Tropolism TV: The Ultimate Fighter


When the SpikeTV first aired The Ultimate Fighter in the spring, our first thought was what an awful house. The show had two primary sets. Home base, where all the fighters lived, was an ugly (yes, Tropolism means all beauty is relative, no need to remind me), sprawling, cheaply designed, and poorly built house, complete with pink stucco and awful leather sofas. Lucky for our readers that the research department was unable to find any pictures of this house online. The second location was the training gym, used also for the fight challenges.

What was amazing about this show is that the sets weren't a tawdry backdrop to a tawdry set of complaining actor-wanna-bees. It was a boring backdrop to a set of people who want to Ultimate Fight for a living. They inhabit the locations as a single thing: as a two-part facility for training. House is for sleeping and eating, gym is for punching and kicking. No set design required. In this sense, the show is more of a documentary than more familiar reality TV shows: it's just about fighting, and is shot on locations that only utilize what the fighters need to fight.


The space of the fight, the Octagon, is what spawned this feature, which is why I've devoted the inaugural column to it. A measurable portion of most people's time is spent watching television. Tropolism means realizing that watching TV is a way of adding to your mental catalog of spaces, many of which you will never enter. Like the Octagon. Click the link below to bring it on!

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The fight ring, an octagon composed of chain link partitions, with padded posts at the vertices. The posts have advertisements on the interior, on the fight side, because UFC is televised. The resilient flooring also has a huge UFC logo on it, apparently so we don't confuse UFC fighting with WWE's play-acting. The cameras, on robotic booms so they can capture kicks and punches and TKOs up-close, also capture the interior of a room. Like a boxing ring, the audience is in shadow, reducing them to a gray background. This allows the brightly lit fighters, and advertisements.


Another effect of the Octagon is that it sets up this dynamic anywhere. Preferably in parking lots near bars, apparently. It is a contemporary circus for the age of reality TV.


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