Monday, August 17, 2009
yo-yo #'s 54 & 55: higby painted sunsets
so people are trickling back from worlds. the boards are becoming repopulated. people are talking about all that they saw and experienced.
part of that is (as always) all about how "terribly flawed" the judging was. and devoid of a total powerhouse reinventing the 1a scene, it's worse this year.
the most controversial results probably hit the floor after the 2nd round of 1a. it was chock full of talent, but the names that were culled from it were definitely not what people expected, even after seeing the corresponding 1 minute freestyles. yuuki spencer, sid, augie fash, tyler severance, sebastian brock. all beloved favorites, and all eliminated.
what confuses me is... why are people so surprised? why so upset?
i know we want to make yo-yoing a sport. and god, we try so hard to pretend it is; to mold it into the shape of one. but i'm sorry it's just not right now. it's not because no one can accurately predict the winners before being TOLD what they are by a panel of judges. even if you knew what to look for, and clicked through every freestyle in slow-mo 10 times, the final results would be inherently unpredictable. said judges try their best to be fair and objective, but what system could they possibly use in real-time to determine that "blindingly-fast-freestyle a" is more valuable than "totally-innovative-freestyle b"? ... cause that's what they're up against.
i hear a lot of people talking about "string hits", and it's important for them to understand that no contests are really judged in that way. but their ignorance betrays the dirty secret that essentially NO ONE (up to and including competitors and a good many judges) really understands HOW the winners are chosen, and WHY they win. on the yoyofactory world's countdown, ben posted that the team had been training with a clear focus; to throw down innovative, difficult tricks, quickly and cleanly. it won the contest for them 2 years running. however, ben claimed that the contest was not judged in a way that benefitted his players' training model. how, in what's supposed to be a "sport", can that possibly happen?
no one watches a baseball game and is confused about who won. no one goes to track meet, but can't predict the victor after observing the 100m dash. you might train in this way or that way, but you know WHAT you're training for. you know how your performance will be measured and what you have to do to win the game. we yo-yoers have crafted this elaborate stage, upon which we display truly amazing creative feats... but we forgot that there's no real way to "judge" something called a "freestyle". oops?
the closest legitimate approximation of the model that yo-yoing appears to strive for would be figure skating, or maybe gymnastics. in both of those examples, the participants are able to design their own routines (or at least their coaches are). HOWEVER (big however), in said examples, the participants are ALSO required to demonstrate the same essential elements, and are judged on how well they complete them. the judges are able to easily compare how well skaters a and b complete their respective "triple sow-cows" (or whatever). and there are strict rules that determine the precise deductions for missteps. how boring would it be if all of the "freestyles" were not "free" at all, but composed of tricks and movements the judges knew to look for? to watch as all the competitors in a yo-yo contest strive for that "perfect rancid milk" (that everyone knows is coming) in the middle of their freestyles? but that's the only way yo-yoing can be quantified, and thereby made a sport: by being predictable, uniform, standardized. remember compulsories? everyone thought they SUCKED... but they were probably more fair and more clear than what we have now. and no, i'm not saying we should go back... i'm just saying we shouldn't invest too much in who wins and who doesn't.
i can't imagine anything more redundant than complaining about the results of the world yo-yo contest. OF COURSE the judging system sucks. NO system could do anything BUT suck. the very notion of a "system" PRECLUDES its ability to effectively judge and compare something called a "FREE-STYLE". that which is inherently expressive will never be measured with any validity. it's absurd. it's like watching two may-flies live out their lives over a day, and then numerically grading each on which had the best "quality of life". an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon perhaps (if you're an entomologist, anyway)... but at the end of said afternoon, don't try to pretend that you did something more substantial than watching some bugs fly around.
and mind, this doesn't discredit the judges who spend hour-after-hour toiling through the freestyles. yo-yo contests are FUN. they're full of hilarious hijinks and trick-trading and incredibe videos and cool new toys and NONE of it would happen if the judges didn't run it for us. if you haven't organized or judged a contest, i'd have to argue that though you may have a right to express it, your perspective on "who you think should have won" is woefully incomplete. this tirade isn't meant to diminish the efforts of the competitors up there on the stage either. we're human, and so we're pretty lazy. unless there's something "in it for us", a lot of us don't want to get out of bed, much less learn really frustrating, difficult yo-yo tricks. the idea of being "world champion" is pretty attractive. it sounds like something worth practicing for. and those of us NOT driven to be champions should thank those that strive for it... their play inspires us to improve our own.
... i purchased these sunsets from yo-yo superstar/painter, john higby a few years ago. he bought a whole mess of clear ones from yoyojam, and painted them in his distinct style using all kinds of different themes. i always loved his "space" freehand zeros, but never had one. i had to go with that. a little while later, nate weddle from throw down sent me a pair of silicone o-rings for them, and they work PERFECTLY. it's almost a pity they're so beautiful, because they're easily the best [bearing] loopers i own, and i play them all the time.
anyway, last year, higby won the "artistic performance" division at worlds. ("artistic performance". i mean if you get up in arms about who should win THAT, then i can't imagine a reason to stand around arguing with you.) higby's routine was exquisite. he built a subway staircase prop, and pretended to descend it, reascending with any number of new yo-yo styles and gags cleverly culled from his stage shows. he brought friends on stage, the event was colorful and electric, and involved 3-d glasses. it was brilliant, and pretty much everyone thought he had won (which of course, he did). i emphasize "pretty much" because i'll bet one or two of the other competitors may have disagreed. some of their friends and family may have, too. and that line between art and science is razor-thin. if one dude in the back thinks taka or hiro really deserved it... isn't that enough to question the system? how about 3 guys? 30? 300? subjective is subjective, and just like truth, it WILL out.
case in point, this year higby goes up on stage, does a dazzling three-part "past, present, and future of yo-yoing" extravaganza (actually bringing his infant son on stage in a space suit at one point, and making use of incredibly innovative props throughout). a lot of people i talked to thought he had it in the bag again, yet he wasn't even in the top three. of course, higby wasn't as pissed about it as some folks i talked to: "I really did not enter AP to win but to get my idea on stage and to get some friends up there too! I think AP is getting better and I hope more people enter with the endless creativity of the amazing toy called YO-YO." pure class.
i love how in ap, the results only list the top 3 "competitors" ("artists"?), and then after that it's alphabetical order. i mean... if we're saying there was a "winner", there must have been a "loser", right? so who "lost" the art contest? it's ridiculous to ask, right? more ridiculous than declaring someone the "winner" though?
i think the only freestyle i watched this year which seduced me into the belief that it was the incontrovertible winner was kentaro's 3a. i've never seen anything so difficult done with such grace, within yo-yoing or without. i don't know anyone who could have picked someone over him. but my argument is still inherently subjective, and the fact remains that if someone came on-stage and matched his skill (hard to believe, but not impossible)... who in the world would be qualified to call one the champion and the other "s.o.l."? kentaro should be congratulated (to the end of his effing days) on having smashed every ceiling ignorant schmucks like me had placed on 3a. he should be congratulated on designing and working out a routine that people will look back on and call "totally ahead of its time"; which will define the standard for the division in years to come. i have to believe that THOSE sentiments are more meaningful, both to the observers and to mr. kimura, himself than "congrats on being world champion". i'm sure he doesn't remember, but i just told him "thank you", and would like to do so again.
so what do we do? everybody's asking each other. do we yell to each other about how the judges must have "had it in" for this guy or that guy? do we switch things all wacky, and go to a vague "performance"-based system or peer-judging/crowd-response (which at the worlds level, become nothing more than a popularity contest). do we designate really specific criteria that everyone knows and navigates? do we demand total transparancy and live-televised click-graphs, in which case, which judges will want to step up and risk being yelled at?
i've never heard a truly satisfactory solution though; one that makes the winner clear and does so fairly. i don't believe there are solutions, because i believe the "problem" is only a problem if you choose to view it as such; if you focus more on the results of the contest than the content, itself. the real "problem" is that people need to win things to consider themselves and their passions valuable. unamerican as it may make me seem, i repectfully disagree with that premise.
i do think people should try to find ways to run a better contest. i've had the privilege of sitting in on judges' meetings, and i love the great ideas that organizers are trying out, and i look forward to helping to implement changes where i can. i ran nc states for two years (and i hope to again). it's hard, but rewarding, and the attendees are genuinely appreciative. but they're appreciative because the contest gives us an excuse for getting together. the results, themselves will never be meaningful, and if you believe they are, i think you're delusional (no offense)... the experiences on the other hand... those will always be meaningful. worlds certainly was this year, and many thanks to all of you that made it so.