Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Week 11: Commodifying Black Culture: the NBA and Marketing


2-4 people in a group. everyone must speak, in english, explain how these are american influence on Taiwan
no brands. no mcdonalds. no coke, etc
5-7 mins
12 images, you can collect them from the internet, or take them yourself
Due week 14


Two readings for today.... QUESTIONS... answer in PAIRS, in your own words, in 1-3 sentences.

1. Which player is important for the growth of black culture in the NBA?

2. What commodity does the NBA actually market now?

3. How do white people feel about black males? What words do they use to describe them? How is this a problem for the NBA?

4. For black thinkers, what are some problem of blackness and the NBA?

The NBA and Blackness: Control and Commodification

Allen Iverson. Ron Artest. The dress code. What connects them?

Image via: HypeBeast

“The NBA can’t dress no grown man.”This statement, made about the NBA dress code in a recent interview with Complex Magazine, is one that embodies the man who’s widely recognized as one of the most iconic players that have passed through the league: 11 time NBA All-Star, former league MVP with the Philadelphia 76ers, and recent Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Allen Iverson. Off the court, “A.I.”, or “The Answer”, was equally as iconic, as he carries an immeasurable cultural significance, a cultural significance that we can still find traces of in today’s NBA, two decades after he entered the league, and a cultural significance that cannot be discussed without talking about race.
In 2014, a study of NBA viewership in the 2012–2013 NBA season concluded that the league’s viewer demographic is about 45% black and 40% white. This small 5% difference might come as a surprise considering the NBA is largely considered to be a “black” league, but things get more interesting when placed next to the Nielsen statistics from the 2013–2014 season that show that black viewers spend, on average, 2.9 times more minutes (844 to 290) watching NBA basketball than white viewers. This means that although a similar amount of white and black viewers tune in to NBA games, the interest level of the white viewer has a much shorter lifespan. Why could this be?
There are two popular explanations for this phenomenon: the disappearance of the white-American NBA star player and the previously-mentioned image of the NBA as a “black” league. However, saying there are not enough white players means that the league is “too black”. Therefore, these two explanations are the same: there is a disconnect between the white audience and the black league and that disconnect is related to racial differences and the image of the NBA. While the birth of the NBA’s image as a black league cannot be boiled down to a single man, there is one man many identify as a central person to all of this: Allen Iverson.

Allen Iverson: The Sum of White Fear

Photo Credit: Nathan Perkel, Complex Magazine

If you asked any basketball historian to name three of the most iconic Allen Iverson moments, the three moments would undoubtedly be: 1) him going 1-on-1 against Michael Jordan and crossing him up in his rookie season (1997); 2) him stepping over Lakers guard (now Head Coach of the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers) Tyronn Lue in the 2001 NBA Finals; and 3) his famous “We talkin’ ‘bout practice” monologue.
But what do these three moments have in common? Each of them reveals a side of Allen Iverson that was inportant in him becoming the cultural icon that he is now. The confidence that allowed him to go against Michael Jordan, the brash swagger he displayed stepping over Tyronn Lue, and the unapologetic attitude behind his practice rant is  what made Allen Iverson so popular among those who identify with him, and they are what made him, at the same time, so controversial.
Controversy was attached to Iverson before he was even drafted in 1996, thanks to a 1993 fight (Iverson was 17 at the time) at a bowling alley between Iverson’s friends and a group of white students. That incident, which has since been turned into a documentary film, allegedly stemmed from racist remarks made by the group of white students, but although video footage showed both parties throwing punches, only Iverson and his friends were prosecuted, with Iverson being sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Iverson would make his way to the NBA, though, and it would be there where he became even more polarizing, particularly off of the court, due to who he was — himself, a black male — and what he represented: the “cultural fear of the black male body” (Gatz et al., 2002, p. 100), or what is often referred to as the “black male threat” (Raney & Bryant, 2006). The fact that Iverson entered the league with a criminal record, adorned his bling, tattoos, and cornrows (which has a cultural significance of its own), brashly displayed his swagger, and was unapologetic about being himself and being black, did not ease the minds of white viewers. While Allen Iverson’s effect on Black America was one of empowerment, his effect on White America was one of fear, a fear that would soon manifest itself in another player: Ron Artest.

Image via: Sports Illustrated

A large part of how we remember Allen Iverson was the result of his personality. The same can be said for former Indiana Pacer, 2004 Defensive Player of the Year, and 2010 NBA champion with the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers, Ron Artest, whose reputation precedes him, as he is forever tied to the ugliest incident in NBA and American professional sports history, a night that has since only been referred to as: the “Malice at the Palace.”...
[Artest attacked a fan in the stands during huge fight on the court after fan shouted racist things at him and threw drinks at him]

Image via: ESPN 97.3

On October 15, 2005, about two weeks before the 2005–2006 season, and less than a year after the “Malice at the Palace”, then-commissioner David Stern introduced a mandatory dress code, making it the first American-professional sports league to do so. This dress code banned players from wearing chains and bling over their clothes, as well as sleeveless shirts, t-shirts, and shorts, when arriving at and departing from games.
While some argued this business casual dress code was reasonable and congruent with the “professional” side of being a professional athlete, many, particularly many of the NBA’s black players, believed that the introduction of the dress code was an attempt at damage control in response to the realization of the black male threat, as a result of the “Malice at the Palace”, and many also viewed it as an attack on hip-hop culture and the trend of self-expression that Allen Iverson brought in and helped grow.

The NBA and Blackness: Commodification and Control

Edward Bernays, who is often referred to as the “father of public relations”, once said in his famous book, Propaganda, that “in certain cases we can [a]ffect some change in public opinion with a fair degree of accuracy by operating a certain mechanism” (Bernays, 1928, p. 47). There was a large contingent that believed that David Stern’s dress code was that mechanism, a mechanism trying to “control every approach to the public mind in such a manner that the public receives the desired impression, often without being conscious of it” (Bernays, 1928, p. 69), and a mechanism they hoped would “de-racialize and revitalize the league” (Schneider-Mayerson, 2010, p. 231).
The argument was that this attempt to “control black male bodies” (Leonard, 2012, p. 12), and blackness in general, diluted the black male threat (Raney & Bryant, 2006, p. 528), furthering the commodification of black athletes and turning them into “passive object[s]” (Gatz et al., 2002, p. 100), and that “by promoting the image of clean-cut African Americans […], the NBA banish[ed] not only the negative traits that whites associated with ‘blackness’ but any mention of ‘race’ itself” (Schneider-Mayerson, 2010, p. 230). It appeared like the NBA was making progress in “harness[ing] the ‘black aesthetic’ that whites found appealing while making ‘blackness’ invisible” (Schneider-Mayerson, 2010, p. 229).
This brings us back to the white viewer’s relationship with the black players of the league, a relationship that extends far beyond sports, as “the Black male remains the most problematic racial subject in the White imaginary” (Hughes, 2004, p. 164). While the league may claim that the lifeblood of the NBA is the awe-inspiring athleticism (a word that has its own surrounding racial codes) of the players, and that is not entirely untrue, what also is not entirely untrue is that the NBA was also “managed with a specific, if often not open, goal of making Black men safe for (White) consumers in the interest of profit” (Hughes, 2004, p. 164). But those days are in the past.

A Decade Later: The New NBA

Three of Russell Westbrook’s many pre-game outfits. (Image via: For The Win — USA Today)

It’s mid-February in 2015 during the NBA’s annual All-Star Weekend festivities, this year split between New York and Brooklyn, and LeBron James, the face of the league, walks out onto a stage of New York’s Hammerstein Theater, microphone in hand, and introduces the packed crowd to the NBA’s first ever “NBA All-Star All-Style” Fashion Show. It’s something that would’ve seemed impossible a decade ago, but inevitable to any close follower of the NBA in the last half-decade. What a difference a decade makes.
The NBA, at its core, has not changed all that much, however. It is still “a primary circulator of images of African American men for mass audiences” (Hughes, 2004. p. 163) and it is still “a ‘black game’ in a white nation” (Schneider-Mayerson, 2010, p. 231), but it has stopped trying to disassociate itself with blackness; in fact, it has fully embraced it.
This is the new NBA. It’s a league where hip-hop culture is a part of the experience. It’s a league where the self-expressive boldness of outfit choices can only be surpassed by the boldness of player hairdos. It’s a league where black players take the runway for fashion shows that air before dunk contests emceed by black comedians, with reactions from black celebrities in the crowd, and commercials in between it all ranging from True Religion Jeans starring Russell Westbrook to State Farm Insurance commercials featuring Chris Paul (and his invented twin brother Cliff Paul). It’s a league where self-expression is common and unpunished. And while this new NBA is the result of many, there is one whom much of this would not be possible without. The answer, once again, is Allen Iverson.

The embrace of a hip hop culture suggests that the Raptors see profits to be made from marketing a certain kind of blackness. In a 2005 essay, “Who Got Next? Raptor Morality and Black Public Masculinity in Toronto,” York University prof Gamal Abdel-Shehid argues that “as an almost all-black league in a racist culture,” the NBA has had to market “a certain kind of blackness as entertainment.” When the Raptors came to Toronto in 1995, the Raptors confronted white Canada’s association of basketball with hip hop, gangs, and school violence.
What Abdel-Shehid called “Raptor Morality” hinged on an aesthetic that tied together basketball, black masculinity, capitalism, the failed nuclear family, and a mythologized “inner city.” It took advantage of individualistic narratives of young Black men working hard, staying out of trouble, and “making it” through pro sport. “To replace a collective struggle to combat the nightmares of racism, police brutality, and class exploitation,” Abdel-Shehid writes, “the Raptors offer a Hoop Dream.”
For Abdel-Shehid, the Raptors’ success “shows the ways in which capitalism has relied on pop-cultural notions of blackness to sell an image to everyone, regardless of their level of consciousness of ‘race’ and racism … It is important to pay attention to the story of blackness that the Raptors tell, and to locate this process within the history of Canada’s attempts to write black experiences out of the nation.”
So back to “We The North,” the Raps, and Toronto in 2015. While people of African descent make up 8.3 per cent of Toronto’s population, they account for 25 per cent of the civilians stopped and documented by the police. Black men are up to ten times more likely to be stopped than their white counterparts. In the city’s high schools, Black students are three times more likely to be suspended than white students.
In the interests of profit, the Raptors market a commodified blackness while, as a company, the Raptors are silent on the policing, state-sanctioned violence, and other forms of institutionalized racism to which Black bodies are subject to in the city every day. There are some aspects of the Black experience in Toronto that just don’t fit the Raptors’ “redefined brand identity.” To paraphrase legendary comedian Paul Mooney, “everybody wanna be black, but nobody wants to be black.”
From here, only for reference....

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Week 7


1.      List 5 advantages Hollywood has over local film industries in other countries.
2.      How does the US use Free Trade Agreements to help Hollywood?
3.      How do American movies drive US cultural imperialism?


See discussions, stats, and author profiles for this publication at:
Cultural globalization and the dominance of the
American film industry: cultural policies,
national film industries, and...
Article in International Journal of Cultural Policy · September 2014

…the expansion of media culture industries in other countries has to be
seen in the context of the continuing dominance of American media culture.
Banerjee (2002, p. 517) states: ‘The USA has emerged as the most powerful player
and clearly dominates the world’s cultural industries’. This is particularly true in
the film industry.2 Using data from 2002 to 2007, Fu and Govindaraju (2010,
p. 223) found that countries are increasingly importing American films. The annual
World Box Office Top 20 consists of American films and a few US co-productions
(European Audiovisual Observatory 2010) (see Chart 1).

The dominance of the American film industry is generally explained by three
factors: (1) the enormous concentration of talent and economic resources for the production of film in the Los Angeles region (Hollywood) (Scott 2002); (2)
the advantage of the huge American market that offers economies of scale, ensuring that cultural exports can be sold at rates well below the cost of production for smaller nations (Van Elteren 2003, p. 173); and (3) a widespread and effective distribution system for American films in the USA and in many other countries that effectively excludes foreign films from the US market and ensures the success of American films abroad (Scott 2002).

Scott (2002, p. 958) attributes Hollywood’s competitive advantages to ‘a dense
agglomeration of firms and workers and associated institutions’. This production
system has two major components, one devoted to the production of very expensive
blockbuster films that are marketed globally and another devoted to the
production of relatively low-budget independent films which may or may not be
distributed abroad. A few American conglomerates produce the most expensive
films and provide financing and distribution for films made by small independent

These elements exist in an institutional environment and regional context which
provide filmmakers with ‘strong competitive advantages in the form of increasing
returns to scale and scope’ and which function as ‘a seedbed of creativity and innovation for the industry’ (Scott 2002, p. 965).

Among all film-producing countries, the USA is unique in the average cost of
films. The average cost of films produced by major studios is close to $100 million
while the average cost of independent films is less than $40 million (European
Audiovisual Observatory 2006, p. 37).4 By comparison, the average cost of a
British film is $13.3 million (Brunet and Gornostaeva 2006), of a French film, $5.1
million (European Audiovisual Observatory 2010, p. 23), and of an Egyptian film,
$1.3–$5.5 million (European Audiovisual Observatory 2010, p. 61). Table 1 shows
the disparity in production costs between North America and other regions. The
high production costs of American films are necessitated by their use of a star
system and their emphasis on increasingly elaborate special effects.

Although many American films are very profitable in the USA, foreign markets
have become much more important, as the costs of making films have increased. In
2005, 61.3% of Hollywood’s box office receipts were derived from foreign markets
(MPAA 2006, cited in Gao 2009). US firms have the advantage of working in the
principal international language, English. Typically, about one-third of a US film’s
budget is devoted to advertising and promotion, including an emphasis on
film branding which includes product placements and products that are widely
marketed through commercial tie-ins and cross-promotions (York 2010, p. 3).
Scott argues that, without its effective and unparalleled distribution system, the
production system in Hollywood would be much less successful than it is. The
system relies on extensive networks of regional offices in the USA and abroad,
marketing and distribution involving intense publicity campaigns and
exhibition in many different theatres simultaneously (Scott 2002, p. 969). The
absence of comparable distribution systems in the film industries in other countries
prevents them from competing effectively in the USA and elsewhere. The
American market for foreign productions has been described as ‘impenetrable and
unattainable’ (Brunet and Gornostaeva 2006, p. 61).

Another factor in the global dominance of the American film industry is the role
of cultural policy. As will be discussed in a subsequent section, the continuing
success of Hollywood films in the face of increasing competition from other countries
is at times the result of a fierce battle between national cultural policies, one
which Hollywood, supported a system of Foreign Trade Agreements, negotiated by
the American government, usually wins (see below).


Cultural policy is an important element in the global dominance of the
American film industry. The goal of the American government’s film policy is to
eliminate film quotas in other countries so as to ensure that their film markets are
open to American films. At the beginning of the past decade, UNESCO (2000,
2005) recognized the exceptional nature of cultural goods and affirmed the right of
nation states to implement policies that protect and provide cultural expression in a
Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural
Expression (Jin 2008). While European countries, particularly France, strongly
supported the convention, the USA refused to sign it and vigorously lobbied
against it (Jin 2011).7

The American response to the UNESCO convention was an increase in the use
of Foreign Trade Agreements on a one-to-one basis with other countries. FTAs are
intended to eliminate film quotas and promote exports of American films to other
countries. The American government’s reaction to the UNESCO convention and its
use of FTAs reflect the enormous importance that the American government
places on its film industry. Cultural industries, such as film, music, and television,
are major sources of American exports (Jin 2011).

While negotiations for the UNESCO convention were taking place, the
USA was beginning FTA agreements with more than 20 countries, including
Morocco, Columbia, Australia, Israel, South Africa, Malaysia, and Korea (Jin
2011). In some but not all of the countries that signed FTA agreements with the
USA, their domestic film markets declined rapidly, as shown by the market share
of local films. This was particularly true in small countries with relatively small
film industries, such as Canada and Australia, which were no longer able to
adequately protect their industries.

The USA also pressured South Korea to reduce its quota system for foreign films
that had been in existence for several decades as a condition for starting negotiations for a US-Korea FTA (Jin 2008).8 In spite of strong opposition from the film industry, the government halved the quotas because it expected other industries to benefit from other aspects of the FTA.

The effects of American pressure to cut screen quotas vary depending upon
the economic and cultural contexts in different countries. In the early 1990s,
when screen quotas were cut in Mexico as a result of the NAFTA Treaty with
the USA, the number of films produced in Mexico declined from 100 in 1992 to
14 in 2003. The market share of Mexico’s film industry was 7.5% in 2009. In
Korea, the short run effects of cutting the film quotas in 2006 were very negative.
The film industry lost money in subsequent years but, in 2009, it once again
became profitable. Six Korean films were among the country’s top 10 films (see
Table 2). The Korean film industry survived the change in screen quotas because
of the huge market all over Asia for all forms of Korean popular culture (known
as the Korean Wave), including film, in an economic and cultural context where
emerging countries are expanding their economies and their populations are starting
to have disposable income for various forms of consumption (Shim 2006; see
also Keane 2006).

Some critics see films as another form of cultural imperialism. Since Hollywood has attracted global audiences, it has made important modifications. Of the past two decades, references to American culture are less specific, while themes and motifs of other cultures are more prevalent, making the film appeal to audience on the global film market (Crane, 2014). And while Hollywood has made these modifications to diversify its content, the American film industry still faces scrutiny for not being diverse enough, as exemplified in the #OscarsSoWhite movement during the 2015 Academy Awards. Because of it’s lack of diversity and global influence, the Hollywood film industry potentially has the ability to homogenize global cultures, and therefore the industry acts as a cultural imperialist (Crane, 2014).

The United States is not just a political hegemon, its pop culture is also hegemonic (Wagnleitner, 2001). Ideals that the United States holds to be true are eventually adopted by lower tiers and subordinate countries. For instance, the American view of development as fast, progressive, and industrial, leaves little wiggle room for other countries influenced by American pop culture to create a national identity or perspective themselves (Su, 2011). On top of this the hegemonic devices used in the film industry function to contain social change by absorbing stories (that should be told in different perspectives) into its core ideological structure, “giving the appearance of addressing calls for social change, while simultaneously legitimizing dominant ideologies for the viewing public,” (Cooper, 1999).

While Hollywood has made modifications to their industry to be more specific about other cultures, Hollywood is also modifying the cultures within the movies to encompass American ideals. Take, for instance, the Disney Princess movie, Mulan (1998). Before the United States even produced this film, the Chinese folk tale had already been the subject of operas, television series, and three films. When Disney production started, “American-style individualism was inserted in the story, transforming a shy, demure heroine into an outgoing and tomboyish girl… the story although set in China, is resolutely modern and American,” (Crane, 2014)