Notes on: Denzin, N. (1996). More Rare Air: Michael Jordan on Michael Jordan. Sociology of Sport Journal 13, 319 – 24.

Dave Harris

'Those who control the media control a society's discourse about itself' thus 'a majority of Americans know and understand the American racial order through media representations of the black ethnic other… There is no empirical world beyond the worlds of the "small screen". The professional sporting arena is particularly important, the NBA and NFL. Sporting spectacles are commercial productions, so that understandings of race are  'largely a matter of advertising, commercials and the media' (319). Other key events like the Simpson trial or city riots have also been 'staged by and interpreted on television'. To some extent, however they represent 'idealised worlds', 'a kernel of utopian fantasy' where there is no bigotry or racism.

Black otherness is complex, and a location for 'fears, desires, and repressed dreams' (320). Black bodies are spectacles, potentially representing evil and menace. The media try to contain blackness including by rereading the racial past, or normalising exceptional blackness insofar as it benefits whites [and here Air Jordan is the example. The representations are 'constantly folding blackness into the existing repressive systems of gender and class'.

There is an American and transnational racial order represented on television, a politics of cultural difference. The discourse essential ices racial and gender differences and creates a series of cultural oppositions where black ethnic males are contrasted with mainstream white American or European others. Full assimilation into this racial order is the 'proper endpoint for all minority group members'. Black media personalities translate blackness into something commodifiable, producing a whole '"African Americanisation" of global popular culture [citing Gray]. Sporting television plays a part here. Jordan and the NBA convert blackness into a 'nonthreatening Reaganesque masculinity'. TV and its sponsors is the main institutional apparatus and it is also 'the sight of our collective (and repressed) unconscious. Media representations are crucial for depicting a new world racial order and 'it is no longer appropriate to study this racial order' without media representations.

Borrowing from Sartre, we can see Michael Jordan as 'a universal singular, a single instance of more universal social experiences': Sartre recommends we look at both the universalising and the singularisation aspects of the process. [For Denzin] 'Michael Jordan sums up his epoch' (320) together with his idealised family and his personal achievements. It is a story whereby 'this man mastered his sport by being subservient to his master's rules' (321), the precise 'cultural logic of a transnational capitalism'

[This is an intro to a special issue]. We need to read the multiple texts that define Michael Jordan, the cultural formations. Underneath those is 'an old-fashioned, modernist conception of play, game, and competition in American culture', play is natural free and spontaneous -- and hard work. Play as work becomes paid labour, and this is how Jordan himself ceases activity. A new book on Jordan and other publicity activities, emphasise this notion that life is a game, and 'does for post-modern America what it never has been able to do for itself, that is "satisfactorily ground American social reality in a… satisfying integration of work and play"' [quoting Orlard]. Jordan also 'enacts a racially neutered identity, a black version of a white cultural model': Jordan himself wants to be seen as a good person rather than a good black man. This neutrality helps his place in a global mass mediated culture. He is 'everybody's all – American; White America's solution to the race problem'

American mass culture features 'conspicuous playfulness' which commodifies performers, audience and experience, turning them into spectacles, 'Carnival – like events'. This is a departure from play 'as pure, natural activity'. Jordan also combines a sense that he is just having fun with business sense, and this helps him suggest that business will never interfere with the integrity of the game. Culture of the game is not the same as the experience [for the spectator?], which is commodified… media hype' (322). Jordan embodies the notion of sport as a 'matter of hard work, moral character, heroism and teamwork'. He insists that it is important to play the game.

He has been important in establishing the idea of the athlete as a media celebrity, with its corresponding sport as a commodity. There is full separation from 'the pure and innocent past of the NBA, that pastoral time when the game was played for the sheer love of competition and self pride' [blimey!]. At the same time, Jordan 'embodies these beliefs' defining him for himself and for his fans — he knows it is a game as well as a living. In his play he both 'experiences and expresses character': he's a 'positive person honest hard-working committed disciplined well trained'. He obeys the rules of the game, although he insists that he can keep things in perspective, even when gambling.

He celebrates victories with tears, claiming that he is inspired by his 'dead daddy'. He is all too human. He acknowledges his family and teammates. The appeal is to all of us who want to be comeback artists. Justice and balance has been restored to the 'American sporting order'. His race is both 'repressed and so visible that it has become invisible' (323) [apparently because his blackness is not seen as connected to his 'extraordinary skills'. The integrity of basketball has been restored — he has 'saved basketball for America, and in doing so, saved America from itself'.

However, Goffman can be used [!] on the role of ritual and its effects on persons, to self regulate them, to have pride but also tact and poise. It's these elements that often constitute what people refer to as 'universal human nature' [all this from Interaction ritual]. This universal human nature 'erases race', 'the last requirement of a global capitalism' where cultural differences disappear and a universal domesticated human nature takes their place.

[In the interests of denouncing universal capitalism, Denzin is even prepared to cite Goffman!. This is a strong dominant ideology thesis with no room for intertextuality or audience resistance]

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