How do you throw a poetry slam?

That is the question posed by today’s Wayno / Piraro Bizarro:

(#1) Dan and Wayno commit the (imperfect, but very close) pun Crime Scheme > Rhyme Scheme (/krajm/ > /rajm/, just lose the /k/) — the crime in question being a novel variety of match fixing (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page)

I’ve been musing on how you would throw a poetry slam — knowingly offering an inferior rap, I guess, though that sounds like a hard thing to pull off.

The background. Start with the event alluded to in the cartoon, the poetry slam. From NOAD:

compound noun poetry slam: a competition using elimination rounds for the reading or performance of poetry.

It’s important that poetry slams are competitions, or contests, not just artistic performances; there are winners and losers, sometimes even tangible prizes. This makes them akin to mortal combat; and to the ritualized combat of sporting contests (the fights / boxing matches, swimming races, swordfighting, foot races, baseball games, horse races, tennis games, automobile races, and the like); and to contests of competence (diving competitions, spelling bees, piano competitions, beauty contests, bake-offs, dance competitions, debates, crossword contests, ice-skating competitions, and the like).

Note how exquisitely culture-specific this all is, in what activities are treated conventionally as contests and in what ways. (Of course, almost anything can be turned into an ad hoc contest, but only certain activities get conventionalized as items of culture, in particular times, places, and social settings.) In modern America, the reading or performance of poetry was not so configured until recently, but of course poetry contests have long histories in many cultures; think Meistersinger.

And then match fixing. From Wikipedia:

In organized sports, match fixing (also known as game fixing, race fixing, or more generally sports fixing) is the act of playing or officiating a match with the intention of achieving a pre-determined result, violating the rules of the game and often the law.

Matches get fixed for an enormous number of reasons (many enumerated in the Wikipedia article). So you will ask why someone might want to throw a poetry slam: perhaps to elevate a competitor you want to gratify or (out of friendship) provide recognition to, or because you have been menaced, and so on, or (as in the cartoon) because it’s been fixed: you’ve been bribed to do so.

Match fixing is illegal (in most places in the US) if there is organized gambling on the contest and the fixing would affect the payout of winnings.

On the vocabulary of fixing. From NOAD:

verb fix: … 6 informal [a] influence the outcome of (something, especially a race, contest, or election) by illegal or underhanded means: the foundation denies fixing races.

verb throw: … [with objectinformal lose (a race or contest) intentionally, especially in return for a bribethe man who throws a race is a crook for life.

And then from the cartoon:

phrase take a dive: Boxing pretend to be knocked out.

But this definition is too narrow. GDoS has a better one:

(orig. US) 1 in boxing or any competition, for a [competitor] deliberately to lose a fight [cites from 1916 on] …

Wayno’s title for the cartoon offers us a pop-cultural allusion: “Requiem for a Rhapsodist”. Alluding to the title of a film about fight fixing, with heavyweight replaced by rhapsodist, referring to the rap poet in #1. From Wikipedia:

(#2) Theatrical poster for the movie

Requiem for a Heavyweight is a 1962 American film directed by Ralph Nelson based on the television play of the same name with Anthony Quinn in the role originated by Jack Palance, Jackie Gleason and Mickey Rooney in the parts portrayed on television by Keenan Wynn and his father Ed Wynn, and social worker Grace Miller was portrayed by Julie Harris.

Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, appears as Quinn’s opponent in a boxing match at the beginning of the movie, a memorable sequence filmed with the camera providing Quinn’s point of view as the unstoppable Clay rapidly punches directly at the movie audience with breath-taking speed. Afterward, Maish (Gleason) is confronted by bookies who threaten his life. If he fails to repay them for their losses, based upon the sure thing bet (he urged them to wager upon) that his fighter, Mountain, would go down in a certain round of the match. Maish’s deal with them had been that they should deduct from their winnings (due to their betting against Mountain, as Maish had advised them to). The vast sums of losses that Maish’s betting (and losing) had run up with them.


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