I ran across this rather arbitrarily (it involved queries about jewish phillies players and why the brewers incessantly play "hava nagila" at miller park during games)... but it actually speaks to something I've been thinking about lately, the ideological meanings of sports (specifically televised or mediated sports). In reference to Mimi White's book chapter “Ideological Analysis and Television” I wrote that
One of the interesting things about sports is that in looking for “tensions” you often find them manifesting quite literally. This week the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels cleared both benches in a brawl following an overly aggressive tag on the base runner. Players and coaches never stop arguing with umpires and referees about bad calls. Owners in every sport are constantly feuding often openly and bitterly with players over salaries and collective bargaining agreements. While the tensions are material, we can also see them as ideological. In the bench clearing brawl, teammates defend one another against those that want to do them harm. Umpires and referees parallel forces of law and order in society. Players and coaches expose the failures of the dominant system’s execution of law and order when they question a decision. Yet even though officials can be challenged, they maintain absolute authority. There is a tension between the right to challenge and the ramifications of challenging. Perhaps the best example though lies in the tension between owners and players. Though I won’t get into the history of labor in sports, it is a long one that has both exposed and challenged and supported dominant systems of capitalism, ownership, labor and the means of production of entertainment.and shortly after, another issue emerged... destiny. I noticed quite explicitly the discourse surrounding playoff berths (particularly in baseball where there are far fewer playoff berths than other professional sports) and controlling ones own destiny. When a team is in first place, they control their own destiny, they don't need help to make the playoffs, they don't need another team to lose, another team to beat another team in order for them to make the playoffs. There is an ideological tension between control and lack of control, between predetermination and free will. What this discourse surrounding the end of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs does is negotiate this tension by valuing free will, self control over one's destiny, in fact something of a paradox (but isnt that just what ideology is). These elements of both control and destiny then turn over into various other aspects of the game, like notions of the American Dream anyone can make it to the major leages with enough hard work, if you want it you can get to the show, everyone controls their own destiny there are no sytemic or institutional barriers to success. And this is very much what sport is... it is both a playful game and an aggressive competition, a dream and a struggle.
The next question which must be addressed is then: what subject positions do these tensions create? The variety of subject positions or representational possibilities becomes very different depending on the set of texts selected. In a single baseball game broadcast, the possible subject positions for women are limited largely to fan and occasionally broadcaster. In an Olympics broadcast, women might also be athletes or sex objects or experts. Depending on the presence of women, ideological tensions also emerge in terms of gender roles and gender relations. Similarly, male subject positions can differ depending on the text. Male subject positions generated by baseball can be very different from those generated by football and likewise broadcasters on FOX can offer very different representational possibilities than ESPN’s Sportscenter. Along those lines, women covering the NFL for FOX are also often quite different from women anchors on Sportscenter.
Race and class representations in sports are also rich areas for exploration. In terms of race, you might consider the nature of the racial body in sports. Asian and Latino immigration into baseball certainly have ideological components pertaining to the American Dream and as certain controversies in American football have show us, the positions on the field that certain ethnicities are pushed into can also be controversial. Additionally, there are issues of racial representation in coaching, in management, in ownership, in officiating crews, in fandom and in broadcasting just as a short list. While the “American Dream” is clearly an important class issue in televised sports, there are other issues of class in fan cultures rich with ideological tension as well. Simply compare audiences of golf with fans of NASCAR, not only are they probably in fact socioeconomically distinct but their depiction on television is also dramatically different.
next up? a cultural-ideological analysis of mascots.
oh and the nlcs.