chapter  7
12 Pages

Spectacles, spectators and the spectacular

Sport offers particular opportunities for display and for spectatorship. This chapter addresses some of the questions raised earlier about sport and belonging and the identifications that the display of sport invokes, and argues that both have been transformed through new technologies. Sporting identifications have powerful inflections because sport has its own intensities and expression through embodied performance and display, and sport creates and sustains the most passionate of personal investments. Sport dominates media pages, images and broadcasting schedules, which create some of the imaginaries in which participants invest. Sensation is multifaceted and diverse in its interpretations. It can involve sensory experience, sometimes sensationalism, as in media representations, and the interrelationship between spectators and performers, in what can be the unmediated relationship between the event and its perception and reception and the effects of spectators on the sporting event and its effects on them. Given the intensity of the experience in many sporting examples, the concept of sensation is part of the two-way process in the

liminal space between the movement on the field of play and the responses of those who watch. These are elements in what transforms a game or a sporting event into a spectacle (Bourdieu, 1986). Spectacles are not only those that are manufactured through

the commodification of sport. The discourse of sport is immersed in taxonomies of ‘great moments’ that often involve great sports stars, more heroes than celebrities; a distinction that increasingly has to be made in modern, commodified sport. For example Mike Marqusee (2005) argues that Muhammad Ali is a sports hero, whereas Michael Jordan is a superstar and celebrity. The politics of race have played a big part in the making of sports’ heroes, for example, Jesse Owens, to Hitler’s anger, debunked Nazi propaganda of Aryan supremacy by winning four gold medals in Berlin in 1936. Jackie Robinson, the first African American major league baseball player who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers starting in 1947 is also part of this history. Marqusee’s argument about heroes in sport focuses on Ali but

also on politics. Ali has engaged in activities that others could and have followed, for example in terms of his political activism, whereas there are very few who could do what Michael Jordan did. According to Marqusee,

there is … no way we can emulate Michael Jordan … In contrast we can all emulate at least some of what Ali did outside the ring … the adherence to conscience in defiance of social pressure, the expression of self through a commitment to a higher cause and a wider community. It was the willingness of the Greatest [Ali frequently used the cry ‘I am the Greatest’ prior to fights] to link his destiny to the littlest that won him the devotion of so many.