September 26, 2013 § Leave a comment
Today I received the good news that the new course I designed — Global Sports Culture — was approved so that I will be able to offer it as Comparative Literature 100 in the Fall semester of 2014. This gives me a chance to devote more of my teaching time to the topic of sports, to broaden my teaching repertoire beyond the culture of basketball, and it offers students who have been interested in, but unable to enroll in my Hoops Culture course, a chance to take a different sports-related course with me. So please share this with anyone you think might be interested.
I’m still sifting through the specific materials I’ll be using. But I have a course description and schedule in mind and thought I’d share them.
(Note: I welcome suggestions for materials that would be appropriate (in terms of the balance of ease and difficulty) for college undergrads. Please post them in the comments or e-mail me with a brief sense of where and how your suggestion would fit. Thanks.)
Playing, watching, and talking about sports is perhaps the most popular pastime around the world today. Taking an astonishing variety of forms in different locales, sports and the images, metaphors, narratives, and values that spring up around sports weave themselves into the stories we tell about ourselves and our world, even when we don’t think we’re talking about sports. In this course, we’ll study stories and images purveyed and consumed within sports culture around the globe. We’ll be looking at what they tell us about how we think about such things as play, beauty, goodness, violence, money, sex, gender, race, and nations.
The course format is lecture and discussion. Each week’s lecture will offer students historically grounded, philosophically informed reflections on concepts key to critically understanding sports culture in its transnational and global dimensions. Then, in discussion sections, students will explore these concepts in greater detail and more concretely by 1) completing a reading assignment that fleshes the lecture topic out in relation to a particular example or case from global sports culture; 2) completing a short written reflection on the reading assignment prior to the discussion section meeting. Students will also complete three short and one longer paper.
Week 1 “Introduction: Studying Global Sports Culture”
Week 2 “Play”
[Introducing the concept of “play” as a fundamental impulse underlying global sports culture. We will explore cross-cultural, philosophical, and social and historical dimensions of play, while at the same time noting the differences between anthropological, philosophical-aesthetic, and sociological-historical approaches to the topic.]
Week 3 “Rules”
[Introducing the concept of “rules” as structuring parameters in sport. We will view them from the putatively “universal” perspective of the philosophy of games as well as historically in the concrete case of the invention of the rules of basketball in the US and its subsequent export and transformation abroad.]
Week 4 “Creativity”
[Explore the creative expression that can arise when the desire to play meets the constraints of rules by looking at the aesthetic quality of sport in general from a philosophical perspective and by critically examining the ways that nationality, globalization, and race influence both that creative expression and the way it is understood as a sport migrates transnationally.]
Week 5 “Competition”
[introducing the idea of “competition” as a way to explore questions of inter-subjective relations in global sports culture. This includes a detailed examination of how competition comes to be consciously or unconsciously invested with geopolitical significance.]
Week 6 “Ethics”
[Approaching the issues of ethics in global sports culture from the disciplinary perspectives of philosophy and sociology and by comparing the way in which ethical issues pertaining to sport vary transnationally.]
Week 7 “Aesthetics”
[Considering global sports culture as an art form or at least as an aesthetic phenomenon, taking up the issue both from a philosophical standpoint and from the more concretely historical and sociological perspective and situation of West Indian cricket in the mid 20th century.]
Week 8 “Watching”
[Taking up the issue of spectatorship and fandom. The accompanying readings, from philosophical, literary critical, and sociological perspectives, address both the putatively universal condition of watching sports as well also the global vicissitudes of that condition.]
Week 9 “Stories”
[Spotlighting the pivotal role that narrative plays in global sports culture. The readings concretize this by exploring how narratives shape performance, spectatorship and consumption of global sports culture and how these narratives are shaped by such categories as self and other, location and nationality, globalization and universality, and class, race, and gender.]
Week 10 “Media”
[Examining the role of the mass media in global sports culture, focusing in particular on how, in different global contexts, the mass media directs traffic at the the intersections of sport with such political and social categories as class, race, migration, ethnicity, and nationalism.]
Week 11 “Market”
[Focusing on the market as the place where the spectacle of global sports culture is manufactured, bought, and sold. The readings, from the perspectives of history and of cultural studies, focus on the branding and selling of American basketball player Michael Jordan in the context of neo-liberal globalization.]
Week 12 “Gender”
[Introducing the concept of “gender” as a lens through which to examine global sports culture. The readings offer both theoretical reflection on the concepts of gender in sport and case studies of how gender and sports intersect in national and transnational sporting contexts.]
Week 13 “Race”
[Examining how race functions in global sports culture. The accompanying readings help to ground this examination by exploring the vicissitudes of race’s functioning depending on its intersections with gender, the particular sport in question, and the national and international setting.]
Week 14 “Geopolitics”
[This lecture concludes the course by focusing directly on how global sports culture is shaped by and shapes forces of nationalism and imperialism in the context of globalization.]
August 24, 2013 § Leave a comment
This was written sometime in the summer of 1996, after the Bulls won the NBA championship, led by the trio of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and, implausibly, their former nemesis and Detroit Piston Bad Boy, Dennis Rodman.
A former colleague and good friend of mine, Grant Farred, with whom I’d shared numerous conversations about sports, invited me to write it for a collection he was putting together. Grant went on to a very successful academic career in the field of sports studies, but this particular collection never got published and I thought my contribution was lost forever. But I recently found the typescript in a drawer at my parents’ house and thought I’d share it here. Some of the writing and formulations are out-of-date, embarrassing, or just wrong. But I haven’t changed anything in it.
You have to turn your imagination back to the 1995-1996 season and especially the finals (or fire up some youtube clips from the period). And if you can, then this piece might have some historical or archival value – as a way of seeing the Dennis Rodman of that time. ~ yc
Dennis Rodman looks out of place on a basketball court. His body doesn’t seem to belong, not to him and not on the court. First, there’s the way he runs the floor. For all his athletic ability, maybe even because of his athletic ability, Rodman runs like that guy in middle school: the one the coach pulled out from behind the school where he was smoking cigarettes with the other dirtballs, switched his leather jacket for a pair of gym shorts, and put him at center because he’d hit puberty before anyone else. He could run the floor faster and longer than any of us who had been doing it all our young lives, but purely as a physiological act. His body seemed to do it in spite of himself, in spite of his mind, which surely was elsewhere. Knees picked up too high, landing almost on the tips of his toes, arms doing nothing but helping him run. He could run alright, he was a natural runner, but not a basketball player who was running. He could jump too, but the same way, as a natural jumper.
Our resentment surely began there, covetous of squandered gifts we knew already we would never enjoy, we turned our timid pre-pubescent wit at everything else about him: his skills first, but also his grades, his appalling and shameful delinquency, and above all, his nonchalance, which we, true to the formula of athletics, recast as “lack of intensity,” egotism, or when it related to the coach, “insubordination.” The “head case” was born of our envious juvenile imaginations. This is Rodman, and you see it everytime he pulls down a defensive rebound. He seems almost afraid to move his feet because of the disaster that will ensue if he tries to do that which he does so well when he’s just moving in a straight line down the flow while he has to think think of something else, like how to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible. « Read the rest of this entry »
June 19, 2013 § Leave a comment
A poetic experiment, with apologies to Wallace Stevens
The cotton, nylon and spandex are blended
to provide superior softness, stretchy comfort
and to keep sweat out of your eyes,
so all you have to worry about is your game.
For eight dollars
you can own
your own NBA Logoman Headband®
that cost ten cents to produce.
Taut atop the 7’ frame
of the Big Dipper
the headband heightened
the threatened menace
Slick Watts first
used duct tape
as a headband.
Big Ben was benched and fined
for wearing his headband
in defiance of his coach’s prohibition.
the center circle,
and the headband are one
A laurel wreath,
and a headband are also one.
Caught in the hand of a young fan
a headband is a treasured relic,
preciously captured and made holy.
the headband prevents
awareness of our own effort
from blinding us.
sweat of your brow
the headband buys you time in Eden
Slipping ever higher, we conceal
the signs of time’s receding
with a headband.
On King James’ dunk,
the headband left him of its own accord,
knowing it was a redundant crown,
and that time could flow again.
June 11, 2013 § 4 Comments
My title promises the story of a reason. Of reason. But there will be no reasons here, and less Reason. Consider it more a chronicle of an evening adrift on a roiling sea of inclinations, of aversions and attachments, of affections and affinities.
Sometimes, I think that the whole teeming, cacophonous universe of basketball culture lives all inside me as in a lane tightly packed with jostling big men – arguing with itself, voicing feelings it finds reprehensible, formulating analyses it finds arcane and over thought, impressed with its own subtlety, appalled at its own ignorance. « Read the rest of this entry »
May 6, 2013 § Leave a comment
Here’s what I see when I walk into Cultures of Basketball on the first day. I’m not proud of this, nor am I proud of confessing it, but I’m saying it because I think it may be productive to acknowledge it frankly. I see a certain number of “basketball players” (this semester 5) and a certain number of “students” (this semester 23; mostly white, mostly male). Usually I already know the names of the “basketball players.” Usually I do not know the names of the “non-players.”
My primary goal as a humanities educator teaching this course is to work on fixing what’s wrong with my eyes that make me see 28 utterly unique human beings as relatively homogenous representatives of two categories.
April 16, 2013 § 2 Comments
I approach teaching Cultures of Basketball with the hope I can make the course and each class meeting more than just a forum for the kind of discussion a fan might have in a dorm room or sports bar with Bill Simmons. On the one hand, I want the passionate energy that kind of discussion contains and, after all, I am a fan too. But then I also want that kind of discussion to be something that students can step out of, and look at with a critical eye; I want them to come to see what sort of broader cultural purposes – often collective and unconscious — are served by particular positions in that discussion and even by the topic itself. Because this is when actual learning, self-understanding, and growth occur.
Yesterday was “LeBron Day” in class and it generated a great opportunity for this sort of thing. For, inevitably, within minutes the topic was raised: Is LeBron James the Greatest of All Time (the common acronym for non-hoops-nerds is GOAT). This question quickly narrowed to a single comparison: “LeBron vs Michael” (as in Jordan), which is when things got really animated. « Read the rest of this entry »