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....