Reading+Sport - ‘3 CRiTiCAi ESSAYS ON POWER AND...

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Unformatted text preview: ‘3- CRiTiCAi. ESSAYS ON POWER AND REPRESENTANON Susan Birr‘ell and Mary G. McDonald Northeastern University Press 3 O S T G N SUSAN BiRRELL AND MARY G. MCDONALD to access, and one might argue that they are the sources most likely to be consnited by popular readers. However, alternative sources must always be included for the different perspective they offer. For example, Kather— ine Iamieson’s article on Nancy Lopez successfully contrasts the main— stream treatment of Lopez with her characterization in two Latino publications. But, of course, all texts are not" produced by the media; we can read many aspects of culture as a text, including for example Dennis Rodman’s fashion statements, Tonya Harding’s athletic body, and the New England Patriots’ locker room. Particular controversial incidents are good points of entry for analysis because they appear to be contained within particular time frames, thus making the initial collection of accounts a more focused task. However, the meanings these events produce are never settled, and they continue to generate new narratives and new meanings. In a similar vein, the cult of celebrity produces personalities who garner significant attention within sport. Dennis Rodman’s exuberant presence demands attention since he enters our consciousness constructed—by himself as well as others, as Lafrance and Rail show—as a bad boy. In contrast, Nolan Ryan is an example of how good analyses can make “the familiar strange.” Because he is a white, heterosexual man, his race, class, and gender are made invis« ible. His status is used to confirm silently the “normality” of those identi— ties. The controversies centered on athletes also require critical analysis. Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan were certainly thrust onto center stage during the Olympics; the double murder case of O. J. Simpson re- quired us to reread the O. I. previously constructed as a hero for whites; and Lisa Olson brought us into the locker room to see the sorts of violent masculine rituals at home there. Their stories require the sort of critical attention Peder-Kane, Stoloff, Johnson and Roediger, and Disch and Kane provide. Events and celebrities need to be read within their political and histor— ical context. The keys to why a particular event happened at this particular point in time and in this particular place might lie in local politics or in the larger cultural contexts that surround it. in the essays contained in Reading Sport, for example, understandings are located within the ideolog— ical territory of Reagan conservatism (for example, Andrews), the backlash 12 Reading Sport, Articulating ?ower tines against women (for example, Disch and Kane), and the economic logics of particular sports. Protecting the women’s tennis tour figures in the Renee Richards story; Nancy Lopez is inspected for her impact on golf; and the interests of baseball and basketball are protected by Nolan Ryan and Michael Jordan. We also need to ask What the dominant framing of particular inci- dents does in ideological terms. How and why are celebrities made to matter cuiturally? Examining different accounts of incidents can serve as a point of entry into an analysis of the source itself. How do sources differ from one another, for example, in terms of the central frame used to explain the story? More important, why do they differ as they do? For this reason, it is important to know the background of these sources. How do particular authors or sportscasters tend to present issues or personalities? Who owns the newspaper syndicate, the television network, or the movie studio producing particular narratives? Who owns the products that these athletes endorse? What is at stake for them in the production and circula— tion of some narratives rather than others? Who benefits? Taken as a whole, these essays demonstrate that the cultural stakes surrounding sport are greater than they may at first appear. For what is at stake is not just sport as we know it—«not just basketball, baseball, wom- , . . . . . en s tennis, or figure skating—but hegemonic masculinity, heteronormati- v1ry, economic power, and white privilege. Notes 1._For an extended discussion of the ontological and epistemological issues that underlie this approach, see Mary G. McDonald and Susan Birrell, “Reading Sport Critically: A Methodology for Interrogating Fewer,” Sociology of Sport Journal 36:4 (1999). Some of the ideas in that paper are repeated in this section. 2. Reading Sport focuses primarily on the power reiations of race, class, gender, and sexuality within U.S. culture. This represents the focus within sport studies in general. " l3 SUSAN BiRRELi AND MARY G. MCDONALD Shari Lee Dworkin and Faye Linda Wachs explore a different form of “scandal”: the public professions of HIV-positive status by basketball player Magic Johnson, diver Greg Louganis, and boxer Tommy Morrison. They show how self—identified heterosexual athletes Johnson and Mor~ rison are framed differently than Louganis, whose gay identity is conflated with his HIV status. Placing their stories idiuxtaposition clearly adds to our cultural understanding of the ways that HIV is mobilized within pub lic discourses around sexuality, gender, race, and class. Finally, Susan Birrell and Cheryl Cole explore the controversy over the entrance of Renee Richards into the women’s professional tennis tour. As a rnale-to~constructed—female transsexual, Richards appears to con- found bipolar notions of sex, gender, and sexuality. However, Birrell and Cole show how media representations of Richards end up naturalizing those differences instead, producing the male body as inherently superior. By tracing the lines of support and opposition to Richards, they also Show how economic interests in the women’s tennis tour work to consolidate masculine privilege. Each of these essays offers a particular example of the ways that power relations are articulated through sport. in addition to the insights they lend to particular incidents and personalities, they also offer clues to stratu egies for reading sport critically. Hints for Reading Sport Everyone with any interest in sport “reads” sport in some way. For over a century we have had a daily site for the production of sport narra— tives called the sports page, and that central site has been joined over the years by television and radio broadcasts and commentary, the increasingly popular genre of autobiographies of sport figures, novels and films set in sport settings, web sites devoted to all forms of sport information and dialogue, and of course scholarly analyses of the world of sport. ‘Even attending an event or talking about it to friends and colleagues constitutes a particular reading. “Reading sport” in the sense that we mean it here is built on a familiarity with these popular narratives. But as a methodology for cultural analysis, reading sport compels us to read in a different, more theoretically charged manner. The methodology of “reading” sport-——that 10 ii. l? g: ,3. if: Reading Sport, Articulating Power Lines is, of finding the cultural meanings that circulate within narratives of par— ticular incidents or celebrities—also requires critical attention to the ways that sexuality, race, gender, and class privileges are articulated in thosa accounts. An awareness that multiple readings of events and celebrities are al- ways available precedes all critical analyses. We never want to become so confident that we cast our own particular reading as the only authorized version and foreclose the possibility of other contradictory or complemen— tary readings. All texts are polysemic and the site of contested meanings, whether they are seen as dominant, subversive, resistant, transformative, or appropriative. Reading sport critically can be used as a methodology for uncovering, foregrounding, and producing counternarratives, that is, alternative accounts of particular events and celebrities that have been decentered, obscured, and dismissed by hegemonic forces. Relationships of power structured along the lines of gender, race, class, sexuality, age, religion, and ethnicity are present in all moments and we must search out the form they take in any particular incident. HOW« ever, all these power relations are not present to the same extent in all incidents, and here our task is to craft an analysis that properly represents the relative salience of each line of power. All the selections in Reading Sport show an awareness of the interdependence of lines of power, how— ever different authors necessarily weigh the impact of these relations in the particular incidents or celebrities they analyze, depending on the cultural moment in which the incident takes place. All the essays are concerned with the reproduction of power through ideological means. The easiest way to get to ideology is through the media, surrounded as we are by mediated accounts and narratives. These include newspapers, magazines, television, radio, autobiographies and biograph- ies, novels and films, documentaries, and other academic papers. The web is an increasingly important source of information. Generally, a reading should include a wide range of accounts, beginning with the mainstream accounts that appear on the wire services (AP, Gannett, Knight-Kidder), are picked up from prominent news agencies (the New York Times, the Washington Post), or are reprinted throughout the United States in the increasingly large number of local newspapers owned by an increasingly small number of media conglomerates. These accounts tend to be easiest ii SUSAN BlRRELi AND MARY G. MCDONALD cessful athletes are often praised as capitalist workers striving for occupa- tional achievement. Trujillo suggests that just as achievement and productivity are goals of sport and capitalism, these features often are used to glorify an archetypal version of white manhood and thus promote hegemonic masculinity. By further celebrating such characteristics as force, family values, and heterosexuality, the image of Nolan Ryan also helps to reify a sexist gender order in which men are seen to be “naturally” superior to women both physically and socially. , The ideals of masculinity and capitalism celebrated in sport are always complicated by race, as Leola Johnson and David Roediger demonstrate in their analysis of O. I. Simpson. Focusing on the commodifrcation of black masculinity, they show how the image of a sport hero who was originally hailed as the first great African American athlete to transcend race and endorse products for white middle-class consumers relied on white fantasies of black masculinity as stylish, physical, and primitive. The primitive is also a central image mobilized by Dennis Rodman, as Melisse Lafrance and Genevieve Rail show. They contend that although the cross-dressing basketball player Dennis Rodman appears to challenge the macho imperatives of mainstream, elite competitive sport, his per» formance falls short of a disruptive representation of masculinity. Rather, they suggest that the carefully crafted Rodman persona is enabled by a capitalistic consumer society preoccupied with the creation of fresh, dif~ ferent styles and personalities. The marketing success of Rodman is further evidence of the dominant culture’s desire to consume the Other, in partic- ular to encounter the alleged “exoticness,” savagery, and hypersexuality that are ideologically linked to black sporting bodies. ' Lisa Disch and Mary Io Kane explore the 1990 sexual harassment of Boston Herald sports writer Lisa Olson in the team locker room of the New England Patriots. They dispute commonsense understandings of the incident as merely reflective of an issue over equal access to a work space often denied female sport reporters. Rather, Disch and Kane contend that as an authorized critic of male performance with backstage access to the innermost sanctum of elite male sport, the locker room, Lisa Olson was in a position to challenge, even destroy, the fragile status quo of masculine privilege and power. The incident reveals how the players and owner Vic— tor Kiam summoned support for their position by deploying heterosexw Reading Sport, Articulating Power lines ality and masculinity as unquestioned norms in order to contain her disruptive presence. Drawing on the theoretical framework of multiracial feminism, Kath- erine Iamieson examines the public persona of Nancy Lopez. to reveal multiple, contradictory, and intersecting forms of oppression and privi— lege. Iamieson suggests that too often, women in sport are deemed unwel- come outsiders, and this is particularly true in the case of working~class women of color. lamieson demonstrates how Lopez’s ethnic identity is constructed differently in different cultural contexts. While hailed within the Mexican-American press as a symbol of ethnic pride, Lopez’s Mexi— can—American working—class roots are often ignored or trivialized in mainstream press accounts. However, Lopez’s image is redeemed through the celebration of her public pregnancies, which reaffirm heterosexuality as the unquestioned cultural norm while also allayingfhomophohic fears of a lesbian presence in sport. if Nancy Lopez is the icon of women’s golf, Michael iordan is the icon of commodified sport, David Andrews contends. In “Excavating Michael lordan’s Blackness,” Andrews interrogates representations of Jordan ar- guing that because race is a sociai construction, racial meanings are com standy being refigured. In postwReagan America, Iordan’s exceptionalism, his All~American persona, and presumed superior physicality have helped to construct a false image of an open class structure while easing the racial insecurities of white middle-class consumers. Constructed as a hard—work— ing achiever who transcends race in his representation of the American Dream realized, lordan’s marketed persona works to stabilize racist ste~ _ reotypes of black masculinity as deviant, criminal, and inferior to whites. ' Both Abigail Feder~Kane’s “ ‘A Radiant Smile from the Lovely Lady’: Overdetermined Femininity in ‘Ladies’ Figure Skating,” and Sam Stoloff’s -“Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, and the Bodily Figuration of Social Class,” explore figure skating and its most infamous scandal. Both essays document the ways in which the skating spectacle is grounded in notions of white, middle~class, heterosexual ideals of femininity. Peder—Kane also demonstrates that Harding and Kerrigan projected contrasting images of white feminine deviance and elegance long before Harding and her sup« porters were implicated in the attack on Kerrigan during the 1994 U.S. National Championship. . a g. '. r? i: if; SUSAN BIRRELL AND MARY G. MCDONALD discourses that construct African American athletes as natural athletes. Additionally, the privileges of whiteness are increasingly being made visi- ble through critical race relations scholarship. Originally subsumed within gender analysis, issues of sexuality are now being investigated in their own theoretical right as well. Sport as a male preserve also has deep implications“ for sexuality. Homophobia works to reinforce gender expectations: Gay men, dismissed as “on- manly,” have not been welcome in mainstream sport, and women who insist on their rights to play sport have often been labeled lesbians. Com— pulsory heterosexuality is thus remade through sport. Queer theory, with its connection to poststructuralist insights, disrupts our commonsense un— derstanding of sexuality as a stable, essential identity. As several scholars demonstrate, the terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual” were invented in the late nineteenth century as a means of differentiating and thus hier— archicalizing particular sexual behaviors. Critical cultural studies builds on these important insights about sport by expanding on the integrative moves of feminist theories, Marxist them ries, critical race theories, and/or queer theory. To many working within those traditions, it became increasingly evident that a focus on only one line of power results in partial analyses that do not adequately capture the complexity of relations of dominance and subordination within culture. One important project of critical cultural studies, as we see it, is to con— tinue this search for sophisticated conceptualizations of the interacting forces of race, class, gender, and sexuality. It is this process of “crossing power lines” that underlies the selections in Reading Sport as they focus on particular personalities or stories. The Limits of Popular Discourse Stories are always presented within frames, and these frames guide and limit public understandings of events and personalities. This is partin ularly troublesome when controversial issues such as sexual harassment in and out of sport settings and controversial personalities, such as Dennis Rodman, are presented in a one—dimensional manner. If power is taken into account at all in popular discussions, it is usually through only one point of access such as gender. Thus, inadequate models for understand“ l a . Reading Sport, Articulating l’ower Lines ing and representing the complexity of events prevent even the most well— intentioned critics from speaking in meaningful ways about the intersec— tions and connections between and among relations of oppression. In other words, a considerable problem arises when other relations of op— pression are brought into an analysis; somehow the analysis becomes too complex to capture within existing models. If they engage issues of power at all, mainstream discourses follow one of three options: They privilege one category of oppression; they pit one oppression against another; or they provide a simple additive model of oppression. For example, the media usually present sexual assaults in a one—dimensional way and produce a story that implicates only one cate- gory, that of gender. A slightly more sophisticated way to deal with a complex story is to pit one category against another. This was evident in accounts of the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination contro- versy. Here gender as embodied by Anita Hill was pitted against race as represented by Thomas. No wonder that trial produced little satisfaction for anyone: Few narrative strategies were available to speak about the complicated issues of gender, race, class, and heterosexism that surfaced in the courtroom. A final rhetorical solution is to add a category to a category as in the William Jefferson Clinton sex scandals, where Clinton came to represent male power and class power. To give prominence to one issue within a frame is necessarily to ob— scure others. To concentrate on one relationship of power is to produce an incomplete and dangerously simple analysis. We need to look deeper to see what other ideological atrocities are lurking below the surface of these representations: What subtle but equally powerful forms of social control or resistance are at work within the particular frame constructed by the mainstream media, and what stories are only implicitly but still powerfully spoken? When Power Lines Cross Applying this school of thought to sport means that athletes are lo« cated within a variety of discourses, including those that serve to reify an individualistic worldview and a capitalistic propensity for competition. For example, Nick Trujillo’s essay on Nolan Ryan demonstrates that suc— SUSAN BlRREiL AND MARY G. MCDONALD contending discourses framed through gender but also runs the risk of making gender disappear altogether. In a similar vein, the Columbine tragedy has been almost entirely depoliticized; in the place of an analysis of violent white masculinity implicated in this and other school shootings, dominant framings focus instead on the individual pathology of the shooters. K Reading Sport is an anthology with a thesis: Structures of dominance expressed around What we call the power lines of race, class, gender, and sexuality (...
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