Olympic Athletes and Heroism in Advertising: Gendered Concepts of Valor?
Goodman, J. Robyn, Duke, Lisa L., Sutherland, John, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly
This analysis of television advertisements aired during NBC's telecast of the 2000 NBC Summer Olympics examined advertisers' use of Jungian-based concepts of heroism and gendered concepts of heroism. Using traditional archetypes of heroes-the Innocent, Orphan, Martyr, Wanderer, Warrior, and Magician-the study analyzed commercials featuring Olympic athletes. Findings were that male and female athletes were equally portrayed as Warriors. However, male athletes were more likely to be portrayed as preparing for and doing battle successfully while female athletes were more likely to be celebrated for their athletic skills and achievements.
In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the classic study of how historic hero-tales share similar plotlines across cultures and time, Campbell1 documents an archetypal hero who may have varying visages, but typically is male. Descriptions of male heroism are frequently found in Warrior tales of old and more recently, in media coverage of major sporting events. In particular, Farrell found the media celebrated "the American dream" through the hero/anti-hero personas of male Olympic athletes.2 This raises certain questions: How is the heroism of female Olympic athletes constructed by advertisers? Is the way female athletes are considered heroic different from their male counterparts?
Creedon argues, "Contemporary mass media, like the plays, epic poems, fairy tales, fables, parables and myths before them, preserve, transmit and create important cultural information...[influencing] our language, clothing styles and concepts of heroes and heroines."3 Advertising, as a mass media subset, is a powerful transmitter/reflector of cultural values. Through its use of popular sports figures, advertising creates a kind of "consumer's heroism,"4 whereby heroic qualities are commodified through their association with products and services.
We investigated advertising's use of Olympic athletes/heroes because these individuals represent the nexus of two important mediated constructions. First, traditional gender roles have been perpetuated through heavily promoted sporting events such as the Olympics. Scholars have shown that media reinforce the view that certain sports are appropriate for one sex and not the other; media have failed to give equitable coverage to female athletes and women's sports; and media prefer hetero-sexually attractive women athletes.5 The literature indicates that mediated sporting events reinforce an ideology of male superiority and solidify masculine sports hegemony through narrative conventions, commentator rhetoric, inequitable gender-specific sports coverage, and sexualized presentation of female athletes.6
Second, Olympic athletes, particularly winning ones, are de facto "hero/heroines."7 Oriard argues that contests like the Olympics are particularly well suited to the manufacture of heroes because they are created in an "apolitical, asocial, amoral, even timeless, placeless quality of the athletic contest itself. The athlete-hero in America is...the supreme role model."8
This paper explores heroism as an evolving yet highly gendered mediated construct that derives its power as a marketing tool from deeply rooted, psychic schema, i.e., Jungian archetypes that underlie all social meta-narratives, such as Campbell's heroic "monomyth."9 In particular, we examine how modern heroism, as embodied by Olympic athletes, is constructed by advertisers to appeal to ever-changing consumer audiences. Our qualitative analysis of advertising illustrates Jungian-based concepts of heroism and shows how advertisers deploy gendered concepts of heroism.
Dating back to ancient Greece, the term "hero" was defined as "a superior man, embodiment of composite ideals."10 The gods imbued the hero with exceptional human characteristics such as strength, power, and courage.11 However, as a historically and culturally delineated construct, "heroism" has evolved across time and national boundaries.12 While the ancient hero was admired for his extraordinary physical strength and skills, the modern hero is also described in terms of social accomplishment: attractive, victorious, charismatic, individualistic, skillful, down-to-earth, a realistic role model, and a risk-taker.13 Whereas the ancient hero was generally a warrior, the modern hero is often a sports figure. As Ryan notes: "Every culture has its gods, and ours hit baseballs, make baskets, and score touchdowns."14
The mass media have been important in equating heroism with successful sports figures.15 The media present audiences with stunning athletic feats of which the average human is incapable. Watching sports on television helps audiences establish relationships with athletes who are mythically superhuman in their talents yet very human and "knowable" as mediated personalities.16
The media allow their audiences close associations with successful sports figures, and according to social learning theory, provide powerful, symbolic models for the public to emulate.17 Many people look to television and other media for heroic images that have begun to supplant family, peers, and teachers as role models.18 These symbolic role models show audiences how to perform desirable social behaviors and provide them "templates to possible selves."19 Through symbolic modeling in films, television, magazines, and newspapers, audiences gain attitudes, emotional responses, and new styles of conduct such as how to be an athlete-hero.20 Because these athlete-heroes are "bigger than life," they are "bright enough to attract imitation. They still serve as chinning bars on which are exercised the hopes and aspirations of individuals, groups, and nations."21
The public uses sports heroes as role models in three ways. First, individuals model heroes' style of play and athletic performance, as well as how heroes approach performances such as pre-game rituals.22 Second, people model their attire after athletes' clothing and shoes, consumable talismans that confer vicarious power.23 Advertising contributes to the modeling behavior described by social learning theory by telling the audience that their acquisition of certain fashions is fundamental to emulation of the hero.24 Individuals also model athletes' conduct, taking cues on nonsports related behaviors such as fighting or arguing with players or officials, as well as more positive demonstrations of good sportsmanship, determination, and a strong work ethic.25
Socio-historical concepts like heroism are reflected and reformulated in the media, but they achieve immediate resonance with consumers through timeless, archetypal connections.26 Jung27 referred to archetypes as "forms or images of a collective nature which occur practically all over the earth as constituents of myths and at the same time as individual products of unconscious origin." Advertising appropriates and capitalizes on these images as shortcuts to creating instant connections with audiences. Stem has noted "invocation of myth to clothe an advertising claim is thought to be powerful in proportion to the original story's importance in cultural collective memory."28 Pearson examined the use of archetypes as advertising and marketing tools29 and identified the utility and power of the hero archetype in brand-building.
Pearson identified six archetypes associated with the hero on his journey toward self-actualization: the Innocent, Orphan, Martyr, Wanderer, Warrior, and Magician.30 The Warrior, with its focus on strength, physical prowess, and vanquishing of opponents, is society's most common archetypal hero. It is the central focus of the "monomyth," the standard tale of heroism that recurs in widely varying cultures and across time.31 The Warrior is traditionally envisioned as male. In fact, one of the commonly recurring events in the hero-tale is male rescue of women.
The historically standard positioning of male hero to female beneficiary continues to find expression in contemporary texts. Hitchon and Jura32 offered as an example a Diet Pepsi campaign in which an attractive female asks Michael J. Fox for a Diet Pepsi. Because he does not have the soda, he hurriedly slips out to buy a can. In his quest, Fox faces pouring rain, heavy traffic, a vicious dog, and leather-clad bikers. The story is one most of us recognize as the knight rescuing the damsel in distress. Fox is the knight (hero) who faces danger (the archetypal dragon) as he rescues the damsel.33
Within cultures, these sagas are literally told as great adventures; at the nonliteral level, the sagas teach standards of good-versus-evil and right-versus-wrong. Advertisers rely on the heroic saga for the construction of the literal message and trust the recognition of the higher-level message to the audience's cultural literacy.34
Archetypes are particularly important to advertising messages because they are readily accessible and understandable and are able to communicate meaning deeply and quickly.35 Mark and Pearson identify the Olympics as a "hero brand," in that the national sports contest is marketed on qualities that typify its most admirable athlete/participants. Other hero brands include Nike, which champions women in athletics, and the U.S. Army, which formerly evoked a heroic ideal in its slogan, "Be all that you can be." The function of the hero in advertising is aspirational; that is, consumers are assumed to desire the heroic qualities ascribed to brands through the brands' associations with heroic people, i.e., well-known athletes.36
The largest advertising sponsors and major networks apparently support coverage of sports that showcase the male athlete's physiological advantage over women.37 From a business perspective, this focus seems justifiable, because men comprise the majority of the audience for sports contests with the largest audiences, e.g., NFL football. However, Nielsen figures from the past decade's Olympics reveal that although women compete in roughly half as many Olympic sports as men,38 in the 1992 (winter) and 1994 games, primetime female viewers of the Olympics outnumbered males. This demographic shift in the Olympic audience required sponsors to tailor their messages for greater appeal to women.39
Product sponsors naturally seek to feature engaging female Olympians in their advertising targeted to this powerful female audience. The success of athletes in their Olympic venues helps determine their desirability as commercial entities, but for women especially, there is an added criterion: "It is also to the players' benefit to be perceived as feminine. Because their personal endorsement incomes will be adversely affected if they are not."40 The Olympics is a commercial bonanza for big-- brand sponsors, some of whom pay up to $40 million for sponsorship rights.41
The Mediated Female Athlete as Caregiver/Martyr. Pearson found that while in many aspects heroism is defined similarly for both sexes, female heroism is "more optimistic and more democratic and equalitarian than her male counterpart's"42 and most often associated with the Martyr /Caregiver rather than Warrior archetype. The Caregiver/ Martyr is the "feminine" heroic archetype that conforms to traditional social expectations of female athletes. Incorporation of the basic characteristics of "feminine heroism"-e.g., connection, fairness, responsibility, persuasion, nurture43-is encouraged in girls' early socialization experiences with family, peers, educational institutions, and media. For example, Gilligan44 has posited that girls are socialized from youth to focus on relationships and cooperation. This socialization pattern is reflected in the types of play and sports traditionally deemed "appropriate" for girls-sports focused more on form and grace (e.g., figure skating) and individual effort rather than strength and head-to-head competition.45 In sports such as figure skating, women do not only compete against themselves; they compete against an opponent-one who is abstracted through performance in independent time and space. There is no personal contact, no face-to-face confrontation. This non-- competitive pattern is also reflected in media coverage, which typically focuses on women engaged in individual sports.46
Additionally, broadcasters' commentaries in sports coverage contribute to the portrayal of female athletes as archetypal Caregivers/ Martyrs by attributing women's sports success to "good coaching, getting along with others, helping, and family allusions"47 rather than the skills and strength typically attributed to men. Olympic lore is rife with tales of women's other-orientation in the face of world-class competition. Daddario argued "selflessness, as much as athletic achievement, is defined as success for female Olympians."48 For example, during the 1984 Summer Games, media attention was riveted on two female goldmedalists who gave away their medals-one to a sister who had been cut from Olympic competition, the other to a paralyzed brother.49 Additionally, women are often quoted in the news as hoping to win, not for personal gain, but for a loved one. Conversely, women fear performing poorly because of its effect on significant others.50
The Mediated Male Athlete as Warrior. Mark and Pearson51 noted that in American culture, heroism is most often associated with a traditionally male archetype, the Warrior. The images informing this archetype live in our collective impressions of the hunt and the battlefield, traditionally male preserves.52 In more contemporary contests of strength and cunning, the Warrior removes his antiquated armor and dons helmet and pads, ready to do battle in the arena of competitive sports.
News coverage of male sporting events reinforces the imagery of the Warrior through "masculine" texts that "invite identification with one main protagonist,"53 and portrays male-dominated sports as "dramatic spectacles of historic import."54 Citing Barthes's Mythologies,55 Holt, Mangan, and Lanfranchi note that modern sports are "contemporary dramatic contests with epic heroes... [who] allow the non-heroic access to catharsis in culturally consecrated ceremonies. Moreover, these heroes epitomize the qualities their society esteems."56
Mark and Pearson57 identified three levels through which Warriors may evolve on their way to actualization, or full use and appreciation of their gifts. Level One is signified by "the development of boundaries, competence, mastery, expressed through achievement, motivated or tested through competition." On Level Two, Warriors are motivated by duty for country, organization, community, or family. Finally, Warriors use "strength, competence, and courage for something that makes a difference to [themselves] and to the world."58 The challenge for the Warrior is to balance the desire to win through strength, mastery, and independence with humility - the Warrior must guard against arrogance.
The Warrior archetype is expressed in direct opposition to characteristics positively associated with the feminine, e.g., nurture, gentleness, and cooperation.59 Likewise, images that evoke the Warrior frequently occur in sports that are traditionally considered inappropriate for women, i.e., those requiring bodily contact, conflict, or requiring heavy equipment, padded uniforms, or protective armor.60 The Warrior archetype is reinforced by the regular use of "martial metaphors" to describe male sports participation. Duncan et al. found that terms such as "attack, duel, fire away" were regularly used to describe male sports play, whereas female play was described more passively; "where men `misfire,' apparently women simply 'miss.'"61
The Semiology of Advertising. A useful tool for analyzing Olympic commercials comes from semiology, which focuses on the cultural significance of representations and their meanings across an extensive range of signifying media.62 Semiological analysis determines how meaning is formed by looking at the two components that constitute a sign: the signifier and the signified.63 The signifier is the physical element in the form of a written word, sound, or picture, whereas the signified is the mental concept referred to by the signifier.64 The relationship between the signifier and signified is arbitrary, but their connection comes from cultural convention and agreement.65
Yet the signifier and signified ignore the ways signs interact with the users' cultural experiences.66 Barthes's concepts of denotation and connotation reveal how signs create cultural and ideological meanings. Denotation is the common-sense meaning of the sign. Connotation, or what Williamson67 calls referent systems, is the image's cultural construct.68 Transference of meaning to the image requires a viewer's active participation and draws upon advertisers' and audiences' common social knowledge.69 Thus, semiological analysis illuminates a society's pre-existing cultural and ideological beliefs.70
Many studies explore the connotations, or referent systems, of visual images including how characters, props, color schemes, social relationships, body language, and physical characteristics are connected to cultural meanings.71 For example, Goffman's72 study of print ads found that women were rarely photographed taller than men, rarely performed the dominant role in interactions, and often physically lowered themselves (i.e., head down, lying down), all of which made them appear subordinate and sexually available to men. Furthermore, photographs made women seem anxious and submissive by showing them biting or sucking their fingers, laughing, and averting their eyes. Emphasizing women's eyes and mouths or showing them snuggling up to men infantilizes women and suggests submissiveness.73 Conversely, staring, touching, interrupting, crowding another's space, frowning/looking stem, and pointing indicate dominance.74
Semiological analysis should reveal patterns in depictions of Olympic athletes, and provide the basis for drawing associative conclusions regarding the underlying ideological beliefs the commercials are transmitting. The authors, therefore, conducted qualitative content analysis and semiological analysis to see how Olympic athletes are depicted as heroes in commercials and whether there are gender differences in how Olympic athletes are depicted as heroes.
Data were obtained from forty-six six-hour tapes of the 2000 NBC Summer Olympic telecasts. To obtain a theoretically-informed, comparative sample, the telecasts were divided into 16-20 September, 21-25 September, and 26 September-1 October. Coverage was divided into these three time periods because many sponsors made multiple commercials that aired at different periods during the games; some sponsors ran ads starring a particular athlete only when that athlete's sport was being telecast. Using a stratified random sampling method, three six-hour tapes were chosen from each time period. An additional tape was viewed for each time period to ensure that the fullest range of relevant commercials was achieved.
Each commercial in the sample was coded.75 The first section of the pretested coding sheet labeled distinct, secondary characteristics of the commercials such as the advertiser and the number and gender of the characters. The second set of codes characterized "concepts, beliefs, themes, cultural practices, and relationships."76 Based on Pearson's hero categories and characteristics,77 each commercial was examined to see if it incorporated some aspect of heroism.
The authors used the coding sheets to sort the commercials by the major hero categories and characteristics. The researchers compared and contrasted "extremes and key differences within each category or item."78 Since a primary goal was to interpret the cultural meanings of the commercials, a progressive theoretical sampling method was used to ensure inclusion of the widest range of relevant messages.79 Therefore, commercials were chosen for in-depth semiological analysis based on the researchers' developing comprehension of how Olympic athletes were depicted as heroes in commercials.
Semiological analysis of the commercials chosen for in-depth analysis followed Frith's method.80 The researcher first describes the ad (its denotation) and then explores the cultural and ideological meanings, or connotation, by discovering the shared knowledge readers must use to decode the ad. Because this paper's only purpose was to see how Olympic athletes were depicted as heroes and the gender differences in these depictions, this study focused on the signs that related to the hero typologies and gender messages.
Shown in the 31 commercials with Olympic athletes or obvious Olympic themes were 98 males and 76 females. In the commercials in which a primary character could be determined, 8 were male and 7 were female. Commercials most often featured automobiles (6), dot.coms (5), credit cards (4), alcohol (3), fast food (3), and beverages (3). There was one commercial for each of the following: videotape, a pharmaceutical company, the Winter Olympics, electronics, food supplements, athletic apparel, and home and garden.
Thirty of the 31 commercials presented male and female characters as Warriors or, less frequently, a combination of Warrior and Caregiver/ Martyr, with an emphasis on the Warrior role. Male and female athletes were equally likely to be portrayed as combinations of the Warrior-- Caregiver/Martyr. (The remaining commercial featured cyclist/cancer survivor Lance Armstrong as "Magician.") In a departure from what the literature predicted, none of the commercials featuring women portrayed them primarily as Caregivers/Martyrs.
Close examination of the use of the Warrior archetype commercials featuring Olympic athletes revealed that the spots emphasized three different aspects of the Warrior: the Warrior's Gifts and Goals, the Warrior's Fears, and the Conquering Warrior (i.e., who respond or solve a problem). Although male and female athletes were portrayed as Warriors, different aspects of the Warrior's character were emphasized in men and women.
Sixteen commercials accentuated the Warrior's Gifts and Goals: strength, courage, discipline, skill, and/or making a difference through struggle. Six Warrior Gifts and Goals commercials featured female primary characters, while two featured male primary characters. Although most of the primary female characters were depicted as strong, skillful Warriors, one-third of the commercials sexualized the female athlete. This sexualization did not occur in commercials featuring a male primary character.
For example, an Oldsmobile ad that featured two female beach volleyball athletes opened with a close-up shot of the back of one of the women's legs. As the camera panned up her rear, the announcer said, "Your heart races." Cutting to a shot of the two volleyball players hitting the ball, the announcer said: "Your pulse quickens. Is it the U.S. Olympic team? Or the best offers of the year?" The ad cut to a fast-moving Oldsmobile and explained the offer. The commercial ended with one woman diving for a ball and another spiking her shot.
Most of this commercial showed the women's skill, agility, and strength in the slippery, sandy terrain. Both the automobile and women were moving quickly, and their motions were accentuated by quick cuts between the women and the cars. The viewer was expected to attribute to the car high levels of performance in difficult circumstances. The transfer of power achieved through visual juxtaposition of products with metaphoric images is a standard advertising gambit. According to Mark and Pearson, people and/or cars moving fast and natural terrain that requires skill and agility to negotiate are typical types of heroic imagery used in building advertisin brands.
In one way, the commercial deviated from traditional, gendered media presentations of sport. Creedon81 found that gender influences which sports are defined as "real." That is, "real" sports are mainly maledominant, team sports requiring aggressive action. Sports characterized as female-dominant, such as gymnastics or synchronized swimming, require grace and patience and are often an individual effort. These sports tend to be assigned peripheral status.82 The Oldsmobile commercial showed female athletes in an aggressive, action-packed, team sport rather than a sport emphasizing grace and patience. Thus, in some ways, the commercial contested the traditional "genderization" of female sports and depicted the women in a "real," masculine sports role.
Despite its depictions of the women playing an aggressive team sport with skill and strength, however, the commercial's opening shot of the back of the woman's legs sexualized the female athlete. Because the opening shot juxtaposed the derriere shot with a driving music track and the announcer saying, "Your heart races," it created what MacNeill calls an erotic pulsation, trading on sex appeal.83 By emphasizing sex over athletic prowess, the opening series trivialized and degraded women's sporting experience.84
The women's sexualization was further intensified by the color of the women's sport bikinis-red and black, colors are associated with sex and passion.85 The red and black form-fitting, body-enhancing bikinis and several "cleavage" shots objectified the women, presenting them as sexual commodities.
Another ad focused on the female Warrior's Gifts and Goals was a Visa commercial featuring a U.S. pole vaulter. The commercial opened on a middle shot of Stacey Draglia, holding the pole and concentrating on making her next vault. A long shot showed her running down the track, muscles rippling, and successfully making the vault. The music in the background was "I Love Being a Girl." (Lyrics: "When I have a new hairdo; With my eyelashes all encurled; I float on the clouds as air do; I enjoy being a girl"). The music stopped, and the male voiceover congratulated Draglia on winning a gold medal. The spot closed with another long shot showing Draglia walking off, saying, "Man, I'm good."
The ad's intention was to congratulate Draglia on a gold medal for the first women's pole vault in Olympic history, and defeating her enemy/competitors. Although her statement, "Man, I'm good," denoted an air of arrogance, which Mark and Pearson suggested is a trap of the hero, her arrogance did not deter her from reaching her goal. However, the ad also trivialized Draglia with its audio track and, to some degree, her attire. The song, "I Love Being a Girl," exemplified what Duncan et al.86 call gender hierarchies-referring to women as girls, which makes them childlike rather than formidable adults. The audio track also harkened to stereotypes of a "feminine" woman whose primary concern is beauty, although it contrasted this with images of her strength and skill. The commercial presented a role conflict for Draglia in that it recognized social dictates that she be traditionally feminine even though she is a Warrior.87 Furthermore, Draglia's smile when the song says, "I enjoy being a girl" could be read as her attempt to win the viewers' approval of her Warrior role.88
Moreover, Draglia was clad here in a red, silky bra and short, tight shorts. Although many female track athletes wear such clothing, the soundtrack and the close-ups of her arched back made her attire seem more sexual. Because red connotes sex, heat, and passion,89 her attire further engendered her sexualization.
Yet her outfit's silkiness and ability to float in the wind also gave us a sense that Draglia was flying. Her flight was further emphasized by her soaring over the pole when the song said, "I float on the clouds as air do." The song, her "flight," and her attire all connoted freedom as she ascended toward the heavens. Her juxtaposition with the sky and the soundtrack's reference to floating on air ascribed to Draglia godlike qualities, just as Greek mythology associated the heavens and supernatural powers (i.e., ability to fly) with the ancient gods and goddesses.90
When commercials focusing on the Warrior's Gifts and Goals featured male main characters, their presentations were more straightforward. For example, a POWERade commercial showed Olympic wrestler Steven van Eeden from the waist up, bobbing and weaving, slapping himself, and punching while he grunted. The context for this "fight" was unclear until the camera moved 180 degrees and we saw that van Eeden was in front of a mirror. The voiceover told the viewer he was preparing for a match in ninety seconds. The words, "Whatever you do to get up for the match," were superimposed on a black screen. A close-up showed van Eeden's snarling face. The ad cut to van Eeden wrestling an opponent. The commercial ended with another young man drinking POWERade and the voiceover said, "Power up your game with POWERade."
This commercial depicted the athlete as someone with focus and discipline, two key gifts of the Warrior, by juxtaposing close-ups of van Eeden's face, his intense eyes, and his punishing, pre-match ritual. In this spot, van Eeden was literally his own enemy, slapping himself while punching at a phantom opponent, thus demonstrating his toughness and willingness to suffer for success. The viewer was left with little doubt van Eeden will conquer his opponent. This spot was typical of the way in which the male Warrior's Gifts and Goals were not sexualized.
Van Eeden's Warrior persona was further emphasized when he jogged out of the shadowy tunnel with his eyes looking upward. Because we have already seen him wrestling a faceless opponent, we were supposed to view this scene as the triumphant Warrior returning from a battle. Van Eeden's military-style crew cut made him a "war" hero. Because darkness and shadows are associated with evil,91 we can assume he has been victorious over evil. Van Eeden was emerging from the darkened cave where he had slain the mythical dragon. Additionally, his upward-looking eyes not only connoted his dominance,92 but also his spiritual connection.
The Warrior's Gifts and Goals also appeared in a series of IBM Olympics.com ads. These five commercials featured local Olympic heroes of both sexes: a female basketball player from Senegal, an Irish female kayaker, an Australian male field hockey player, a Canadian female water polo player, and a male fencer from New York. Each ad interwove scenes from the athlete's hometown, comments from local citizens and the athlete's family, and the athletes participating in their sport. Each ad ended with the words, "Ten thousand local heroes. One place to find them all. IBM Olympics.com." Similar to the POWERade commercials, the imagery in these ads captured the speed, power, skill, and discipline associated with the Warrior. The commercial revealed each hero's strategy: become strong, competent, and powerful through hard work and determination.93
These athletes were depicted at Mark and Pearson's highest level of the self-actualized hero, combining aspects of the feminine Caregiver / Martyr archetype with the Warrior. They used their strength, competence, and courage for something that makes a difference for themselves and the world.94 Specifically, both male and female athletes were portrayed as using their Warrior traits to represent and bring honor to their community and its citizens at the Olympics. The comments from the citizens further supported this level-three depiction and the selflessness associated with the Caregiver: "She's not only doing it for the medal, but she's doing it for Ireland." "She is representative of our people." "This is the first time in our country that we go to an Olympic championship." "He'll be representing our town."
According to Mark and Pearson,95 the hero's downfall is becoming arrogant, yet these commercials often ended with an expression of humility. Examples included: "I'm proud of where I came from, not me," "It is very important to bring your identity and know who you are when you go to the Olympics," and "Maybe I'm a hero, but I just want to be a simple basketball player." Thus, these athletes sidestepped this potential flaw and could accomplish greatness.96 Moreover, "they see themselves as just doing their jobs,"97 which Mark and Pearson noted is typical of heroes. As a result of their accomplishment and humility, these heroes were worthy of admiration-in fact, these were the only commercials in which hero worship was an integral part of the narrative. The athlete performs for the glory of the community-"bestows boons"98-and in return, the community celebrates the athlete: "Those who know him, look up to him. He's someone to be proud of." "Not many have been able to achieve what Stephen has achieved."
These commercials did present the female athletes in stereotypically feminine ways in addition to their Warrior role. For example, the opening shot of the Canadian athlete showed her slowly turning toward the camera with her arms folded, eyes averted, and a shy smile. Her averted eyes connoted withdrawal from the situation and anxiety,99 inconsistent with the powerful Warrior. She smiled to win the favor of the audience, with folded arms connoting her submissiveness.100 Her body language softened the Warrior characterization, reinforcing the power differences between men and women and societal biases toward female power (that women must still be feminine even if they are powerful). The athlete was ultimately a woman, deferential and eager to please and, therefore, a flawed Warrior.
Two ads featured the Warrior's Fears, which are ineptitude, weakness, powerlessness, and/or impotence; one commercial had a male primary character and the other, a female. Such fears dominated a Budweiser ad featuring WNBA and Olympic basketball star Lisa Leslie. She was standing in front of her bedroom closet wearing a tight, red, floor-length dress with side slits. A male sitting on the bed told her to hurry up, to which she replied, "I don't have any shoes to wear." The camera showed her closet full of basketball shoes, then cut to Leslie on the basketball court.
For a few seconds, Leslie outperformed her foes on the court. The final few seconds cut back to Leslie on the dance floor with her male companion. As people stared at her, the camera panned down to reveal her red athletic shoes. Leslie bit her lip and sheepishly shrugged at those around her.
This commercial portrayed an outstanding female athlete as an odd combination of ineptitude and skill. In the first fifteen seconds of the commercial, Leslie was not up to the task of choosing a pair of shoes. The next four seconds showed her dominating the basketball court. Thus, the commercial revealed Leslie's role conflict-the decisiveness and competence she displayed as an athlete disappeared and was replaced by an inept, stereotypically feminine persona off the court.
Her role conflict was further emphasized by her tight, red silky dress, red lipstick, and the shoes in her closet-all basketball shoes in an array of colors. The dress identified her as a woman. The red of her dress and lips signified her sensuality.101 In contrast, her closet was filled with "work" shoes. The combination of these conflicting signs exemplified the problem of a woman trying to navigate between two worlds: the stereotypical masculine public sphere of work and athletics versus the feminine private sphere of home and family. The overall ideological message was a professional female athlete is an awkward, unfeminine woman. The final scene in which Leslie sheepishly shrugged, bit her lip, and averted her eyes as people stared at her red basketball shoes compounded her role conflict. She seemed to be apologizing for her dual role rather than being confident in her choices. When she bit her lip, she engaged in a licensed withdrawal, which suggested anxiety, dependence, and submissiveness.102 The focus on her shoes suggested that sports such as basketball are unfeminine and, therefore, socially unacceptable. She failed as a woman because she lacked the proper female "costume."
Eleven commercials emphasized defeating the opponent. In every such Conquering Warrior commercial with a primary character, that character was male (6). When women were depicted in this role, they were primarily shown in a montage of athletes reveling in the joy of victory, edited to musical tracks such as If You're Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hand and U2's Beautiful Day. Moreover, extreme emotionalism was the exclusive purview of the feminine: the shots of athletes crying with happiness were always women. Therefore, women's "role" as Conquering Warrior was infrequent and when evident these commercials showed them as stereotypically feminine.
For example, a thirst for conquest drove Olympic track athlete Michael Johnson in a Samsung commercial. The spot began with a three-- second close-up of Johnson's determined eyes, then cut to a shot of Olympic and U.S. flags. Next, the commercial showed Johnson in the starting blocks with several other male athletes and the group running down the "track," which was a Samsung cellular phone. As they race down the phone, the male voiceover stated "the phone is your playing field," that the "sound of your voice takes you anywhere," and "everyone is invited." Johnson broke through the finish line's tape and immediately called his coach on his Samsung phone, saying, "Hey, coach, we did it."
This commercial clearly portrayed the hallmarks of the Warrior-- assertiveness and confidence. Beginning with the opening shot of Johnson's intense, focused eyes, Johnson exuded confidence and asserted his skills by taking the lead and winning the race. The close-ups of his face also showed a serious athlete who was in control of his emotions, a key to the Warrior's ability to prevail.103
Contributing to the Warrior persona are the scenes with Johnson at his starting block, a blue sky the only background. Johnson's juxtaposition with the sky symbolized his connection to the Heavens and his god-- like qualities of swiftness and strength.104 These qualities were augmented by the sky moving quickly overhead to emphasize Johnson's supernatural speed.
The commercial's inclusion of the American flag elevated the "battle" from a simple attempt to defeat multiple opponents for personal gain to fighting for an entire nation. This was accomplished in two ways, both visually and verbally. Because the flag represented the nation and Johnson was juxtaposed with the flag, Johnson's victory became a matter of national pride. His victory was a victory for the country, which Mark and Pearson105 found is typical of a second-level hero. As a representative of America, moreover, Johnson's Warrior characteristics (confidence and strength) were transferred to the nation. When the voiceover spoke about having the "power to do it all," the audience felt that Johnson and America are omnipotent, that all Americans are powerful, confident, and strong.
In focusing on Johnson's desire to win for others (country, coach), the Warrior and Caregiver/Martyr archetypes were combined. When Johnson called and shared the joy of his success with his coach, the part depicted what Campbell106 called "the power to bestow boons." By emphasizing that "we did it," he shared the win with his coach and constructed his success as a joint effort.
Sample commercials analyzed for this study featured roughly equal numbers of male and female primary characters and almost all portrayed male and female athletes as Warriors (and less often, some combination of Warrior-Caregiver/Martyr with an emphasis on Warrior). The commercials emphasized three different aspects of the Warrior: the Warrior's Gifts and Goals, the Warrior's Fears, or the Conquering Warrior. Although male and female athletes were portrayed as Warriors, different aspects of the Warrior's character were emphasized for each sex, consistent with the literature on gender socialization and media representations.
Male athletes were more likely to be portrayed as Conquering Heroes-preparing for and doing battle successfully-purposefully choosing confrontation and one-on-one competition. Female Olympians were more likely to be celebrated for their athletic skills and achievements, separate from issues of competition and defeat of an opponent. Female athletes were sometimes sexualized, even when they embodied the Warrior ideal. Male athletes were not similarly objectified. However, when issues of connectedness and achieving for the good/glory of others were introduced, men were as likely as women to be the primary characters in the commercial.
Discussions of gender portrayals in the media often assume that gender bias is expressed similarly across all media and types of media messages. This study's results indicate the job advertising must do-to sell specific kinds of products to targeted audiences-may powerfully affect how gender is constructed in messages.
Several explanations are possible for the relatively egalitarian portrayals of women in advertising versus sports television programming. First, the advertising story must be told in thirty seconds or less. This offers little time for elaborating on the nature of the characters in the ad. The audience must identify the Olympians immediately in order for the advertiser to appreciate the full benefit of their celebrity; and this identification can be achieved more quickly when athletes are shown in the context of their sport, demonstrating the talents for which they are best known. As a result, using female athletes in advertisements for athletic products whose major appeal is "winning" will result in Warrior portrayals more often than Caregiver/Martyr portrayals. The converse of this is that products related to nurture, e.g., public services or products intended for families, are more likely to feature Caregivers/Martyrs.
Second, Olympic athletes are not necessarily gifted actors. It is difficult for an athlete to carry a commercial that is rich in the dialogue or emotional nuances that would be necessary to communicating Caregiver/Martyr qualities. It's simply easier to have track stars run than emote.
Finally, Olympic athletes are frequently chosen to represent high performance products such as cars, athletic gear, and electronics. The creators of commercials for these goods focus on traits advertisers wish to associate with their products. Presumably winning, performance, and skill are more attractive selling propositions for these products than are the more altruistic characteristics associated with the Caregiver/Martyr archetype. That is not to say that advertisers avoid all gender bias. The sexualized female still finds a place in these commercials, even if she is a Warrior. Likewise, this analysis demonstrated that even advertisers shy away from showing women as Conquerors, preferring to highlight their talents and skills. Female Olympians excel and achieve; they do not vanquish.
These findings indicate that advertisers are interested in portraying the heroism of female athletes much like men's, in terms of skill levels, strength, gamesmanship, and confidence. However, for female heroes, applying those gifts in the defeat of an opponent is not narratively desirable. Success is implied, enjoyed passively, something done offscreen, a private rather than public achievement, nothing in which one should revel. Female heroes are graceful and gracious; male heroes are publicly proud of their mastery over their lesser.
Future research should inquire into the ways market forces influence the construction of sports heroism in advertising. For example, it seems reasonable, given the large female audience for the Olympics, that female athletes be portrayed in a relatively egalitarian manner. Also, a large female audience might be expected to appreciate the occasional Caregiver characteristics attributed to male (as well as female) characters. But, would male and female athletes share so many of the archetypal qualities in commercials run during shows with a largely male audience? Would audiences react favorably to advertising in which women were portrayed as Conquering Heroes, or would the competitive nature of such images overpower their other "heroic" qualities? Can a woman dominate an opponent and still be heroic?
The opportunity for an altered vision of female heroism exists but should such efforts seek to match portrayals of the sexes quality for quality? As Busch107 has noted, portraying the sexes similarly-with the male standard as the implied ideal-may be a debatable improvement. Advertisers such as Nike have done much to encourage women's participation and achievement in sport, but as sports advertising featuring women evolves, the positive and negative aspects of the Warrior archetype will likely be plumbed for "fresh" approaches. "While such ads break new ground in the representation of the female athlete, both their language and imagery also seem to encourage women to accept some of the worst aspects of men's sports-the violent, in-your-face, taunting culture of men's basketball and football, where sportsmanship has been replaced by trash talking and a general disrespect for one's opponents."108 For supporters of gender equity in sports, which is better: portraying female athletes as the Conquering Warrior, or combining the best aspects of all heroic archetypes?
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J. Robyn Goodman and Lisa L. Duke are assistant professors of advertising and John Sutherland is professor of advertising at the University of Florida.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Olympic Athletes and Heroism in Advertising: Gendered Concepts of Valor?. Contributors: Goodman, J. Robyn - Author, Duke, Lisa L. - Author, Sutherland, John - Author. Journal title: Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly. Volume: 79. Issue: 2 Publication date: Summer 2002. Page number: 374+. © Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Winter 2007. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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