LaFrance%2C+M.+and+Rail%2C+G.+_2000_.+As+Bad+as+He+Says+He+Is

LaFrance%2C+M.+and+Rail%2C+G.+_2000_.+As+Bad+as+He+Says+He+Is

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Unformatted text preview: CRI'fICAL ESSAYS ON POWER AND REPRESENTATION Susan Birrell and Mary G. McDonald Northeastern University Press 33 O S T Q N "As Bed (15 He Says He Is?" strategies, that understanding Rodman’s self—presentations as vitally dis— ruptive elicits serious theoretical and conceptual dilemmas. “This Guy is Something Else!” Mtrlssa LAFRANCE AND GENEVIEVE RAIL foumalistsnssess theRodman Phenomenon Rodman is significant for daring not to be macho in a milieu that has demanded it. “As Bad as He Says He Is?” interrogating Dennis Rodman’s Subversive Potential “Steve Ioh risen Although varying in their degree of support for his public behavior, most journalists andlor consumers seem to construe Rodmau as in some way irreconcilably different from not only the sporting world in particu- lar, but the realm of popuiar culture in general. For the few journalists able to get beyond their simultaneous disgust and fascination with Rodman’s penchant for women’s clothing and his highly publicized visits to gay bars, the level of analysis remains enthusiastically cursory nonetheless. The Chicago Tribune, New York Times, and Sports Illustrated provide the most consistent sources of both coverage and commentary. In a lengthy and relatively analytical article, Chicago Tribune critic Steve John— son considers Rodman’s race, persona, gender, and his alliances to multi~ . national corporations. Disapprovingly, Johnson contends that Rodrnan’s _ cross—dressing is “the most calculated androgyny since David Bowie 3' vamped his way through the mid«197os” (1996, 1). Iohnson also concludes that this “calculated androgyny” has resulted in a peculiar celebration of 'Rodman, who has, since his relationship with Madonna, been “remade into a sort of postmodern [Peter} Pan” (i). Questioning the integrity of IRociman’s promotionai strategies, Iohnson stipulates: “The trouble with all of this is that Rodman the persona, a persona, it should be noted, borrowed from the gay nightclub Scene, is more interesting than Rodman "the personality. . . . just as putting him on a team less secure in itself liwouid reveai him to be a disruptive force, putting him on TV reveais him _._to be all action, and little talk” (2). After lamenting Rodman’s overwhelm- ,iug market appeal as well as his swelling television presence, lohnson con— tradicts the articie’s earlier assertion that “Rodman is significant for daring 0 Dennis Rodrnan has been and continues to be the subject of much- consideration in cultural studies {e.g., Barrett i997; Kellner i996“; Lafrance; and Rail 1997; McDonaid and Ailcens 1996). Rodman’s multitudmous pep; sonas and often unpredictable interaction with teievision media have been”: frequently characterized as disruptive, counter-cultural andfor generally. mysterious beyond intelligibility. indeed, according to many observers, Rodman has radically defied normative convention and conspired, mat—I tineg or unwittingly, to redefine representations of gender, race, and tie-- sire within the American cultural imaginary‘ (Barrett 1997; iefferson. 1997i:- lohnson 1996; McDonald and Aikens, 1996). in. this paper, we are inter-1 ested in elucidating the cultural and economic logics both underlying antiE propelling the Rodman sensation. in an attempt to resist binary formulations of the Rodman phenome; non, We will consider those elements of Rodrnan’s subjecuveproductions that may potentially challenge the culturai norms structuring an and” ence’s responses to him. We will argue, however, that Dennis Rodrnans extraordinary spectacular enactments produce and consolidate dominant fantasies of race, gender, and desire, and are therefore only problema’u- cally subversive. We will show, by means of a critical overv1ew of emsung literature as well as an analysis of Rodman’s most important promotion 7’4 75 MtLlsse LAFRANCE AND GENEVIEVE RAIL H As Bocl as He Says He is?" not to be macho” through his critical chronicling of one of the more disturbing Rodman exploits: attributes this particularly harsh treatment of Rodrnan to social prejudices. She keenly observes that Dennis comes out wearing a nurse’s uniform and the crowd hoots and hollers as if it were still novel for Rodman . . . to wear a dress. Dennis tells a self-described sports widow to “after the game is over, jump his bones, dariin.” The crowd whoops as if it had just heard Dorothy Parker reincarnate. Dennis walks around pushing his stethoscope into women’s breasts, he’s a medicai professional check- ing their hearts don‘t you know, and the crowd cheers for what would get one of these women’s coeworlcers a black eye, a pink slip and a visit from flashing blue lights. (3) only since he began talking about bisexuality and dressing up in campy costumes . . . have people been . . . tossing around words like “psychopath.” Would there be so many armchair psychiatrists if Mr. Rodman’s on~court bullying weren’t accompanied by all that off» court crosswdressing and bisexual teasing (those transgressive acts of gender—bending, as academics like to say)? (€13) And indeed, lefferson (1997) notes, Rodman has gone further than just bisexual teasing. He has discussed his homosexual fantasies as Well as the erotic energy that permeates “even the most heteroscxual” ((313) men’s locker rooms. Jefferson does not make Rodman out to havestranscended sexism or machismo, astuter observing instead that Rodman is the “first star athlete to successfully wed heterosrzxual macho to drag queen chutr— pah” (Czo). While not as contradictory as Iohnson’s (i996) evaluation Jefferson appears to havo difficulty reconciling the paradoxical elements oi Rodman’s self-presentation and opts, finally, to celebrate him as America’s . “man of the moment.” The seemingly contradictory nature of both the aforementioned - events and their journalistic assessments highlights the dilemma encoun~ tered by observers attempting to make sense of the Rodman craze In fact, Rodman’s persona appears to be predicated on the exploitation and reproduction of dominant norms and codes, while paradoxically recog— nized as rebellious and intelligently nonconformist. Our essay endeavors I to address this contradiction in an attempt to understand how the appar- ently incongruous constituents of Rodman’s success seem to at once ef— floresce and limit his subversive agency. That is, Rodman’s enactments of marlcetabie difference” (Keilner 1996, 459) may indeed destabilize the American semiotic in positively oppositional ways by, for example, main— streaming superficial aesthetic transgressions such as cross-dressing 2 :liOWever, the white, male supremacist and heterosexist fantasies mobi— lized by Rodinan in order to produce and sustain the popularity of his spectacles reinforce problematic events such as the exoticization of the black sporting body, the commodification of black struggle and the mythi— Even despite Johnson’s sometimes scathing criticism of Rodrnan’s .- antics, he, like almost ail other critics, nevertheless credits Rodman for his progressive politics. )ohnson concludes paradoxically: Off court, he is an important symbol . . . the first male athlete to gain fame for his willingness to break professional sports’ macho code. . . . It is not so much the dress or the nail polish the kids are responding to as the thumb in the eye to convention they represent. . . . The idea that the nation’s cuimde—sacs are populated by prepubes- cent boys who now idolize, for whatever reasons, a sometimes drag queen is both amusing and a relief to those who believe we ought to get going on that testosterone temperance plan. (5} Using a slightly different approach, New York Times critic Margo )ef—_ " ferson (1997) provides an interesting consideration of Rodman’s impact 1' on and engagement with popular culture, calling Rodman a “{feat] of _' stylistic engineering” (C13)..Male athletes, according to Jefferson, have: long been known for their tempers and violent tendencies on and off the: court. However, she states, “few of them {have been} reprimanded quite" as sternly or smugly as Mr. Rodmau” (C13). Not only do both opposing. team members and referees often set out to aggravate Rodman, but Chili: cago Bulls management has actually made psychiatric counseling a prereq uisite for Rodman if he hopes to continue playing basketball. lefferso " 76 77 MELlSSE LAFRANCE AND GENEVEEVE RAiL fication of black physicality (both sensual and sexual). Therefore, our analysis considers Rodman’s selprrornotional strategies, as well as the in- tended and unintended discursive effects they produce. Sex/Gender Reconsidered? Dennis Rodman and the Politics of Identity Drag and the Limits of Subjective Agency When journalists, critics, and consumers proclaim that Dennis Rod- man is “something else” (Barrett 1997, 106), they are often referring, at least in part, to his enactments 0f dominant femininity. McDonald and Aikens’s (1996) work is one of the most comprehensiVe academic analyses of Rodrnan’s persona and the politics of his representation. McDonald and Aikens write: We consider professional basketball player Dennis Rodi-man’s ever- changing mediated persona as a disruptive force to the ethos of het- eronormativity. Specifically, we explore the way Dennis Rodman’s appropriation of queer prairie serves to critique dominant hetero- sexist and gender ideologies by destabilizing binary gender codes. (1996. 97) These authors suggest that popular representations of Rodrnan’s crosswdressing and his homoerotic interests can work to render intelligib the “fluidity” and “artificiality” of sexual and gender categories, while revealing how masculinities and sexualities are “malleable” systems open-I to individual and cultural contestation. The latter implies that genders are theatrically performed: That is, not enact their culturally prescribed genders. in fact, (1994), those who cross-dress are 0 mutability of gender identities and, by extens hauling such identities. standing gender as an instance of theatrical performativity: according to Harper The positing of such an accomplishment is potentially appealing for at least two closely related reasons: (1) it imputes to {drag queens] an 78 subiects have the ability to either enact or; ften seen as bringing into relief the ion, the possibility of over—j} Harper explicates the problematic allure of undeer "As Bod as He Says He is?“ expanded agency whereby they seem to alter apparently fundamental elements of social experience; and it (2) thus recuperates those same personages as active producers not only of political critique but of significant socialwstructural change. (91) For Harper (1994), then, to insist on the subject’s ability to effect voiuntaristic identity OVerhauls is to become polemically implicated in illusory cultural logics of liberalism and individualism. Indeed, this insis— tence is seductive as the imagined presence of such agential possibilities _ signals the success of contemporary liberalism and its corresponding proj- ect of providing the individual—and especially the disenfranchised indi— vidual—with the tools necessary to shape and determine her own destiny Harper points out, however, that the latter is questionable. Indeed to effect a veritable identity overhaul implies that one not only,reconstructs her own identity, albeit using always already contaminated psychic re- sources} but that others attribute the same presumably positive meanings to the overhaul as does she. We would argue, in fact, that rareis the instance wherein agents of mainstream society attribute positive meanings to acts of gender subversion and/or other forms of identity overhaul. More frequently than not, those who “misperforrn” their prescribed gear tiers are confronted by many different and often dangerous manifestations of cultural disapproval (Bartky 1993; Bordo 1993; Butler 1989). For example Jefferson (1997) illustrates that Dennis Rodman has also borne the bruni of cultural disapproval for his gender transgressions. Indeed, to both mon- itor and subdue his apparently undesirable aesthetic tendencies, Rodman has had to undergo mandatory psychiatric consultation at the request of the Chicago Bulls’ management. Thus, that which may be considered by an individual in drag as exposing the malleability of gender could be and often is, simultaneously represented in the popular as symptomatic of :rndrvtdual pathology. In view of such constraints on subjective agency and, contrngeutly, the conditions of its reception, it seems implausible to contend that gender identities are uncomplicatedly plastic or malleable. Harper (1994) also notes that when viewing drag queens as “active P}:0(lllC:rS not only of political critique but of significant social—structural .c ange (91), one must closely inspect the scope of these individuals’ subw jectrve agency. While it may indeed be possible for an individual to subvert 79 MELISSE LAFRANCE AND GENEVIEVE RAIL "As Bod as He Says He Is?" Indeed, Barrett posits that Rodrnan’s cross-dressing “wields an icono» elastic critical remove” (112) and that it “dismisses the relevance of sani- - wry normativity” {106). Barrett bases such a proposition on both Rodman’s public spectacles and statements like the following in his first book, Bad as I Went to Be: norms of gender, sexuality, and desire microcosmicaily (i.e., Within the .- realm of her own everyday life), it does not necessarily follow that this :, agency extends into all {or even most} facets of the public sphere.‘1 We 1 argue that the decidedly “public” nature of the violences5 inflicted upon those who reject and subvert dominant norms of gender, sexuality, am} desire seriously undermine the individuals subjective agency as regards identity overhaul. One’s ability to refashion her identity in her own image ' rarely reaches the point of veritable subversion when such refashioning is frequently policed, interrupted, and/or suppressed by public structures designed to maintain dominant cultural processes. To posit that such sub~ versive performances can lead to unrestricted identity overhauls elides the systematic power of public apparatuses working to maintain and consoli— date dominant discursive regimes. In light of the aforementioned, Rodman’s mandatory psychiatric counSeling and his comparatively stern disciplining by NBA referees might be seen as a particularly apt illustration of how Rodman’s ability to “dis rupt binary gender codes” (McDonald and Aikens 1996, 97) through “drag queenesque” performances is impelled by the meanings others impute to his enactments and the limits of his subjective agency in the public sphere. Nevertheless, Butler {1993a, 1993b} and Harper {1994) both posit that drag does indeed serve a critical function. That critical function, however, is not related to exposing the essential plasticity of gender. Instead, drag’s veritable subversive edge lies in its ability to expose “the mundane psychic and performative practices by which beterosexualizecl genders form them- selves through the renunciation of the possibility of homosexuality. . . . Drag thus allegorizes heterosexual melancholy” (Butier 1993a, 25). i paint my fingernails. i coior my hair. I sometimes Wear women’s clothes. I want to chalienge people’s image of what an athlete is sup— posed to be. I like bringing out the feminine side of Dennis Rodman. . . . To hang out in a gay bar or put on a sequined halter top makes me feei like a total person and not just a onemdimensional man. (Rodman 1996, 208; emphasis added) I While we concur with Butler’s (1993a, 1993b) contention that drag can potentially ailegorize the production of normative identities, we hesitate to embrace Barrett’s enthusiasm regarding the “iconoclastic” and/or dis- ruptive effects of Rodinan’s cross-dressing. Admittedly, Rodrnan’s trans— vestite activities encourage the NBA in particular, and basketball fans in general, to confront a player who neither looks nor acts like the rest of the piayers. This, however, does not necessarily foreordain Rodrnan’s cross— dressing as interrogative of either gender categories or professional sport’s gendered economies. We propose, therefore, that construing Rodrnan as veritably disruptive to dominant gender codes is problematic on three counts: (at) Rodman’s crossmdressing strategies rely on heteronorrnative formulations of gender and thus exploit and confirm male supremacist formulations of femininity; (b) Rodrnan’s comportment, whether in or out of drag, is frequently aggressive, sexist, and/0r sexually violent, and therefore reproduces dominant modalities of masculinity; and (c) Rod— rnan’s cross—dressing does not veritably confuse perceptions of his sex] gender identity and therefore has little implication for the maintenance and resulting privilege of his dominant masculine persona. First, let us consider how Rodrnan’s cross-dressing strategies rely on normative gender binaries and thus exploit and confirm maie supremacist formulations of femininity. McDonald and Aikens {1996} insist that Rod~ man mobilizes “queer praxis” to “critique dominant heterosexist and gen- der ideologies” (97). To understand the implications of the previous Rodman in Drag: Illusions of Disruption / Articulations of Heteronormatiyizy It’s hard for men especialiy to deal with my cross—dressing and my ef~ feminate tendencies, but that’s not my probiern. Guys, here’s a secret: Chicks absolutely love it. Believe me, I know. ~Dennis Rodmcm Much like McDonald and Aikens (1996), Barrett (1997) also views Rodrnan as a disruptive force vis—a—vis regimes of gender and sexuality. 80 ST MfiiISSE LAFRANCE AN?) GENEVIEVE RAEL statement, a working definition of “queerness” might be instructive. Dow (1993) argues that, fundamentally, “queerness should challenge and con- fuse our understanding and uses of sexual and gender categories” (xvii), If one accepts that queerness relates to the agitation of normative identity categories, then it becomes difficult to reconcile Rodman’s behavior with things queer. This difficulty arises, first and foremost, because Rodman’s crossudressing strategies are undergirded by both the “male gaze” and many male supremacist stereotypes associated with ideal femininity. For Rodman, “doing” femininity includes painting his nails, shaving his leg, and wearing short skirts, wedding dresses, lingerie, and excessive jewelry {Jefferson 1997; Kiley 1996; Luscombe 1996; Rodman i996, 1997; Seal 1995), indeed, as revealed in his two books and his numerous spectacles, Rod- man’s appropriations of the feminine appear to rely wholly on aesthetic exaggerations of culturally sanctioned femininity. Contrary to McDonald and Aikens’s stipulation, then, Rodrnan’s behavior does not seem to dis- ._ arm normative gender binaries. We argue that Rodrnan’s behavior is neither culturally dismncerting. nor individually unnerving precisely because it refuses to “challenge and. confuse our understanding and uses of sexual and gender categories.” If. anything, Rodrnan’s performances confirm male supremacist formula-5 tions of femininity while encouraging admittedly conservative audiences to consume banal spectacles of gender transgression. These seemingly an“; expected acts of consumption are permissible, even profitable, in the an drocentric world of professional sports only insofar as Rodman’s “true”: gender identity remains unquestioned. Insofar as Rodman’s masculinity: remains intact, his spectators are encouraged to consume “acceptable” and marketable forms of difference without being asked to rethink and' obscure their own conceptions of gender. Second, let us consider how Rodrnan’s comportment, whether in or: m :3 out of drag, is frequently aggressive, sexist, and/or sexually violent, therefore reproduces dominant modalities of masculinity. Rodman’s base; ketball career to date has resulted in numerous suspensions, most of. which were attributed to head—butting, kneeing, elbowing, and attacking nonplayers such as photographers and referees (Armour 1996a, 1996b; )6 ferson 1997; Smith 1996). In March 1996, Rodman attacked NBA referee? Ted Bernhardt and was subsequently accorded the third longest suspe 82 "As Bod as He Says He is?" Sign in NBA history (Smith 1996). Although some critics who read Rod- man for positive oppositionality disregard his violent propensities (e.g., Barrett 1997; McDonald and [likens 1996), we argue that Rodman’s aggres— sive behavior reproduces normative modalities of masculinity and there— fore cannot be ignored when assessing his subvarsive potential. . Off the court, Rodman also displays dominantly masculine behavior. NOWhere is this behavior more evident than in his books Bad as I Wanna Be (1996) and Walk on the Wild Side (1997), which are characterized by measureless themes of aggressive and/or sexist masculine sexuality. Con- sider the following citations: You really can’t make love as much as you can fuck. Fucking is so much better, because you let all the aggression out. . . . A lot of guys sit there before and during sex saying, “Honey, I love you, blah, blah, blah. I wish you’d be here forever.” Then when they get through with it, the first thought to pop into their head is, “God damn, I’m tired, I don’t want to be around your ass.” (1997, 75) I can have sex anytime I want sex. . . . I’m in charge, I guess you could say. The truth is, I can call a girl and have her over here right now. Give me fifteen minutes and i’ll have a gorgeous girl. (1996, 180—183) I don’t mind pleasing a woman, but i think women in general want to please the man more than they want to get pleased themselves. Or maybe I just think that because i don’t particularly enjoy going down on a woman. If I had a tongue—licker that ran on batteries, I would just put it down there and let it go. . . . There’s no way I’d ever go down there with my tongue for that long, but the tonguemlicker could get the job done. (1997, 86) No pussy in the world is worth destroying a team. for. (1997, 143) The above citations illustrate the extent to which dominant formula— gons of ,gender and sexuality operate in published accounts of Dennis Odman s carnal proclivities: His books, his interviews and his abundant 83 MELISSE LAFRANCE AND GENEVIEVE RAH. media appearances are often suffused with sexist and degrading references to women. Not only does Rodrnan frequently preSent women as physically repulsive, but he often likens them to inhuman beings such as fish (ugh, “I’m just gill—filling her” 1997, 87) and trucks (e.g., “I lost my virginity to this widewbody who lived upstairs” 1997, 77). Finally, Rodman’s texts posi“ tion women as sexual objects (e.g., “mostly rent—a—girls” 1997, 81) whose own Sexual desires are legitimately subordinated to those of men. Unfortunately, the aggressive hypermasculinity described above un— derlies concrete instances of patriarchal violence whose implications ex- tend far beyond the realm of half-witted books and interviews. Surely those eager to point out the innocuous character of Rodrnan’s antics wouicl do well to consider the multiple sexual assault charges recently filed ' against him (Woman Sues Rodrnan, 1998). In view of his attitudes toward gender and sexuality, one must wonder ._ whether, as Rodrnan (1996, 1997) maintains, his drag spectacles, his own: ership of a pink pick~up truck, and his visits to gay bars truly render him different and somehow less masculine than other men. We suggest that Rodrnan’s normative masculinity remains perfectly intact while he carries 3: out allegedly marginai behavior and that, consequently, he neither cri tiques dominant gender ideologies nor exposes the fluidity of sexlgender F: categories. D Third, let us consider the final problematic component of construm Rodrnan as a disruptive cultural force. We argue that because Rodman’s i sex] gender identity is never veritably troubled, his gender crossmg has- little impiication for the maintenance and resulting priviiege of his domi nant masculine persona. Rodrnan, then, garners “a taste of the exotic’ (Hall 1992, 23) without having to either participate in the emancipatory struggles of sex! gender “outlaws” or confront the existence of such strug gles and the pain, violence, and subordination they imply. hooks (1992 proposes that excursions into Otherness, such as Dennis Rodman’s tern porary peregrinations to sex/gender outlaw communities, potentially rein force cultural relations of domination while elidiug their effects. hooks posits: The desire to make contact with those bodies deemed Other . . . assuages the guilt of the past, even takes the form of a defiant gesture 84 "As Bod as He Says He is?” where one denies accountability and historical connection. Most im— portantly, it establishes a contemporary narrative where the suffering imposed by structures of domination on those designated Other is deflected by an emphasis on seduction and longing where the desire is not to make the Other over in one’s image but to become the Other. (25; emphasis added) Because Rodman does not pollute the boundaries of sex or gender enough to lead people to veritably doubt either his biology or his mascu- linity, he continues to benefit from forms of heteronormative privilege ' while profiting, both personally and financially, from his excursions into the Otherness of sex/gender outlaw communities. -. Rodman, Sexual Difierence, and AIDS One could argue that Rodrnan, by discussing his homoerotic fantasies, ' dying the AIDS red ribbon into his hair, publicizing his visits to gay bars, . and asserting the captivating presence of transsexuals and transvestites, is effectively queering mainstream audiences, however temporarily. One _ could also argue that Rodman’s recognizance of non—normative sexualities - has the effect of querying dominant regimes of desire. Barrett (1997), _ ,S. lohnson (1996), Jefferson (1996), and McDonald and Aikens (1996) have advanced likevnatured claims with some success. Although we are not in complete disagreement with the aforementioned authors, we will consider Ithe subversive potential of Rodman’s sexual persona within the context of related acts and comments, cultural attitudes toward such acts and ' comments, and Rodman’s stake in their representation. To begin, let us discuss Rodman’s muchwpublicized homoerotic fanta- hsies. There can be no denying that Rodman appears to be unabashed re— garding both his openness toward and his personal interest in gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transvestites, and transsexuals. Doubtless, Rodman’s articulation of such openness and interest produces some positively oppo~ -.'sltional effects not easily subsumed by conservative sexual politics. Rod— ;man’s enthusiasm regarding nonmormative sexualities is evidenced in Garments such as the following: I like going to gay bars and hanging out with Queers, transvestites, and transsexuals because I find them a hell of a lot more interesting 85 MausssiAFsAnce AND GENEVEVE sAu uAsBOdOSHeSOysHek?» than the boring-ass dudes I see in the locker rooms and on basketball I’m not sure whether [’11 be with a man in the future, but it’s some- thing i’ve definitely been thinking about for a while. If i ever do decide to have sex with a man, i’ll find a guy just like me and love the shit out of him. It’ll be like two bulls going at it, bro, I’ll tell you that. {179) courts. (Rodman 1997, 20) Admittedly, the above citation and indeed the majority of Rodman’s reflections on queers, transvestites, and transsexuals recall hooks’s (199;) and Hall’s (1992) discussion of exploring communities of Otherness with- out taking reSponsibility for the cultural conditions structuring the 0th- er’s marginality. in his book Walk on the Wild Side (1997), hOWeverL- Rodman must be credited with pushing the limits of heteronormative acceptability in at least some narrative instances. Consider the following ._ description of his attraction to a transsexual: When reading his books, however, one discerns significant instabili— ties in Rodman’s allegiance to queerness. While he often appears assertive about his homoerotic desires, he also distances himself from his gay pow tentiality in many passages. For instance, Rodinan declares: Since I started talking about my fantasies of being with another man, E had been with Mimi a couple of times before I realized that She people have assumed I’m bisexual. I don’t do much to discourage was a man. it turns out she was on the road to becoming a woman. She took hormones and had a couple of surgeries, and we’ve stayed close throughout the process. It was intriguing in the beginning. We’ve kissed before, and i’m not ashamed to say that she turns me on. To be around her, as beautiful as she is, I’d have no problem going further with her. It wouldn’t freak me out that she’s been sur- gically altered. To me sex is a vibe, anyway, not some clinical act. (183) that, since it fits into my idea of keeping people guessing; I went to a T—shirt shop in West Hollywood during the off—season . . . and i bought two shirts. On one it said, I don’t mind straight people as long as they act gay in public. The other said, I’m not gay but my boyfriend is. i wore the first one out to a club in NeWport Beach the next night and a girl came up to me and said “you’re cool, you speak your mind and that’s what I like about you.” Then she said “i’m bisexual too—just like you.” I just laughed at her . . . ifI am bisexual it’s in my mind only. (1996, 212; emphasis added) Rodrnan’s unashamed testimonies regarding his desire for transsexu sis is not easily reconciled with his dominantly masculine and athleti persona. Such testimonies, then, undoubtedly produce a degree of uneas ness in mainstream readers and might even, to at least a limited exten prompt some readers to rethink the conventional boundaries of congress. Similarly, Rodman’s attraction to other men is the subgect”: much commentary in both of his published works. Superficially, the uttg ances characterized by homoerotic sensibilities appear confident and Sin cere. Rodmau (1997) writes: We do not intend to posit that sexual discontinuities are in any way unique to Dennis Rodman. It is worth noting, however, that Rodman’s ihornoerotic utterances coincide with a cultural moment characterized by the acute fashionability of “queer chic.” One might argue, then, that it is precisely these discontinuities that allow Rodrnan to benefit from the pub- ‘.licity and popular exoticization of queer chic while successfuily courting a " rimarily heterosexual male reader/viewership. Indeed, these instabilities oupled with the overwhelmingly heterornasculine tone of his books and interviews, “[invite} status quo readers to imagine that they too can con» asume images of difference, participate in the sexual practices depicted, and et remain untouched—unchanged” (hooks 1994, is). ' Finally, let us turn now to a consideration of Rodrnan’s relationship to near communities and his engagement with the AIDS epidemic. Rodman Since there’s one question everyone wants to know, I’ll just come right out and answer it. Yes, l’rn gay. Feel better? Well, there 5 a second answer. I’m straight. Confused? Me, too. {174) 86 8? ’ N GENE Itve RAIL ,, MEUSSELAFRANCE A D v AsBGdGsHeSaysHehg” so hard by the AIDS epidemic. AIDS is such a scary disease, and the worst part is that it can be spread by such a pleasurable activity (1997, 187) certainly appears to be a great supporter of queer communities, projecting an almost paternalistic attitude toward their cultural travails. Whether in books or interviews, Rodman is freqflentll’ caught making Statements Sim“ ilar to the following: Without denying for one moment the incalculable trauma suffered 1) gay men at the hands of the AIDS virus, it should seem curious tha: queers, an enormous and seriously diverse group of people, would come to be represented by a disease. Although in this instance Rodman’s con“ flation of homosexuality with AIDS is being mobilized for relatively be~ ' nevolent purposes, it is important to note that many queers have endeavored to eradicate such a conflation from dominant discourses of sexuality. This attempted eradication has transpired for the obvious rea» son that it both equates-homosexuality with disease (Eyre 1997' Patton .1993) and erases the important cultural presence of those queers not Widely affected by the AIDS epidemic (i.e., lesbians). Consider also the semiotic implications of a red ribbon appearin on Dennis Rodman’s body—a corporeal sign inscribed, voluntarily and involuntarily, with discourses of pathology, deviance, and in Rodman’s words, badness. Since Rodman’s success has proven to be virtually contin- agent on his badness, one must question how the average sports consumer might engage with the superimposition of the AIDS ribbon on the deviant iliodman body. Although We do not contend that Rodman’s publicization Iof the AIDS ribbon was entirely negative, we would like to underscore the possibility that the juxtaposition of the AIDS struggle with a body volun— tarily marked deviant produces potentially deleterious representational ef~ feats for those infected with the AIDS virus. Similarly, one must interrogate Rodman’s intentions as regards the piobilization of the AIDS ribbon. If Rodrnan had genuinely wanted to isupport gay people” by grafting an element of their symbolic onto his body, then why did he select the red ribbon—ma symbol of disease and socially constructed pathology—rather than explicit symbols of gay pride 3., the triangle, the rainbow). We propose that Rodman’s mobilization _ the red ribbon can be alternatively read as a self~marking strategy, Wherein Rodrnan comes off I ' oolong more atholo 'cal, ' and quite simply, more “bad.” p g1 more differeflt’ When I go to a gay bar, it’s not quite as mellow as it used to be, because so many people come up and tell me they appreciate my Willingness to stick up for gay rights. But i don’t mind the extra attention, because i really enjoy hanging out with gays. They’ve been through so much that a lot of them are fearless, and they’ll do and say anything. (r997, 186) Rodrnan’s oversimplifications and! or distortions of queer lifestyles in both Bad as I Wanna Be and Walk on the Wild Side are not necessarily worthy of extensive rumination here. His more mediatized promotional strategies involving the appropriation of specific elements of the gay sym- bolic, however, are interesting to the cultural critic. On at least two occasions, Rodman has been widely viewed or photo“ graphed with a red ribbon—intended to repreSent the struggle against AIDS—grafted into the back of his head. In Bed as I Wanna Be, Rodlnan is explicit about what this particular symbol represents to him. Rodman writes: Gay men come up to mew—wand on to mew-ail the time. I think I’ve done more to recognize them than any other professional athlete. When I put the AIDS ribbon on my head during the play-offs against the Lakers in 1995, I think that opened a lot of eyes. These people were finally seeing somebody openly recognize them. For the first time they saw someone openly show some support—with no embar— rassment at all. (1996, 213) Clearly, then, to Dennis Rodman the red ribbon represents homosexp uals and homosexuality in general. This conflatiori is reproduced in Wat on the Wild Side: I like being in a position to stick up for gay people. They’re the last ones who should be subjected to any shit, because they’re getting hit 88 89 MELISSE LAERANCE AND GENEVEEVE RAIL A5 Bad (,3 He Says He M in gratuitous and voyeuristic terms, often consisting of lists and summa_ ries detailing his rawest and most unconventional sexual encounters. ' These narratives are inevitably framed by Rodrnan’s uncontrollable sexual . urges and his basic Willingness to entertain sexual relations in any situau tion “Getting a Bit of the Other” Dennis Rodman and Black Male Sexuality Heretofore, we have assessed the subversive potential of Rodrnan’s I seemingly counter-cultural Spectacles of difference (1e, cross—dressing, homoerotic acts and disclosures, “queer” self—marking). We have not, _- however, discussed how these spectacles of difference and their represen 'i' tation in the American cultural imaginary relate to~orare interceded: bymRodrnan’s blackness. In this section, we will consider Rodman's‘x blackness in an attempt to evaluate why Rodman’s sexuality appears to b a palpable object of popular fascination. Using his success as a yardstick, , we will show that representations of Rodman’s aggressrve, hypermascuhne ;. sexuality are always already mediated by his blackness. In so dorng, ‘ will also show that these representations are redeployed in order to articu-' late white supremacist fantasies of savage, phallocenterecl, and sexually? predacious black men. Walk on the Wild Side is also characterized by detailed autobiographi~ . cal descriptions of Rodman’s penis. In fact, these penis narratives seem to have at least two recurring themes. On the one hand, Rodman’s penis is always described as enormous and, most importantly, black. Consider, for .. instance, Rodrnan’s request that intolerant individuals “beat on {him} for ibeing an uppity N~word who loves to show his big black dong to white Women” (240). On the other hand, his penis is often represented in threat— ening and intimidating terms. Consider, for example, Rodrnan’s meeting .. with Cindy Crawford at an MTV function: “The highlightwas when I put Tom a G-String. Her mouth got all wide and she looked totally amazad '3.__when she saw my big bulge. I told her, ‘don’t worry—"there’s a monster in .- imy pants’ ” (140). According to hooks (1992), phallic obsessions are particularly frequent glarnong black males. hooks attributes this especially high frequency to 'E'white supremacist logics that seek to divert black men away from resis— , ance struggle while preoccupying them with banal and depoliticized . questions of genital biology. She problematizes the implications of black men, like Rochnan, who embrace a phallocentric orientation: Rodrnan as Postmodern Savage Blackness, Phallocentrism, and Sexuality l have this fantasy that I can live my life like a tiger in the junglew—eating whatever i Want, having sex whenever i want, and roaming around butt naked, Wild and free. . . . it sounds difficult and complicated, but it doesnst have to be. Should we not suspect the contemporary commodification of black— ness orchestrated by whites that once again tells black men not only to focus on their penis but to make this focus their all consuming passion? Such confused men have little time or insight for resistance struggle. Should we not suspect representations of black men . . . where the black male describes himself as ‘hnng like a horse’ as though the size of his penis defines who he is? . . . How many black :' ' men will have to die before black folks are willing to look at the link ' between the contemporary plight of black men and their continued allegiance to patriarchy and phaliocentrism? (122; emphasis added) ~Dermis Rodman The front and back covers of Rodrnan’s most recent effort, Walk 0 the Wild Side (1997), ' t I Rodman is naked, adorned with brown, orange and yellow paint, an covered with black horizontal stripes. One is most likely supposed gather that Rodman is, in these pictures, a tiger or another wild animal; sorts. Fragments of these pictures litter most pages of the book. I'Despr: its almost unspeakable repetition and contradiction, Walk on the Wild tip is characterized by several themes. Of particular pertinence to this scene are two predominant leitmotifs: his physicality and his sexuality. Ru: man's lengthy discussions of both his body and his sexuality are couch: i." W (a ’13 O m (1) CA 0 £3 E? m ’J‘ in :5 D.- (n 9.: :3 $3.. E re a! or re a“ B a. N Q '13 .93.. Indeed, those who read his books are likely left with the impression at Rodrnan resembles nothing short of a sexually irrational black man 9i ‘?0 MEHSSE lAFRANCE ANS GENEVIEVE RAH. whose enormous penis and visceral instincts are directed at and satisfied by apprehensive white women. Rodman, then, presents himself as prim- tively hypersexual, phallic identified, and racially threatening. We suggest that the aforementioned formulation of Rodman’s sexual identity is me; with overwhelming commercial success in the popular precisely because it articulates specific white supremacist fantasies of black male sexuality, Historical and cultural contextualizations of Rodman and dominant rep“ resentations of his sexuality confirm our position. White American cu}, ture’s complicated interest in black sexuality, and indeed blackness in- general, can be traced back to the settlement of the New World (Morrison “As Bod us He Says He is?” To make oneself vulnerable to the seduction of difference, to seek an encounter with the Other, does not require that one relinquish for— ever one’s mainstream positionaiity. When race and ethnicity be» come commoditied as resources for pleasure, the culture of specific groups, as well as the bodies of individuals, can be seen as constitut— ing an alternative playground where members of dominating races, genders, sexual practices affirm their power—over in intimate rela— tions with the Other. (1992, 23) 1992). For Morrison, young America was a country in which there was a resident population, already black, upon which the imagination could play; through which historical, moral, meta" physical and social fears, problems and dichotomies could be articu- lated. The slave population, it could be and was assumed, offered itself up as surrogate selves for meditation on problems of human freedom, its lure and its elusiveness. This black population was avail— able for meditations on terror—wthe terror of . . . internal aggression, __ White Americans have long been living out fantasies of the Other through the consumption of black literary and filmic images. According :10 Snead {1994), this consumption is reflective of the cultural moment in which black images are produced as well as actively implicated in the .reinscription of dominant norms and codes. We contend that the Ameri- j-fcan mass consumption of Rodman’s black physicality and sexuality should e understood in similar terms—as connotative of a crisis in white cul- stural identity as well as reinscriptive of dominant regimes of race, ethnic- 'ty, and sexuality. The next section will consider some particularly acute {articulations of white culture’s fantasies of the Other’s racially coded sexu— evil, sin, greed. (37m38) The elaboration of American identity was thus achieved through not only white culture’s suppression of Africanism—m‘fleployed as rawness and savagery” (Morrison 1992, 44)—~—but also through its highly invested and profoundly troubled engagement with the African Other. This en; gagement produced, in literary and filmic imaginations, the African Other as the savage, the rapist, andlor the criminal (Davis 1984; hooks 1992, 1994 Morrison 1992; Snead 1994). That is, the African Other was materialized through all of the fictive personages with which whites could not and would not allow themselves to personally identify. Such cultural and h toricai displacements, resulting in the mythification of African Otherness allowed and continue to allow dominant groups to consume various m ‘ daiities of difference (i.e., racial, ethic, sexual), experience fierce pleasuf from the consumption of such difference, and maintain white supremacis relations. hooks discusses the problematic nature of white longing for con tact with the Other: 92 "Iality, while situating Rodman within this cultural history. Unbearable Blackness Rodmun’s Savagery and the Resurgence of the Racially Coded Monster In Western culture, the literary and historical tendency to identify blacks with apewliice creatures is quite clear and has been weliwdowmented. A willed misreading of Linnaean classification and Darwinian evolution helped buttress an older European conception {tracing from as early as the 16th Century) that blacks and apes, icindreci denizens of the “jungle ” are phylogenetically closer and sexually more compatible than biaclcs and whites. wfumes Snead This masculinist preserve of the NBA is further complicated by the ste~ reotyp1cal association that equates people of color with sensuality and physicaiity. Thus, perceptions of hypersexnality and eroticism persist as 93 MELiSSE LAERANCE AND GENEVIEVE RAlL ~A, Bad as He 50” H6153” ' savages like King Kong. King Kong, the movie, is especially worthy of I deliberation in this instance due to its “blatant linkage of the idea of the black with that of the monster” (Snead 1994, 7). Although the Hollywood _ I mobilization of monstrosity is complex in and of itself, many posit that I' the monster functions as a figurative release of repressed sexual desires {that would otherwise threaten social stability and reigning discursive re— gimes (e.g., Snead 1994; Wood 1979). Snead (1994) remarks: “The Holly» wood monster film allows, among other things, a safe outlet of such sexual esires in a surrogate form, and a vicarious experiencempleasurable and powerful racist undercurrents within the consumer culture and the corn— modified space of the NBA. —«Mary McDonald We have already delineated the underlying elements of dominant cul- ture’s deployment of blackness as rawness and savagery. In so doing, we have worked toward elucidating the constituents of Rodman’s success with white audiences. To solidify such elucidations, We suggest a compari- son of mainstream cultural engagements with two seemingly distinct Spec- tacles of blackness: Dennis Rodman and King Kong. We maintain the pertinence of considering Dennis Rodman and King Kong concomitantly (7}. Bearing in mind that Rodman is represented, and indeed represents for two reasons: (a) both are spectacles evincing hYPeragEIESSiVe biaCk '7 himsem as a primitive, aggresswe’ irrational, hypersexual exceeding}?! . ‘ J! , wellhung black man who dates predominantly white women, consider savagery; and (b) there has been a resurgence of like—natured, and arguas: bly racially coded, ape spectacles in late twentieth century America—an ___nead’s recapitulation of King Kong’s effects: epoch, it should be noted, that coincides with Rodman’s successes. We argue that Rodman’s successes must be understood within the context of a cultural imaginary increasingly strewn by awe—inspiring rep—'- resentations of animalistic blackness. This popular cultural resurgence of anthropomorphic ape images has been materialized by profitable Holly; wood remakes of classics such as Mighty foe Young (a King Kong sequel) and Godzilla, as well as by television commercials depicting apes wrap} ping Christmas presents (Fido Cellular Telephones), stealing credit cards (Visa Credit}, intimidating white women in pantyhose (Leggs Hosiery) watching movies (Blockbuster Video), offering Valentine Day flowers (Rogers Cantel Inc, AT&T Corp}, and observing circus events (Subway Submarine Sandwiches). This resurgence has also been evidenced by an uncommonly significant amount of news coverage pertaining to anthr'o pomorphic ape events.‘5 No matter the manifestation, the recent and un‘ deniable resurrection of anthropomorphic ape re resentations in l twentieth century America mi to discharge its increased frustration and resentment toward people 0 color through popular forms. Dennis Rodman is an interesting individual to consider within flu analytical context. He is quite obviously not an ape, but his voluntary at} involuntary representation as a primitive, aggressive, tends to situate him in a semiotic economy shared by other alleged blah The figure of King Kong would allow the white male to vent a variety of repressed sexual fantasies: the hidden desire of seeing himself as an omnipotent, phallic black male; the desire to abduct the white woman; or the combined fantasy: to abduct a white woman in the dnguise of a phallic black male. (24) I It could be argued that mainstream viewers, presumably white and male, might extort from representations of Rodman similar pleasures as those extorted from engagements with King Kong, as both spectacles allow viewers to fantasize about formidable physical prowess, menacing black inaler masculinity, and misogynistic sexual domination. Indeed, both I g Kong and Rodman allow white male audiences to consume signs of acial and sexual difference for pleasure—related purposes while almost .aradoxically, rearticulating white supremacist fantasies of black s,ava e :Iypersexuality and deviance. it could be argued, then, that a mainstrgea:P p'ectator’s engagement with Rodman’s persona, as well as the effects ro— duced by such an engagement, are characterized by affective dis lice- ments 'similar to those produced by the popular consumptifn of __,1mallstic blackness in other mediatized forms. These events must therem _ "U 0 4 to H m (a 74 m an (5" ,._. a: n ’F.“ B 94 95 MELISSE LAFRANCE AND GENEViEVE RAIL "As Bad as He.- Scrys Hols?” contend that Rodman’s badness is economically productive in that the NBA benefits enormously from Rodrnan’s spectacies. While the former : has been asserted at length in this essay and need not be restated here, the - latter is echoed by sports journalist Wayne Scanlan (1997). As regards the economic productivity of Rodrnan’s badness, Scanlan observes: Good Black/Bed Black {0111 the whoie, I believe that [Michael] lordan is positioned in media culture as the “good black,” e5pecially against the aggressiveness and visual transgressions of teammate Dennis Rodman, who With his bleached and undisciplined hair, earring, failCY Clothes: and reglflaflY rebellious behavior represents the “bad” Black figure- WDOuglas Kenn” The scariest notion to reckon with is that the celebrated antics of . . . Rodman have become a financial necessity to major-league sport and the media that present it and cover it. Jim Bouton [suggested that] sports have learned from the John McEnroe example in tennis. Tan~ trums raise profiles, sell tickets, and even attract sponsors. {1) Beausoleil (1994) argues that dominant culture formulates simple, monolithic, and often binary conceptions of racial Others in order to justify their sociocultural subordination. This contention, it could be argued, is confirmed through considerations of Rodman’s popular repre- sentation. Indeed, when contrasted with representations of Michael Ior- clan—who is constructed as the zenith of “good” blackness—Dennis Rodman is an unmistakable embodiment of “bad” blackness. For Barrett " (1997), Rodman’s badness renders him incongruous and therefore disrup- tive to the highly regulated rectitude of the NBA: Hence, Rodrnan’s appeal to sports fans of the NBA is not irrational, as Barrett (1997) maintains. In fact, we would argue that Rodman’s success - is entirely logical in that it implies both the consolidation of dominant discursive regimes and the proliferation of NBA economic fortunes. Moreover, Rodman’s “hadness”——especially when contraposecl with lor— dan’s “goodness”~—facilitates mainstream media’s dichotomized good/ bad representations of black men. Black men are thus locked into a pro~ foundly stereotypical representational politics that denies and even disw .ayows the complexities of their cultural situation and the pluralistic nature of the subject positions they currently inhabit. This logic is given the shorthand of “family Values” and is deeply impiicated in the economic fortunes of the NBA, corporate culture, and the powerful representations they underwrite. An enormous fi- nancial return for the NBA depends on the Winsome introduction of (primarily African American) “young guys” into what U.S. culture insists on regulating as demure domestic wards. Rodman’s unusual appearance and cynicism, on the other hand, interrogate these prew sumptions. They query the NBA’s economic/entertainment monop- oly [and] the equally suspect monopoly of moralfethicai discourse in the U.S. (109) Recovery, Transformation, and Transcendence Rodman, the Failed Black Family, and the American Dream7 A lot of times you‘ll hear somebody ask an NBA player what he’d be I d01l‘lg if he wasn’t getting paid to play basketball. The answer they get pretty often is: Dead or in jail. Most of us are from shitty backgrounds: projects, ghettos, no money, no father, no hope. . . . I didn’t have a male role model in my life until I got to college and started getting my shit together. Unlike Barrett (1997), we posit that although Rodman’s aggressiir refusal of NBA role-model culture and family values subscription ma trouble select dominant discourses undergirding professional basketball his unruly behavior is not culturally andlor economically unproductiVe On the one hand, Rodman’s badness is culturally productive in that}. becomes reformulated to satisfy white fantasies of black savagery andt further mark black (sporting) bodies as deviant. On the other hand, W ——-Dennis Rodman __ Cole (1996) and Cole and King {1998) have maintained that the suc» cess of the black athlete both generates and affirms national fantasies of 96 97 MELiSSE LAFRANCE AND GENEVIEVE RAIL meritocracy and fluid social mobility while pathologizing the alleged fail ure of black America. We contend that Rodrnan’s depiction as an Africafl American man who transcended his ascribed situation to finally attain a life of fame and material wealth articulates at least two national fantasy discourses: (a) the failed black famiiy, and (b) America as an open eco- nomic system. The Failed Black Famin Both Rodrnan and the media that represent him emphasize his father iessness in the projects and, subsequently, the white middle-class nuclea family that adopted him when he went off to college. An overwhelmin number of articies, in fact, dedicate at least one passage to Rodman’ friendship with, and surrogate adoption by, the Rich family after he leave the projects. His biography is rewritten to appear as though it was onl Rodman’s inauguration into this white nuclear family that allowed him to excel in his sporting endeavors. Simultaneously, Rodman’s biological mother, the struggies she encountered raising and supporting a family 0 four, and her contribution to his career are effaced. Rodman’s success has also been used to confirm sport as the protecto of black masculinity, a discourse contingent on dominant formulations 0 failed black familialism. Rodman’s declaration “I grew up in a house 0 women . . . I thought when I was growing up that I was going to be gay’ has, in fact, been frequently mobilized by the‘rnainstream press to narrat the perverse implications of absent black masculine role models. More over, the considerable media attention attributed to this notorious decia ration evinces to what extent Rodman’s move to a white, middle-clas nuciear family and his involvement in professional sports are seen to hav saved him from emasculation. In this context, sporting activities becom narrated as essential to African American communities as they compen sate for the homosociai bonding and paternal role modeling portrayed as. inaccessible in black America (Cole 1996; Cole and King 1998). America as Meritocmcy Rodman’s books and interviews host lengthy ruminations on the vir toes of American society, the most important of which pertains to every individuai’s right and ability to better her economic situation. In th 98 fiflCe: "As Bad 0:; He Says He Is?” aforementioned publications, Rodman offers himself up as proof of Jimerican society as an open system, wherein individuals, regardless of ace, class, gender, or sexuality, are empowered to transcend their ascribed dentities and forge new lives for themselves. Like Barrett (1997), we posit that Rodman’s recurring narratives of economic recovery and transcen— ' as well as his emphasis on hard work and merit-based achievement, osition him as an affirmation of American “rags—to-riches” fantasies. 'onsider the following citations from Walk on the Wild Side: Some of my friends think I’m the second coming of Elvis, and I must admit there are some similarities between me and the King. Like Elvis, I’m a southern boy who lifted himsaif out of a poor upbringing and hit the big-time. When I was growing up in the projects and things seemed bleak, I always look at Elvis as proof that anyone with the right combination of flair, talent, drive, and luck can become important in America. (1997, 26) I wouldn’t be a strict parent, and I’d make it easy for [my daughter] to appreciate things. But I’d want her to appreciate the value of hard work, because the best way to get your priorities in order is to work for what you get. You’ve got to work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work. That’s what I did, and I’ve appreciated what it’s got nee—I still do. (1997, 224) _ We conclude, therefore, that the subversive potential of Rodman’s utterances relating to the destitution of American innerwcity life is under— mined, if not annuled, by his meritocratic formulations. Rodman’s apparent hostility toward political explanations of social inequality also ratify dominant depoliticized conceptions of national so~ 'cioeconomic processes. Silver’s (1996) interview with Rodman reveals this :hostiiity: There is a fataiistic side to Rodman, but he’s more of a 903 dissident than a ’6os insurgent. He thinks anything political is crap and has adopted a younger generation’s everything—is»screwed—up-beyond— 99 MELISSE LAFRANCE AND GENEVlEVE RAIL repair resignation. He is drunk on his own ability to do Whatever he wants, a rebel without a boss. (23; emphasis added) The Dailas—based consulting firm Sports Marketing Group confining this assertion, positing: “The under—29s see him as a rebel with a cause They appreciate his values. He doesn’t play politics, he says what he thinks and feels” (Hirsiey and DeSimone 1996, 3; emphasis added). In fact, Rod» man tends to eschew rnost explanations of social inequality that posi systemic relations of white domination.B Instead, Rodman tends to adop relativistic positions on questions of race and class: This is coming from somebody who doesn’t see skin color. I’m color neutral. i’m black, but my friends joke about me being a “white” black man. Most of my close friends are white, and I go out with white women. 1 don’t think about color. I try to go beyond that. The problem is, some people won’t let you go beyond it. If yoa’re black and a high—profile athlete, you’re all of a sudden under pressure to be a spokesman for the race. . . . Sometimes I think: Fuck the race and the people, I’m going to be honest with myself. That way, peo» pie—"no matter what colon—can make their own judgments about me. Everyone has a different experience. Everyone has a different story. When it comes to race, my experiences are different than any- body else’s. (Rodman 1996, 166w167) It is our belief, then, that Rodrnan has triumphed with mainstream audiences partly because he relieves whites of their responsibility in th __ reproduction of unequal social relations'while simultaneously fulfillin national fantasies of the failed black family and meritocracy. Rodman’s Financial Situation The Limits of SubversionwThrough-Consumption The claim that Rodman is a destabilizing cultural force can also b evaluated on the basis of his economic location. We argue that becaus Rodman’s alleged subversive praxis is inherently accomplished throng 100 ' ser “As Bod as He Says He ls?” Iconsumption, its subversive potential and overall disruptive effects are iously constrained. We Contené that ROdman’s persona is a cultural sensation precisely because it works within and reinforces what queer writer Jeffrey Escoftier (1994) calls “the regimes of the normal” (135). Spectators therefore enjoy Rodmanwthospectacle unproblernatically as it allows them to engage with écceptable and marketable forms of difference while residing unchab paged and unchanged (hooks 1994). Indeed, a cursory glance at his fi— nancial profile reveals that the kinds of difference for which Rodman is reputed are most certainly marketable and might even be, as Stuart Hall (1992) writes, “a kind of difference that doesn’t make a difference of any land” (23). A brief look at Rodrnan’s economic affiliations sheds light on but skepticism. Since he first started eliciting substantive media and fan responses, (Rodman has made considerable commercial inroads. in the last few years, Rodman has signed contracts with Nike, Pizza Pizza, Converse, Kodak, McDonald’s, Oaldeys, Victoria’s Secret, Mistic Beverages, a national hotel _chain, several clothing store chains, multinational computer companies, and has negotiated with Walt Disney Productions and Warner Brothers for the film rights to his book Bad as I Wanna Be. On top of Rodman’s :multimillionwdollar salary, in 1996, his business manager was already ex» .pecting a yearly off—themcourt income of over $10 milliOn (Armour 19963., 199615; Barboza 1996a, 1996b; Hirsley and DeSimone 1996; Johnson, K. C. £1996). One has to question the fundamentals of Rodman’s subversive poten— tial when over ten multinational corporations are involved in his alleged subversion. Most importantly, one has to query Rodman’s allegiances to multinational corporations such as Kodak, McDonald’s, and Disney~ multinationals renowned for their collusion with dominant discursive re— gimes of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. Surely if these conventional -:_corporations are willing to “ris ” their reputations on Rodman, it is pre- cisely because there is very little substantive risk involved. As Kodak’s chief marketing officer, Carl E. Gustin, exemplifies: “We did a background ficheck on Rodman and determined that his brand of naughty is benign . . . Rodrnan is just comically naughty or cartoon naughty—a curious carica— ture of hadness” (cited in Barboza 1996a, D8). 101 MtusSE LAFRANCE AND GENEVIsVE RAIL ~AS Bag US He Says He ,5,” Not only do the corporate think-tanks of popular culture conside Notes Rodman’s “counter—cultural” behavior innocuous, but they have and continue to successfully mark such behavior as pathological. Susan Gig ninno, general manager at Thompson New York, the ad agency in charg': of Kodak’s contract, openly declares: “We’re using him [Rodrnanl and a‘ he represents as a foil. The contradistinction between Rodman as the osten‘ sible bad boy seemed an excellent contrast with the goodness and who ' someness of Kodak” (cited in Barboza 1996a, D8; emphasis added}. Hence, positing that subversive potential can be realized through co sumptive patterns is problematic. Bordo {1993) reminds us that “con sumer capitalism depends on the continual production of novelty, of ire . images to stimulate desire, {frequently dropping} into marginalized neigh‘ borhoods in order to find them” (25). By the very fact that alleged “no city” or “subversion” is being “produced” for consumption requires the: such “difference” be rendered (pleasantly) intelligible to mainstream a diences. Thus, if all representations formulated through consumer capital ism must in one way or another become normalized, then We in seriously doubt the subversive potential of any cultural icon Whose i age relies on male/heteronormative/white supremacist capitalist mark forces. Since consumer capitalism requires a constant flow of new colours: and since consumption is by nature unstable, granted its dependence ' market forces, one cannot expect any consumer craze to lastweven if happens to be one with “subversive style.” 1. A5 explicated in Lafrance (1998), the term “American” is fundamentally prob— "matic when mobilized to describe cultural moments specific to the United States. If; the one hand, the term “American” effaces other constitutive regions of the Amerw as (i.e., Canada and the countries of Central and South America) and their distinct _experiences. The dominant employment of the term, then, producas homogenizing 'scursive effects and is, in short, both imperialistic and immaterial. However, we have “an to use this term when discussing the United States as its very employment (as wail as the connotative field within which it is rendered intelligible) discloses many unpertant fictions organizing the American imaginary: namely, that a primordial .gomponent of the American identity is based on fantasies of national supremacy. 2,. in this regard, Hall (1992) makes an interesting statement about the implica— tions of mainstreaming transgressive acts such as cross—dressing. Hall writes: “I ac- knowledge that the spaces ‘won’ for difference are few and far between, that they are wry carefully policed and regulated. I believe they are limited. I know, to my cost, that _' are grossly underfunded, that there is aiWays a price of incorporation to be paid when the cutting edge of difference and transgression is blunted into spectaculariza- ” (24)- 3. In her discussion of the performative, Butler (1993b) explicates the inevitably imPure pool of cultural resources from which one works when laboring to oppose dominant discursive regimes: “Performativity describes this relation of being impliw cated in that which one opposes, this turning of power against itself to produce alter— native modalities of power, to establish a kind of political contestation that is not a pure’ opposition, a ‘transcendence’ of contemporary relations of power, but a difficult abor of forging a future from resources inevitany impure. . . . For one is, as it Were, on powar even as one opposes it, formed by it as one reworks it, and it is this simulta- eity that is at once the condition of our partiality, the measure of our political un- knowingness, and also the condition of action itself. The incalculable effects of action .are as much a part of their subversive promise as those that we plan in advance” (241). _ ' 4. By public, we understand those dominant social structures, acts, and attitudes that both interpellate and compel the subject. 5. The violences done to those who transgress sexual norms have been described y many as basic human rights violations. in Western countries, for instance, such .‘Vioiences might manifest themselves in the forms of discriminatory immigration poli— igcies, heterosexist medicopsychological diagnosss and/ or treatments, employment ineq- ' ities (tag, wrongful dismissal, denial of spousal employment benefits), queer bashing, well as censorship and heterosexist legal codes and practices (Burke 1996; Herman 1994; Holmes and Purdy 1992; Lacombe 1994; Oikawa, Falconer, and Decter 1994). ' 6. This observation, it should be noted, is not based on a rigorous content analy~ _ s of mainstream neWS coverage. it is based merely on the authors’ daily engagements with popular cultural forms such as the televised news, newspapers, and magazines. (b «4: Concluding Remarks As previously stated, the far from negligible success of Rodman’s pe sona indicates that mainstream audiences exact a peculiar pleasure from Rodman’s communications. We propose that Rodman’s success with main hypersexuality, and deviance through the consumption of black male spot ing bodies), and not to its Willingness to embrace progressive sociocuiuuail change. Despite a few evanescent moments of significant disruption, we have sh0wn that Rodman, even in the midst of his alleged transgressro maintains and reinscribes dominant modalities of masculinity, phaliocen trisrn, heteronormativity, white supremacy, and consumer capitalism. l02 103 MELESSE iAFaANCE AND GENEVIEVE aAIL ItAngd “He SaysHehg“ America” {0013 and King 1998: 54} Without forcing them to acknowledge their own ' I lication in systems of oppression. These engagements have resulted in the authors' conclusion that anthropomorphic ape spectacles seem to preoccupy mediatized space With Significant frequency, Al. though our assertion regarding the consequential amount of news coverage of amino- pomorphic apes is based on “soft” empirical evidence, we nevertheless suggest that the ape—centered news story verbatim often displaces moral and cultural panics. related: to black cultures onto the apes in question. For example, cons1der the following we headlines that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen in early 1999: in “ ‘Sick golril‘la’ threatens economy,” Beauchesne argues that the recovering Canadian economy 15 in dang‘e‘rnf being knocked back down by the Brazilian economic were (represented as the Sick: gorilla”), and in “AIDS virus came from chimps," Clover and l-Irghfield report that: scientists have discovered that the AIDS virus originated in a sub—species of Chimpan__ gee in the central African gainforest. These examples speak to what could be called a [onlinel Available: httpzf/members.aol.com/agencies/homepage/rolemodl.htrnl. “Return to the planet of the apes,” this expression being also the title of an earlier: 1,033, 9. (1996a, December 19). A star athlete goes from naughty to nice, hoping to articie that confirms our assertion that in this finvde—millennium, “Apes are in the - earn a Kodak Advantur camera for Christmas. New York Times, p. D8. news again” (Disraeli 1998, A1). {199%, March 25). To build basketball Sneaker sales, Converse tries a novel 7. The title of this section was inspired by Cole and King’s (1998) observation. _ double team: Dr. I and Dennis Rodman. New York Times, p. D3. i that: “NBA superstars were created through and provided fertile ground for narratives: Barrett, i. (1997). Black men 1n the mix: Badboys, heroes, sequins and Dennis Rod- of limited scope that emphasized recovery, transformation, transcendence, and utopia ‘ ._ man Calla!” 29(1), 10632? ‘ soc-la} visions. . I _ Indeed, the complex marketing network that terntorraltzed the' m, S. (1993). Foucault, femininity and the modernization of patriarchal power. In NBA’s celebrity zone privileged seemingly incontrovertible evidence of self—Improve: ' M. Pearsall (ed-l. Wooten and values: Readings in recent feminist philosophy (pp. ment, self—reliance, self-determination, and ‘choice’ as it simultaneously Pmdliced an ' '151“"165}' Belmont’ Cahf': wadsworth' @132“?le endless sumfiy 0f morality and cautionary tales” (52)' afiChesnei E- (1999: l 31111317 16). “Sick gorilla” threatens ecOnomy. Ottawa Citizen, 8. Rodman has, at times, made astute observations concerning racism on the 1 .p‘ D1. basketball court and in American society. in Bad as I Wanna Be, Rodman states that Bgausoieii, N. (1994). Make—hp in everyday life: An inquiry into the practices of urban Larry Bird was "way overrated . . . because he’s white. You never hear about a black 5 {\merlcan women of diverse backgrounds. In N. sault (ed), Many mirrors: Body player being the greatest” (1996, 162). Similarly, in Walk on the Wild Side, Ilodman image and social relations (pp. 33—57). blew Brunswrck, NJ; Rutgers. proclaims: “The black culture still hasn’t recovsred from slavery. You can see 1t1n Bottle, 5. (1993). Unbearable wezght: Feminism, Western culture, and the body. L05 overt the crime and amount of single-parent families. When you take a proud “ Angela, Umversity. of Cafifomia Press. P on {if eo 1e arid whip them and rape them and humiliate them to the point __ Burke, P. (1996). Gender shock: Exploding the myths 0f male and female. New York: tgdrtull'e, it: nit something they can easiiy shake off. White people should understand - Anchor Boom . . j u . I I that, but a lot of them don’t, and this is still a very racist country” (1997, I. I. (1989). Gendenng the body: Beauvorr s philosophical contribution. In trouble is, however, that the resistant value of such race consciousness gets lost, 351 Garry & M. Pearsall (eds), Women, knowledge and reality: Explorations in feminist were, amidst his carnival of remarks accusing blacks of equally pernicious ractsrnfse: I philosophy (?P_.3,53_z52)' Boston: Unmn Hyman. ' . Rodman 1996, 1997). In this context, Rodrnan’s comments about “white rausm . . (1993a). Critically queer. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 1(1), pear to be just as culturally important, and indeed, just as culturally/productive, 17—32, ' irblacic racism.” This discursive tendency is common in “postmodern times wherein . (1993b). Bodies that matter. New York: Routle'dge. ‘ according to Bordo (1993), “[instead} of distinctions, endless differences reign—an yer, (3., 8r Highfield, R. (i999, February 1). AIDS Virus came from chimps. Ottawa undifferentiated pastiche of differences, a grab bag in which no items are asszgnedf V ie CII‘lzert, p_ Bl, more importance or centrality than any other. . . . This spectacle of difference decal . _, the ability to sustain coherent political critique" (258). The incoherent and posture relativistic nature of Rodman’s race consciousness “allows American (middlod audiences to recognize themselves as compassionate and ethical subiects Lo 19 References Amour, T. (1996a, May). Nearly broke, Rodman rebounds. Chicago Tribune [Online]. Available: http://www.chicago.tribuneconilsports/bulls/belnclr/bsrchive/rocibroke. htm ..'.._-'—-. (1996b, March). The Enigma. Chicago Tribune [Onlinel Available: http:/l I www.chicagoiribunecoInfsports/bulls/helndrfbsrchive/rodman7.htrn. mold, G. I. (1996). Dennis Rodman: Role model yesi The Dennis Rodmnn Connection N w Li} \‘J 253: .9 'C- L- {1995}. American lordan: P.L.A.Y., consensus, and punishment. Sociology 366w398. 1e (3. L., & Hribar, A. (1995). Celebrity feminism: Nike style. Post-Fordism, tran- and consumer power. Sociology of Sport Journal, 12(4), 347.359_ to: "Q Q “a a. 3* s: ‘1. E n a. a h) A 4%. 9.. 10% T05 MELISSE LAFRANCE AND GENfiVlEVE RAIL "As 800' as He Says He '89” Cole, C. L, St King, S. (1998). Representing black masculinity and urban possibilities; Racism, realism and hoop dreams. In G. Rail (ed), Sport and postmodern times (pp. 49M86). Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York i’ress. Davis, A. (1984) Rape, racism, and the myth of the Black rapist. In A. Jagger 8.: p. Rothcnberg (eds), Feminist frameworks: Alternative accounts of the relations be. tween women and men, 2d ed. (pp. 428—431). New York: McGraw—Hiil. Disraeli, B. (1998, lanuary 21). Return to the planet of the apes. Ottawa Citizen, p. A1, Dory, A. (1993). Making things perfectly queer: Interpreting mass culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Escoffier, I. (1994, Fall). Under the sign of the queer. Found Object, p. :35. Eyre, L. (1997). Renforrning (hetero)sexua1ity education. In L. G. Roman 8r 1.. Eyre (eds), Dangerous territories: Struggles for clifierence and equality in education (Pp, 191—205). New York: Routledge. Hall, 8. (1992). What is this “black” in black popular culture? In G. Dent (ed), Black popular culture (pp. 21:53). Seattle: Bay Press. Harper, P. B. (1994). The subversive edge: Paris is burning, sOCEal critique and the limits of subjective agency. Diacritics, 24(2«3), 90-103. Herman, D. (1994). Rights of passage: Struggles for lesbian and gay legal equality. To; ronto: University of ’foronto Press. ' Hirsley, M., & DeSirnone, B. {1996, May 4). Worm’s world: Mainstream clamors for Rodman’s next move. Chicago Tribune [Online]. Available: http:/iwww. chicagoxribune.com/sportslbulislbelndrlbsrchive/rodo4.htm. Holmes, H. 33., 8t Purdy, L. M. (1992). Feminist perspectives in medical ethics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. hooks, b. {1992). Black looks: Race and representation. Toronto: Between the Lines Press. . (1994). Power to the pussy: We don’t wannabe dicks in tirag. in Outlaw culture (pp. 9-25). New York: Routledge. Jefferson, M. (1997, January 3o). Dennis Rodman, New York Times, pp. C13, (320. Johnson, K. C. (1996, May). How much is this man worth: Rodrnan’s popularity and gafrance, M. (1998). Colonizing the feminine: Nike’s intersections of postfeminism and hyperconsumption. in G. Rail (ed), Sport and postmodern times (pp. 117-139) albany: State University of New York Press. . Lafiance, M., 8: Rail, G. (1997, November). Gender crossing in the context of mad capitalism: Dennis Rodmau and Madonna as cultural imposters. Paper presented at the annual conference of the North American Society for the Sociology of sport, Toronto, Ontario. I Luscombe, B. (1996, September 2). Dennis the menace. Time, p. 69. McDonald, M. (1996). 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Sports, media culture and meow-Some reflections on Michael 101' dan. Socioloy of Sport Journal, 13(4), 458—468. ' Kiley, M. (1996, May). Dark and explicit, Roéman’s book reveals tortured soul. cage Tribune [Online). Available: http://wwwchicago.tribune.corr1/sportslbull§ belncirlbsrchiveibullsozehtm. Lacombe, D. (1994). Blue politics: Pornography and the law in the age offizmirustt! Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Woman sues Rodman for sexual assault. (1998, June 12). Ottawa Citizen, p. F8. ...
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