Women's Sport and Spectacle: Gendered Television Coverage and the Olympic Games

By Gina Daddario | Go to book overview

5
Soap on Ice: The Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan Story and the 1994 Winter Games

In the purest, most dramatic sense, the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan story is a tragedy and Tonya Harding is a tragic hero. According to Aristotle, tragedy deals in suffering, perhaps even death, where the tragic hero is a character of high worth, but whose arrogant ambition or hubris leads to his or her downfall. If this narrative were a Greek drama, it would be presented exclusively as Harding's story. Harding is a character of great athletic talent whose blind ambition or hubris on ice led to her ultimate downfall, including her implication in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan and her dismissal from the United States Figure Skating Association.

But because this narrative is a media event, the media, particularly television, chose to cover it as a melodrama instead. Television audiences are far more literate in melodrama than in tragedy, as evidenced by the abundance of both daytime and prime-time soap operas and the dearth of Shakespearean teleplays. Television is far more adept at constructing melodrama than tragedy, as it can focus on two or more heroes, rather than one, and on two or more stories, rather than one. It can make the figure skating scandal as much Nancy Kerrigan's story as it is Tonya Harding's. It can make the scandal as much a story about goodness and virtue, as it is about ambition and hubris. Melodrama works best when it is dealing in duality, with two characters and two morals appearing to be polar opposites of each other.

-105-

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