There may be some spark of cross-cultural empathy buried in this commercial, but where it emerges for me, at least, is in wanting to scream "keep that garbage away from them!" every time I see the ad. All I can think of is all of the statistics I’ve read — and honestly, I don’t even know if they’re accurate — about skyrocketing obesity rates and health problems in non-western cultures after the introduction of U.S. fast food franchises. Perhaps I’m getting caught in the myth of the purity of native cultures. Perhaps this is sparking some actual concern for the other. But I’m certain that that hamburger is not going to do anyone any good, and in the end the ad winds up reaffirming my desire to stay as far away from the Whopper as I can, however much these new converts might prefer it to its competitors.
Doug, the discourse of "VORPies" and the like definitely figures into this. The writers of Fire Joe Morgan were especially gifted in their critiques of these attacks against using statistics instead of "gut feelings" to determine a players value. I think part of the reason writers like Bissinger are so reactionary is because they know (at some level, at least), that the stat-heads are right. This isn’t to say that we should shed affect and myth in how we think about sports, but the old guard was a pretty exclusive club, one that the new kids have democratized to a degree.
And this figures into Tim’s comments, too, I think. Because "access" has long been a gatekeeping mechanism, a way of discrediting an opinion that comes from outside the club. This isn’t to say that access isn’t important, but it too often functions rhetorically as a means for disicplining outsiders. I do wish I could’ve found the entire clip, though, because Bissinger really loses his composure at a certain point.
Of the many things you can say about journalists today is that one of the few that actually keep a physical beat are sports journalists. I have seen the entirety of Bissinger’s complaint and while I don’t agree with all that he says about blogging, he was at his best when he noted that bloggers aren’t necessarily in the field in the same way that he and his colleagues are. That said, columnists like Jay Mariotti aren’t necessarily in the field as well and has never written anything as compelling as Friday Night Lights. After viewing this clip it seems to me that this is as much about displaced anger that the entire profession of journalism has been making a 30 year slide away from staffs of people to more of a reliance on electronic and digital feeds that neither demand salaries or healthcare. Just my two cents.
By the way here the entire segment deadspin.com/385770/bissinger-vs-leitch
To underscore your point about the NFL’s conflicted approach to celebration, we might also consider Madden NFL ’09, where users are afforded the opportunity to orchestrate player celebrations that would undoubtedly draw penalties in actual NFL games.
Your post also highlights race as a central (though not always present) feature in the manufacture of the “unruly” and “disrespectful” athlete whose offensive self-aggrandizement violates established norms of sportsmanship. We can also find this construction in Budweiser’s recent ad campaign featuring the anti-authoritarian nihilism of Leon — a fictionalized African-American football star in the mold of Terrell Owens. Leon repeatedly ignores established norms of teamwork and self-sacrifice in favor of a brazenly self-glorifying ethic, to presumably comic effect. You can view an example here (note the comments): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ib4hN9TUcH0
This exchange also points to the shift occurring within sports journalism (and much of professional sports discourse generally) toward sophisticated statistical analysis — with stats like VORP and WARP offering new metrics for assessing player performance in baseball. Many "traditional" journalists eschew these metrics, characterizing them as too arcane (elitist?) whereas younger journalists and bloggers are more likely to embrace them. As a result, journalists like Bissinger often react — as we see — angrily to what they perceive as challenges to their authority. That this constitutes a sort of elitism akin to that which Bissinger apparently dislikes oddly escapes him.
Your final questions, too, suggest a point similar to the one I was making earlier in the week: the ability of new technologies to afford easy access to multiple perspectives could easily enliven and supplement "traditional" perspectives — not necessarily replacing them, but opening up the discourse considerably. Costas’ program itself is another way of accomplishing this, if only to provide a venue in which the uncensored language of the locker room and press box doesn’t have to be refined for the apparently delicate sensibilities of most sports-viewing audiences.
Interesting resistance to Doug’s point. Why is it that such inventions are either: a) attempts to gain a few viewers or b) attempts to change the way we view the game. Why can’t it be both at the same time? Indeed, we usually only deem a technological development a “gimmick” after the fact, once it has failed. Rest assured, when NFL Films developed the isolation shot on the football in flight, or when the 1975 telecast of Game 6 in the World Series stayed on Carlton Fisk instead of the baseball when he hit his iconic home run, some surely thought these were gimmicks. Yet now, the isolation shot is a broadcasting standard—i.e., Doug’s point about “normalization.”
I’m not suggesting that this under-water angle will alter the production of televised swimming in substantive ways. It probably does too much to disturb the continuity of being able to see all 8 swimmers in relation to one another. However, we shouldn’t be so eager to dismiss the role TV plays in shaping our understanding of how to watch sports. Further, TV affects the way athletes play their sports. As I type, I’m watching the Australian Open. Like other major tournaments, the Aussie Open now allows players to challenge controversial calls. This policy developed in recent years only because TV gave us gradually improved technology that enables us to reproduce almost precisely where each ball landed. And now, as a viewer, waiting for the network to show you a replay is expected—i.e., “normal.”
Your post reminded me of the incident that took place in January of 2005 in a game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers. After wide receiver scored a touchdown in that game, he made a mooning gesture towards the Packers fans at Lambeau Field, much to the chagrin of Joe Buck (the same announcer in this clip). The video of that celebration is located here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dmqGg6Ccvw. Buck immediately offered a reprimand with the statement, "That’s a disgusting act by Randy Moss!" Again, a white commentator making a judgment against a black player for what, in all seriousness, is no where near as grave a transgression as the tone of his reprimand conveys. There was no broadcast replay of the act, as Buck noted, "there was no reason to show it again, especially something as revolting as that." A day after the incident, Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy (one of the NFL’s few black head coaches) came to Moss’ defense and while he said it might not be something you want to be seen on national TV, he saw it as a "kind of humorous" response to a "tradition" among Packers fans. Apparently, "they moon the visiting team’s bus. And they go all the way."
The case with McNabb, therefore, appears to be another clear exaggeration from announcers who are concerned about being politically correct, but are also serving to police flamboyance from, as you said, their god positions. The silly thing is that the NFL is driven by the flamboyance and character of these types of players and plays (Chad "Ocho Cinco," Ray Lewis’ pre-game strut, Joey Porter’s celebratory leg kick, and Terrell Owens’ weekly antics). Fans get excited to see those players be who they are, celebrations included. But for some reason, anything outside of the actions of hike, run, pass, catch, is ground for being deemed unsportsmanlike, defined by the NFL as "any act contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship." Sounds similar to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s "I know it when I see it" line in reference to obscenity.
Still, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has continued the decade-or-so-long trend of curtailing player celebrations and now any premeditated celebration constitutes an unsportsmanlike penalty. That includes any celebration in which a player leaves his feet or goes to the ground, although the unique exception has been made for the Green Bay Packers, who are still allowed to celebrate a touchdown via the Lambeau Leap. One of the questions I’ve yet to find an answer for is why the Lambeau Leap was given the free pass when other equally harmless celebrations were forced into extinction. I’m just not sure of the lesson in sportsmanship that Goodell, the NFL, and announcers like Joe Buck are trying to teach us. Should fans of the game expect the players on the field to act almost robotically (like the Manning brothers)? Is this a judgment on parenting, in that the NFL does not want its players to set a bad example for young fans? Does the NFL fear the implications of approving flamboyance? Will the integrity of the game somehow be ruined? Or is the NFL merely trying to simplify the decision on what is unsporting, so that any act, regardless of context (like the Moss mooning) must be decried?
As a counter example I think of the world of professional soccer, governed by FIFA, where goal celebrations go fairly unchecked and announcers are far less likely to make judgments for us fans.P Players imitate airplanes, dive face forward, slide on their knees, make baby-rocking motions, complete acrobatic stunts, and some pull their shirts over their heads (in 1999, U.S. player Brandi Chastain pulled her shirt off, revealing a sports bra). All of this adds to the enjoyment of the game. The NFL’s rigidity and condemnation, by comparison, seem ludicrous.
Great clip and questions! It seems to me that part of what’s at stake — and part of what drives the business of sports media — is exactly the opportunity to judge and cry "foul" over others’ behavior. There are rules regulating behavior, both written and unwritten; when they’re violated and our expectations about what "should" occur aren’t met, we seek some kind of redress … either revising the rules or sanctionig the behavior. In some ways this incident parallels the longer-standing concerns over, say, steroid use ("It’s blasphemous that [Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco; insert your favorite sports figure working under a cloud here] disrespected the game in the way they did!") or malfeasance by political leaders ("It’s blasphemous that [Bill Clinton, Elliot Spitzer, Ted Stevens, Rod Blagojevich; insert your favorite political figure working under a cloud here] disrespected the office and the American public in the way they did!"). We, as fans/citizens, get to say what matters … and the media system caters to that interest, stoking the narrative of outrage at perceived infractions that disrupt the order of things and suggesting that rules of proper conduct need to be (re-)established.
Linking this comment to Tom’s post, what we see here is also how consumers of sports texts are encouraged to react to and "correct" actions we judge to be inadequate or insufficient. Perhaps this illusion of choice and control is part of what’s so appealing about sports-related media content.
Part of what I see as interesting about this particular clip, though, is the fact that it’s suggesting that new camera angles and technological innovations can *add* to — not necessarily replace — our conventional or traditional viewpoints. (The fact that the audio track contains other atmospheric elements such as announcer commentary and crowd noise that clearly can’t be captured by the underwater camera further suggests that supplementing rather than replacing seems to be the direction future sports coverage will likely take.) Moreover, the "traditional" or familiar perspective still isn’t a natural one: it’s one we’ve become accustomed to, as if there is some objectively right or wrong way to view a sporting event. And that was central to two points I was trying — apparently ineffectively — to make in the original post: first, that we don’t question the things we’ve become accustomed to seeing or expect to see in conventional sports coverage (because we’ve so thoroughly naturalized actions and norms that are profoundly unnatural); and second, that we’re being told repeatedly that the "new! improved! more angles! more access! more more more!" coverage of sports is better and is different — and I’m not sure that it is either of those things.
I agree with all of your comments in the first paragraph, Matthew … though I’d also add that there’s a very clear class element as well: it’s most often members of the non-owning class taking over the role of player/team owner/manager, effectively telling themselves, "see, I can do a better job" of controlling those undisciplined figures (be they nonwhite or white), whether the position from which one does so is from "within" that body (via the video game) or outside it (via fantasy sports). Given the increasing disparities in wealth and income over the last several years, I wonder if this isn’t a critical role of or for fantasy sports, sports video games, and (as Tom’s reply suggests) draft coverage and commentary.