Notes on: Denzin, N. (1996). More Rare Air:
Michael Jordan on Michael Jordan. Sociology of
Sport Journal 13, 319 – 24.
'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
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
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
back to social theory page