racism

Sexism and Racism in Sport Ads

While I hate to bring my blog post back to where I work I’ll do it again! Occasionally outside companies bring our department their flyers to hang up. The gentleman who handed me the flyers was tall, muscular, and dark haired.  I won’t name the company of which he represented but the organization encourages college students to join club sports teams and engage in their social parties. I was quickly amused at the company flyers, instantly thinking they were comical. He left and I placed the fliers in my ‘to hang’ bin and went back to my work.

 

A few days past and I hung grabbed that same bin to hang up all the posters for the week. I first went to the community board and grabbed two the company’s flyers. I stopped, thumbtack in hand and looked at them. I became distraught and angry. Instead of wanting to join the business’ teams or having fun at their parties I was disgusted by their image. Each image displayed the confirmation of perceived stereotype. In one hand I had a ‘thick’ aggressive looking field hockey player with her mouth guard sticking out of her mouth and in the other I had a thin blonde turning her back to the camera to show her back dimples and baseball jersey. Just these two images juxtaposed together made me feel as if girls who play these sports come from completely different backgrounds.

“Now you, pick up the field hockey stick and look at me with anger in your eyes. Be fierce, be bold.” I can hear the photographer shout at the mode. The female hockey player showed me a masculine or ’butch’ side of women. Image

And then, there is the sexy baseball jersey wearer showed me how women are used as models. Why would the girl appear to be participating in the sport? 

“Roll up the jersey a bit and turn around but give of us a sultry look. You know what; roll it up a little bit higher.”

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Additionally there were four other images other flyers with different images. One, featured basketball and another, dodge ball and football. These three images really got me thinking. Firstly, I have always thought of basketball to be predominantly African American. In fact, from the 2013 Racial and Gender Report Card: National Basketball Association, “African-Americans comprised 76.3 percent of all NBA players. Eighty-one percent of players were players of color.” I found it odd or misrepresentative that the player featured for basketball was a white male.

The PR department probably mulled that over for hours.

“He can’t be black. We can’t be racists, pick a white male instead. Good character, right?”

He seemed, to my own standards ‘good looking and kind’.

 

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Compared to the basketball player, the dodge ball African American appeared dull and harsh. The man nonetheless wore gloves and held a dodge ball, a sport best related to elementary school. Dodge ball has been notorious for the game to pick on the weak and rally the strong, and game that separates. Ironically, a black male was chosen to represent this sport.

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Then the next male model represented football. This model was ferrous, sweaty, mean, and ugly. His face showed pure anger.

The photographer probably told him, “Squeeze the football like it’s someone’s head.”

Showing me anger and dominance I felt nervous look into his eyes. He was strong and powerful and I being a small, 120 lb woman, would not be able to handle him if he chooses to attack- I felt scared.

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The last image, which was juxtaposed right after the angry football player, was disgusting. Soccer was displayed this time. But the model… she wore no bra, exposing her nipples and her hips bones stuck out of her skin. I don’t mean to say she was overly skinny, but she certainly wasn’t hiding anything. Like the baseball jersey model she exemplified the female body as an object. Her sexy stare into the camera wasn’t one I’d see on a competitive player.

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I was ashamed of these ads, astounded by the sexism and racism by six flyers. At first glance I laughed, but when I really examined them my secret semiotican came out. I decided to only hang up a few of them. I threw out the sexy soccer player, baseball and football player. I places the normal basketball player and on another bulletin board, the dodge ball and field hockey together. I didn’t want to showcase sexy, or rough. I wanted wholesome competitive, sport play. Of what that is now, I am not so sure. 

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Problems with a Face

As a kid, one of the movie genres I really just consumed was the pulp series put out just after the Depression, stuff like Charlie Chan, Lone Ranger, Mr. Wong, Detective: stuff my grandparents knew from when they were young. Good movies, fun, I really enjoyed them.

Boris Karloff as Fu Manchu. Notice how facial features have been changed: eyebrows arched, eyes have been taped to give them slants, mustache added in stereotypical “Oriental” style.

But as an adult, I don’t get the same amount of pleasure from them when I try to watch them.

The big reason is that a lot of the movies I was exposed to are face movies, or at least have face characters. I hope that I don’t seem like I’m bemoaning the fact that my liberal leanings are forcing me to avoid these movies, because that’s not what i’m trying to do.

If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, the most well known example is blackface, but it is also manifested for other ethnic groups, redface for Native Americans, yellowface for Asian, etc.

Ok, so what is the problem?

The portrayals are inherently racist and serve as very powerful visual rhetoric.

Visual characters like this seek to establish themselves as typical of African-Americans. Lips and hair has been embellished, as has the overall backwards-ness of appearance.

Well, like I said, these portrayals are inherently racist and in the least appropriative.  Too often, the characters in “face” makeup are bumblers, lazy, slow, vain, greedy, subhuman. This establishes a stereotype, and the face character is a visual cue; audiences know what to expect from them when seen onstage. Being able to recreate the same features from actor to actor for a face role is a visual manipulation, allowing the movie makers to disregard the diverse realness of humanity and reduce POC to an idealized icon. What POC are actually like is not important. The negative is idealized, exaggerated, and displayed, in order to broadcast/reinforce the message that these aspects are all the targeted culture is. In doing this, POC go from individuals to characters that the audience doesn’t need to get to know; they already understand how they will act. The face character-one person, one role, one character, is allowed to stand for the whole people. Such characters are visual affirmation of race myths.

Johnny Depp’s recent portrayal of Tonto continues the traditions of redface: facepaint, broken English, quasi-mysticism. Is this how we perceive Natives?

These performances do not encapsulate the whole experience of the culture or do them real credit. (There is also the cruel twist: black/red/yellow face performers have also been members of the culture they are stereotyping, often it was the only work they could get. However, this only served as an affirmation of the performance’s reality.) Face performances, in picking and choosing what they want to convey, confirm the idea that the races being mocked are this way, and so deserve to be mocked, and treated as inferiors. We must also remember that these roles are created by a dominant section of society, and are therefore used to reinforce their position of power.