Super Spectacle: Race, Gender, and the Hawking of Products | The Feminist Wire

Super Spectacle: Race, Gender, and the Hawking of Products

February 15, 2012

By David J. Leonard

The Super Bowl is a spectacle. Whether talking about the pregame festivities, the hype, the halftime show, or the game itself, it is the embodiment of a spectacle. Its commercials, however, especially given the ways that gender, race, and sexuality are circulated, are the embodiment of our contemporary spectaclized society.

By spectacle I am not referring to the everyday use of spectacle as an important or memorable event that a sizable portion of the population views, but instead in the tradition of Guy Debord. Debord, whose Society of Spectacle identifies the dialectics between late capitalism and mass media in the production of mediated spectacles, highlights a condition whereupon the relationship between commodities and people take precedent over any other sort of relationship. According to Debord, “The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.” While the game itself embodies this ritualistic process, the commercials themselves embody and perpetuate the spectacle. “Spectacles are those phenomena of media, culture, and society that embody the society’s basic values, and serve to enculturate individuals into a way of life,” writes Douglas Kellner. Mediated spectacles “dramatize[s] our conflicts, celebrate[s] our values, and project[s] our deepest hopes and fears.”

The spectacle of Super Bowl commercials are evident in the ways in which consumers’ relationships are defined vis-à-vis products. Similarly, the hype, and extravagance is evidence of the ways in which the Super Bowl and the commercials operate as “weapons of mass distraction.” Yet, the existence of a spectacle, illustrated by the presence of Flav Flav and Elton John in a Pepsi commercial, is not limited to size and scope; as Kellner reminds us with the ways in which mediated spectacles “dramatize our conflicts, celebrate our values, and project our deepest hopes and fears.”

The denigration and sexualization of women during the Super Bowl is indicative of the ways in which spectacles operate within our cultural landscape. From the first quarter right until the end of the game, the place of women is made clear: as sexualized objects whose presence figures in eliciting pleasure from the male gaze. Those women who cannot or refuse to reaffirm male sexual pleasure, who deviate from the standards of sexual beauty, are rendered undesirable. While not limited to the Super Bowl, the “Go Daddy” commercials embody the sexualized spectacle of the Super Bowl. Virtually naked women are represented as little more than eye-candy, existing in the mediated space, ready, willing, and able to appeal to the sexual wants of (white) young men. Women enter the spectalized space to provide pleasure to both the males in the commercial and those watching at home. Equally important, the two most visible women of these commercials are Jillian Michaels and Danica Patrick, whose physical strength and presence in the masculine worlds of physical fitness and car racing are muted because they don’t disrupt the dominant values concerning femininity.

There is something revolting about a corporate sponsor taking a woman who has made it in a highly male-dominated and masculine field, car racing, and putting her back in a woman’s rightful place: in a skimpy costume under the male gaze. (Chloe from Feministing)

Dramatizing conflicts about the purported breakdown of male and female spaces, reflecting both hopes and fears, all while validating patriarchy, Go Daddy is the quintessential spectacle. A commercial from Kia further reinforces the sexualized place of women within the male world of sports, celebrating a narrative of female subservience:

The ad from Kia sends a pretty clear message that men and women are totally different species with totally different dreamworlds. A woman dreams of riding across a meadow on the back of a white horse with a handsome fairytale prince under a rainbow sky. But a man dreams of driving a race car while Adriana Lima and thousands of hot bikini-clad women cheer him and Motley Crue plays, and something about a giant sandwich and a boxing match. And these two worlds are so separate and different that a Kia is the only thing that can bring them together.

The sexualized representation of women, and specifically white women and those luminally white ethnic bodies (Italian, for example), is as central to the Super Bowl as the teams themselves. The absence of commercials that turn women into sexual objects would be as impossible as having a Super Bowl without a football. This is evidenced by the barrage of commercials, including an NFL prize commercial that defines the American Dream through access to millions of dollars and scantily clad cheerleaders, and a Valentine’s Day commercial that depicts this holiday as a simple relationship based on exchange. The idea is this: men exchange gifts for sex (“Give and you will receive”). Or there is the Fiat commercial that treats women as if they are interchangeable with cars–both objects to be consumed, sexualized, and fantasized about by men.

Continue reading at Super Spectacle: Race, Gender, and the Hawking of Products | The Feminist Wire.

A Super Failure: Domestic Violence and Football’s Big Game | The Feminist Wire

A Super Failure: Domestic Violence and Football’s Big Game

February 3, 2012

By David J. Leonard

For the longest time I have heard that Super Bowl Sunday was a day of heightened domestic violence. Linked to alcohol consumption, frustrations over the game outcome, and a day of uber masculinity (as opposed to hyper masculinity), the narrative has identified Super Bowl Sunday as one particularly dangerous to women. Thus, with the Super Bowl approaching, I decided to look into this issue in broader detail.

As one searches Super Bowl and domestic violence, one is confronted with a clear theme: that any connection between the two is a myth and a hoax. Citing a 2007 study from Oths & Robertson that “examined 2,387 crisis call records covering a previous 3-year period,” Dr. John M. Grohol identifies the claim as urban legend, a “largely debunked myth that domestic violence calls spike around Super Bowl Sunday.” Similarly, in “Super Bowl or Super Bull? Six Super Bowl Myths Busted,” Sarah Weir disputes the often-uttered claim:

This story stemmed from a Public Service Announcement that aired at the beginning of the televised broadcast of the 1993 Super Bowl match between the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills that warned, “Domestic violence is a crime.” Although a number of articles debunking the claim appeared in various newspapers, the idea has persisted. Football is so overtly macho and physical it’s no wonder that it gives some people, especially those who don’t enjoy or understand the game, the chills. However, in 2006, Richard Gelles, an expert on domestic abuse from the University of Pennsylvania said, ‘This kind of ‘urban legend’ trivialized the causes and consequences of domestic violence.’

The efforts to dismiss, deny and minimize the issue of domestic violence and its relationship to hyper masculine sports spectacles is revealing; the efforts to oversimplify it as a source of opposition is reflective of the right’s anti-feminist agenda. For example, according to Christina Hoff Sommers, who the Daily Caller identifies as the “American Enterprise Institute resident scholar and equity feminist,” an oxymoron to say the least, “Women who are at risk for domestic violence are going to be helped by state of the art research and good information,” she said. “They are not going to be helped by hyperbole and manufactured data.” Similarly in “Super Bowl Sunday and domestic violence: A hoax,” Dr. Charles Corry laments the Super Bowl myth is yet another example of how feminism is corrupting society through denying the attacks on men.

Unfortunately, the Super Bowl Sunday violence myth is just one of many myths surrounding domestic violence. Most studies are suspect and highly skewed. Men and women initiate domestic violence in roughly equal proportions, yet judges and police are trained and intimidated politically not to question a woman’s claim of domestic violence, effectively passing judgment on the accused man.

Ignoring facts, such as “One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime,” or “majority (73%) of family violence victims are females,” Corry, whose National Justice Foundation focuses its attention on seeing men as victims of sexism, is reflective of the anti-feminist opposition discourse.

In examining the reports and the literature, it is unclear as to the relationship between domestic violence and Super Bowl Sunday. While there is no causal relationship, there is clearly anecdotal evidence from shelters that suggest that Super Bowl is a day where domestic violence is an issue. Yet, it is important to look beyond causal relationships to reflect on the structural factors that contribute to the issue of domestic violence. As Jackson Katz, co-founder and director of MVP Strategies, noted to me, the issues of alcohol abuse, gambling, the ubiquity of parties and social interactions increasing the opportunity for conflict, and the presence at home (people are less likely to be working on the weekend), provides a structural reality to reflect on the issue of domestic violence.

Continue reading @ A Super Failure: Domestic Violence and Football’s Big Game | The Feminist Wire.

The Economics of the Super Bowl: On ‘The Woodstock for the 1%’ | Urban Cusp

The Economics of the Super Bowl:

On ‘The Woodstock for the 1%’

By David J. Leonard

UC Columnist, Eye on Culture

America’s biggest unofficial national holiday, Super Bowl Sunday, is more than a football game. It is a celebration of military prowess (in 2011, the Navy spent 450,000 tax-payer dollars to conduct its 2011 flyover), excess, and a culture of wealth. With tickets going for $3,000-4,000 a piece, and millions of dollars going to local businesses (although this number is often overstated), the economics of the Super Bowl are as important as questions about Rob Gronkowski’s injury and the potential dominance of Giants defensive line. Yet, the economic question transcends the issues of the “local economy” as the Super Bowl is yet another party for the rich, by the rich, and of the rich.

“The Super Bowl is perennially the Woodstock for the 1%: a Romney-esque cavalcade of private planes, private parties, and private security,” writes Dave Zirin. Tony Koreheiser once described the Super Bowl as “a celebration of concentrated wealth,” while Dave Zirin, in his discussion of festivities in Detroit a few years back, identified the festivities as a 2-week “binge.” Still relevant today, Zirin describes the Super Bowl as little more than a cross between Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and My Super Sweet 16:

Every Super Bowl Sunday, corporate executives and politicians exchange besotted, sodden backslaps, amidst an atmosphere that would shame Jack Abramoff. Only this year the bacchanalia — complete with ice sculptures peeing Grey Goose vodka and two tons of frozen lobster flown directly to the stadium — is happening in the United States’ most impoverished, ravaged city: Detroit.

The image of the Super Bowl as Americana, tailgates, beer and hot dogs, is a misnomer at best, given the predominance of America’s 1%. 2010 set a record for the number of private jets landing for a Super Bowl with 400, only to be left in the dust with 600 private jets in 2011. “For the private jet business, the Super Bowl is the, well, Super Bowl of private jet rentals. Every year, like monarchs to Mexico, a swarm of private jets descends on the big game to unload the rich and powerful football fans,” writes Robert Frank. There’s no tailgating under the tail fins, or downing buffalo wings on the wing of the G550. But for some reason, private-jetting and football have always gone well together for February’s big game.” The 2012 Super Bowl may surpass these past records.

Planes are not the only excess. According to one report, 35% ticket holders write off the game as a business expense. Highlighting the ways in which the Super Bowl is a party for billionaires, whether it be team owners, corporate executives, or other members of the 1%, the disparities and disconnect that will be on full display this Sunday, should give pause.

The 1% has a lot to celebrate at the Super Bowl given the amount of money generated because of the football game, very little of which goes to the players and the other people who make the game happen. According to Wall Street Journal report, over 5 million NFL fans will stimulate the economy through upgrading their television in anticipation of the game. Additionally, on average those watching the game spend 60 per person in food and merchandize. The Super Bowl is an economic bonanza.

Continue reading at  The Economics of the Super Bowl: On ‘The Woodstock for the 1%’ | Urban Cusp.