The Media Culture Of Basketball

In today’s generation the way advertising and media is presented to us become a viable factor in how we interpret the conveyed messages they offer consumers. Advertising companies do wonders with brands to mimic styles and culture so that individuals will be interpellated by the messages they share. The messages they share are beyond just promotion for the brand, instead allowing viewers to engage on something beyond the boundaries of just selling a product (Wakefiel).

When talking about sports and the media that surrounds the dominant hegemonic culture, there are arguments that they present topics of male dominance, political powers, racial stereotyping and more. Basketball is seen as a predominant black sport, which has western ideologies that surround it. In the NBA world we see advertisements day and night about the big time players of the game, and the so-called “MVP”. With these advertisements and the interpellation that accompanies it, the NBA culture becomes a target to fans and consumers.

I aim to further explore how media plays a role in basketball culture, more specifically the NBA, and how racial stereotypes, black masculinity, and among other topics discussed in this class effect fan culture and the overall sport culture. This will be accomplished by analyzing my personal experience with the Lakers fan culture and analyses on NBA media coverage of the sport to further explain how the NBA is presented in the media. Also, how the NBA creates a militarization culture around the sport.

The fan culture that surrounds basketball is extremely fascinating because so many people become emotionally invested in a sport that they are not physically participating in. When I was watching the Lakers game with my friends I noticed that this sport brought us all together to one place and we were connected for one cause. As the television turned on and the game began, all other arguments that people were having just dissolved in thin air and we came to agree on one common goal, in which the Lakers will win. This phenomenon never seizes to amaze me, the culture that encompasses basketball is overpowering.

The reason I am describing my experience is because I want to compare it to the concepts of militarization and nationalism that we learned in class. Militarization, being the way in which a sport is mimicking war-like qualities, and nationalism being the way in which people or fans are being loyal to their sport and promoting it through their own presence and actions. These two concepts are a part of the overall image that a country wants to succeed others through sports, but when looking at a smaller scale of basketball we can also say that within the sport there are actions of militarization and nationalism. Each sport can become an individual country that each fan, or army, wants to succeed the others.

The sense of nationalism comes out through the pride of each fan for their sport. When you attend a Lakers game everyone is decked out in basketball gear and they are displaying to others that they are emotionally and politically invested in their team. These fans are identifying themselves with this certain team, so whatever the team does they support it and whatever the team believes in is what this fan also relates to. This process of fan culture might seem a little far-fetched when comparing it to militarization and nationalism, but when entering the Staples Center people in purple and gold jerseys blind you with their dedication to the sport.

During the games the use of media is also present, when I talk about media in relation to fan culture I am talking about the forms of Twitter, Facebook, and other media coverage websites for the games. When fans watch the games they feel this need to reiterate their feelings of what they are watching and boast their opinions of what plays are doing at the game. This gives fans power and also gives fans a closer connection to the sport. This closer connection is built through the professional players and the way they utilize media to stay in contact with their fans.

Twitter for example is a social media site where people can update friends and co-workers about what they are doing, or feeling, in a 140 characters or less. Now relating the usage of Twitter back to basketball, we can see how fans might develop a sense of nationalism through the sport. If athletes have twitter accounts they can directly “tweet” fans, and if journalists have accounts they can immediately give fans updates on what’s occurring during a game, or during draft season. This all builds a fan base higher because the experience between athletes and their followers become smaller, and it becomes more personal, the distance between the two is cut to one-on-one contact (Hutchins). According to Hutchins, Twitter also becomes a branding tool for the athletes and their overall team.

Aside from the positive feedback Twitter can exploit, there are also negative connotations to go with it. For example, if an athlete feels as if a play was uncalled for, he can “tweet” about it and this will reach his followers instantly and spark conversation about the game. Fan’s look up to professional athletes and if they evoke a feeling or a belief through their twitter accounts it is only expected that it will eventually lead fans to think the same or question the realities of the situation. These instances can provoke fan reactions and this how we now that nationalism is working. That due to many fans tweeting back to athletes and describing their sense of pride for their teams and becoming invested in them, it is now a loyalty. This loyalty in turn effects the basketball culture because it provides players with instant feedback and creates a powerful dynamic in which fans are not just happy to be attending a game they are a part of the team.

A significant event that I want to further analyze the idea of a relationship with athletes and fans is through the reactions of the media and the actual occurrence of the event that is know as the “Malice at the Palace.” This event occurred in 2004 during a Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers game in Michigan. It started when the then Pacers player, Ron Artest, shoved a Pistons player Ben Wallace after a foul. The fight was subsided between the two players but eventually escalated again due to Artest being hit by a drink that was thrown from the stands. Artest enthralled with anger attacked the Pistons fans, which led to other teammates and fans to do to the same and created a huge brawl bash in the arena.

When I read about this event I noticed this concept of nationalism take place. This Pistons fan was so angered by the foul play that he took matters into his own hands and threw a drink at a professional player. He wanted to show his passion and investment with the team, and wanted to so badly be the “hero” that he ended up starting a war within the arena. Other than seeing nationalistic characteristics in this event, the relationship between fan and player and the overall framing of how this event took place within media also needs to be looked at. Knowing that basketball is predominant black sport and mostly having white spectatorship we need to further analyze how racial stereotypes and the view of the black player affect the culture within the sport.

In the case of Ron Artest, De B’béri and Hogarth further explore how the commodification of black bodies takes place within the sport during this time, in their paper “White America’s Construction Of Black Bodies.” They go on to talk about how there is a prominent white spectatorship in the sport, and how this effected the way media had portrayed the event. It’s important to recognize these racial dynamics in sports because then you can easily interpret the athlete and consumer relationship. It’s also important to recognize the ideologies that surround the sport, like how many people assume that black people only know how to play the sport and white men understand the concepts of the sports better. When talking about ideologies, it is a dominant way of thinking within a culture; they are a unification of different concepts and rules that have been created.

For example, when talking about the Ron Artest incident we can further see that ideologies are present when looking at the media coverage that took place after the event. When seeing even minor implications that something might be racist these implications further the concept that whatever the author is writing is due to the ideology they have been in contact with (De B’béri). The Ron Artest incident brought forth many of the ideologies of racism that were at first trying to be hidden. Sports culture is always trying to prevail that it is an equal field, but the media is always reporting “rags-to-riches stories of disadvantaged black players gaining incredible wealth through athletic achievement” (De B’béri). The problem with this reaching to consumers is that it allows people to ignore the rooted racial issues. White spectators are making it seem as if black men are given a privilege to be able to play basketball, which is not the case.

Black male athletes are seen to be “gifted” due to their body physic, and that because of the biological tendency they can prevail. Although black male athletes are viewed as men that have masculine power, this isn’t the case. These views of the “gifted” body have originated from representation of black masculinity and have been built because of the fascination the white spectators have had on them since slavery. This is also the concept of the commodification of black bodies, the concept that the white spectator is only using their bodies and not their mental abilities. The white gaze has put forth into media that the black body is of heroic characteristics and they perform superiorly during athletic performance. The white gaze being the way media portrays the other race, it is in relation to white power.

For example, as reported in the De B’béri article, an article by Prickering conveys how Ron Artest was given the opportunity to be rich and happy, and all he needed to do was play the game and keep his anger issues to himself. This statement further implicates how black athletes are seen to be given millions of dollars just to play the game and that they should be grateful for the sport allowing them to earn a living (De B’béri). This supports how media is portraying the black male athletes for their physical abilities and they should appreciate what they are doing. This view of thinking is developed from the white gaze, emphasizes a dominance on the black athletes.

Thus, the black male athlete becomes seen through the myths from the past African American male representation, and from the present media coverage and is denied of creating their own identity, which is soon found through their own means of media production (De B’béri). After analyzing my experience as a consumer and the effects that media has on the overall culture of basketball, I came to the conclusion that because the ideologies that surround basketball are exploited to be a black male sport and white men are the spectators, in turn create the power dynamics that embody they sports culture.

Works Cited

De B’béri, Boulou Ebanda, and Peter Hogarth. “White America’s Construction Of Black Bodies: The Case Of Ron Artest As A Model Of Covert Racial Ideology In The NBA’s Discourse.” Journal Of International & Intercultural Communication 2.2 (2009): 89-106. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 17 Mar. 2014.

Hutchins, Brett. “The Acceleration Of Media Sport Culture.” Information, Communication & Society 14.2 (2011): 237-257. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 18 Mar. 2014.

Wakefield, Cooper S. “Nike’s Shanghai Advertising Dialectic: A Case Study.” China Media Research 6.1 (2010): 68-85. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 18 Mar. 2014.

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