L. (2001) 'Whores, Slaves and Stallions: Languages of
Exploitation and Accommodation among Boxers', in Body and Society, Vol 7 (2
- 3): 181 - 94.
The common view is that boxers are 'naive, over-credulous, in
comprehending or ill-informed as to the real nature of their
occupation' (181). However, they are more than aware of the conventions
of their trade -- 'a universe of no-holds-barred exploitation'
(181). Indeed, they can see the results of exploitation all around
them, and have no doubts that they are being exploited. [Here as
elsewhere there are extensive extracts from transcripts to illustrate
these points. They sometimes take the form of eloquent soliloquies from
Boxers commonly used three metaphors or 'idioms' to discuss their
exploitation -- 'prostitution, slavery and animal husbandry'
(182). Some boxers deployed all of these 'languages of
exploitation' at the same time (see 185 for an example)
Boxers are aware that they are underpaid and are being cheated by their
managers and the industry. However they develop 'three
"vocabularies of motive" [a term used to explain the connection between
apparently personal choices and social contexts that structure
available motives] (Mills, 1940)' to cope and to maintain
'a sense of personal and professional integrity' (186):
- In the first case, managers are seen as pimps, and the
fighter offers a body for sale for the benefit of others just like a
prostitute. Boxers are forced to go with anyone to make money.
- In the second idiom, there are strong resonances of
slavery, especially for black boxers. Slavery is a term used to
describe brutal conflicts with little reward, or excessive control over
boxing and boxers by promoters.
- In the third case, boxers see themselves as beasts to be
'reared, fed, trained and displayed -- even devoured with cannibalistic
cruelty' (183). Again, lack of control over when and whom to fight
evoke these metaphors. Other participants are also described as
'gym rats' (184), to symbolise the bitterness that boxers often feel as
a result of excessive sacrifice and few rewards, or the way in which
people turn on you when you're losing. Managers can be described as
mosquitoes or bloodsuckers.
Together, these beliefs help 'produce the collective
misrecognition that leads boxers to collude in their own
commercialisation and practically consent' to becoming a
commodity (191). The visibility and intensity of exploitation
arises from an unusually large gap between exploiter and exploited --
boxers only have bodily capital, while managers and promoters
simply 'monopolise the specific competencies and assets required
to run the business' (191). There is no state regulation, because
boxing is seen as 'marginal and tainted' (191).
- In the first case, exploitation is seen as inescapable, a
fact of ordinary existence, a constant. This is an accurate perception
for many boxers of their lives, and they see no difference between
fighting and the other exploitative games on offer in the form of
'an unskilled employment market awash with cheap labour' (187). Boxing
is no different from hustling, no more dangerous than living in a
deprived area anyway. Indeed, at least boxers get a chance to escape,
and no-one is unaware of the dangers. Boxing is seen as just a
business, with promoters 'just doing their job' (190).
- Secondly, boxers 'are fed a steady diet of folk
notions and narratives that lionize the defiant individual and portray
the boxer as a lone warrior... seizing his own fate' (188) [usual male
heroics then]. It is a kind of entrepreneurship, where boxers work on
their own body to increase its bodily capital. Boxers then display
their 'moral valor' on a public stage, avoiding the status
of 'non-person' [Goffman is cited here, page 188]. At least
bodily capital is 'inalienable personal property' , and they have
a trade. They are also in control of their own bodily development.
Normal jobs involve too much 'personal submission, cultural
humiliation and loss of masculine honour as a condition of durable
employment' (189), while boxing affirms 'individual
"agency"' (189). This helps boxers downplay 'the impersonal
arrangements and structured relationships that effectively determine...
boxing careers' (189). At the end of the day, there is 'brute
economic necessity' (190).
- Lastly, boxers deny risk by imagining they will be exempt
from the general rule, as a result of personal qualities such as
'sheer dedication, unbending will and constant vigilance' (189) [see
similar views expressed by bikers -- here].
Boxers are determined that they will not be ruined by the game. Some
believe in divine protection. At the same time, misfortune is seen as a
result of a personal flaw as well, arising from a lack of control.
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