Wednesday, October 21, 2009

SI for Kids: Basic lessons in gender, sport

At the UM Tucker Center lecture Monday night on women's sports and social media, I suggested that the primary function of mediated/spectator sports in U.S. culture is to reinforce gender norms (apologies to Noam Chomsky).
It starts early. Just look at SI for Kids, which disproportionately focuses on men and boys (maybe "SI for Boys" would be a better title) and relies on gender stereotypes in relationship to sports. One feature in the magazine, the "Buzz Beamer" cartoon, is sometimes so overt in its use of gender stereotypes as to be laughable (maybe that's what supposed to be funny). Buzz Beamer's October entry (p. 56) is such an example: apparently Marial Zagunis, an Olympic gold-medal fencer, is capable only of carving "beautiful" pumpkins; her male counterpart (hockey player Alex Ovechkin), of course, is capable only of making the opposite (a scary one).
Obviously, the problem with this kind of message is that underlying it is the assumption of gender binaries. What do girls and boys take away from a cartoon that makes this point? Unfortunately, it's not a message that encourages girls or boys to move beyond traditional gender roles that hinder both from exploring sports activities they might otherwise pursue.

Friday, October 16, 2009

ESPN's 'Body Issue' does its job

According to a report by The Wrap about the Magazine Innovation Summit in New York this week, ESPN boosted subscriptions to its "Insider" (a companion to the magazine) by 400 within two hours of posting its "Body Issue" images online. Newsstand data wasn't released.
Of course. That was the point -- it doesn't take a genius to see how the SI Swimsuit edition and other flesh-baring editions of sports-related titles do on the newsstand: They sell.
ESPN's sex-sells issue was, in my mind, different in some significant ways from the SI swimsuit edition. ESPN had argued that the mag was driven by journalistic motives, and while that's highly debatable, the images do exhibit a range of athletic images. It is much more ambivalent than SI -- alternating back and forth between images that can be read as liberating because they challenge ideal-body norms, and those that reinforce a "hetero-sexy" apologia by female athletes.

Friday, October 02, 2009

HS sports: 'one of the next great markets'

According to rankings, the biggest high school football game in the country tonight will be played in South Florida tonight and will -- courtesy of ESPN -- be aired for the nation to watch. Marketers from Nike and other major brands will be watching because, as an article in the Sun-Sentinel notes, they have "targeted high school sports as one of the next great markets." Nike moved into one of the high schools this week with a full-force marketing campaign aimed at students.
The Sun-Sentinel article suggests that ESPN's exposure of high school sports on a national level may be a "win-win" situation, as schools' travel costs are covered and they get a small sum of money for playing. But Fred Grimm of the Miami Herald correctly takes ESPN to task for exploiting the cheap labor at the high school level. He points out the obvious: ESPN is cultivating a potential goldmine by contriving "big-time" high school matchups, selling the audience and avoiding the astronomical rights fees it pays for college sports.
The implications are sickening. Do we really want to import the problems with academic integrity we have at the college level into public schools? As Grimm writes, "On Friday night, during ESPN's Old Spice High School Showcase Presented By Nike, the commodities will be offered up on national television, along with after-shave and athletic apparel."
On a related note, ESPN has also announced plans to launch a Web site devoted to coverage of girls' high school sports (beyond what it provides on RISE). Again, such a branded ("W") site could be a moneymaker for the net by allowing it to sell eyeballs not typically attracted to its products in large numbers. But it is likely that this idea will end up on ESPN's scrap heap: Making a female-focused, sport-focused media product that sells is an exceedingly difficult proposition (just ask the editors at SI Women or at Real Sports, for instance).