it won’t happen and it would be boring- imagine a world with no lawyers. Accepting violence, welcoming violence, seeking violence and enjoying violence are all different to understanding violence and that is what Ice Guardians tries to do. A must watch for fight fans, make your own mind up.