chapter  7
20 Pages

Sporting Nature(s): Wildness, the Primitive, and Naturalizing Imagery in MMA and Sports Advertisements

WithMatthew P. Ferrari

This essay examines two Nike commercials, a TapOut commercial, and the proliferation

of mixed martial arts (MMA) t-shirt visual culture, all of which symbolically link

wildness and ‘‘nature’’ as primitivity to their particular sport contexts. MMA in

particular, it is argued, is more symbolically available to symbolic discourses of the

‘‘natural’’ and the ‘‘primitive’’ because of the sport’s technological minimalism. The

MMA t-shirt is posited as a safe, masculine primitive performance, functioning as an

expressive personal substitute (or supplement) to the analogous tattoos ‘‘worn’’ by many

fighters and fans. Additionally, this paper reviews and connects several disparate bodies

of literature, moving from a discussion of eco-critical principles for critiquing the cultural

production of nature / the natural, to an assessment of ‘‘nature’’ as primitivity, and

finally to highlight how critical analyses of sport and MMA implicate related categories.

While environmental communication has addressed the place of ‘‘nature’’ in advertising,

little has been written about how discourses of nature, gender, and the environment

intersect with the highly mediatized culture of sports. This article adds to the subfield

by initiating just such a critical discussion. Finally, I contend that one of the main

ideological functions of the employment of nature imagery here is to implicitly authorize

notions of wildness or the ‘‘primitive’’ in close association with a male animal ideology,

and also to symbolically reinforce existing narratives which naturalize aggression. These

advertisements posit, I argue, a metaphysical rather than realist ecological discourse,

enabling an unsustainable narrative of the naturalness of human-on-human violence

and aggression.