The Power of Sports: Media and Spectacle in American Culture
A provocative, must-read investigation that both appreciates the importance of—and punctures the hype around—big-time contemporary American athletics
In an increasingly secular, fragmented, and distracted culture, nothing brings Americans together quite like sports. On Sundays in September, more families worship at the altar of the NFL than at any church. This appeal, which cuts across all demographic and ideological lines, makes sports perhaps the last unifying mass ritual of our era, with huge numbers of people all focused on the same thing at the same moment. That timeless, live quality—impervious to DVR, evoking ancient religious rites—makes sports very powerful, and very lucrative. And the media spectacle around them is only getting bigger, brighter, and noisier—from hot take journalism formats to the creeping infestation of advertising to social media celebrity schemes.
More importantly, sports are sold as an oasis of community to a nation deeply divided: They are escapist, apolitical, the only tie that binds. In fact, precisely because they appear allegedly “above politics,” sports are able to smuggle potent messages about inequality, patriotism, labor, and race to massive audiences. And as the wider culture works through shifting gender roles and masculine power, those anxieties are also found in the experiences of female sports journalists, athletes, and fans, and through the coverage of violence by and against male bodies. Sports, rather than being the one thing everyone can agree on, perfectly encapsulate the roiling tensions of modern American life.
Michael Serazio maps and critiques the cultural production of today’s lucrative, ubiquitous sports landscape. Through dozens of in-depth interviews with leaders in sports media and journalism, as well as in the business and marketing of sports, The Power of Sports goes behind the scenes and tells a story of technological disruption, commercial greed, economic disparity, military hawkishness, and ideals of manhood. In the end, despite what our myths of escapism suggest, Serazio holds up a mirror to sports and reveals the lived realities of the nation staring back at us.
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I highly recommend reading. Dr. Serazio spoke at the university where I teach, which is how I learned about the book, but otherwise I had never read his work prior to this. The writing has such broad appeal from something for the avid sports fan, the media scholar, and the curious reader; there's something for everyone to enjoy here. He asks some of the most impressive leaders in sports, such as former NBA Commish David Stern and numerous on-air ESPN talent, revealing questions on relevant topics. This is a defining statement on sports media at one of the most precarious times in industry history. Simply put: it's a must read.