Is Male to Female as Nature Is to Culture?: Sports and Masculinity in Chinese and American Popular Culture
Eriberto P. Lozada Jr.
Dept. of Anthropology, Davidson College
(paper given at the 2005 AAA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC)
A survey conducted by Andrew Morris of subscribers to Basketball (a popular Chinese magazine) found that the slam dunk dominates the dreams of young adult males who, through their direct participation in local basketball leagues and their vicarious fan support of American National Basketball Association and Chinese Basketball Association teams, “believe they can fly.” In both Chinese and American popular culture, sports have captured the global imaginings of male youth popular culture. In this exploration of sports in Beijing and Charlotte, North Carolina, I will examine how the historical roots of modern sports and its contemporary discourse and consumption have reversed Sherry Ortner’s classic model of a gendered hierarchy where ideas of masculinity can now be seen as tightly linked to the athletic, male body, making men closer to nature. Based on fieldwork conducted on sports-related activities on college campuses in the United States and China and on transnational sport-specific governing bodies, I will illustrate how the transnational commodification, bureaucratic rationalization, and local disciplining and imagining of sports among young men have resulted in the simultaneous empowerment and disempowerment of an athletic, body-based masculinity. While these processes differ because of the specificities of the Chinese and American socioeconomic and historical contexts, there exists a globalized trend towards a reliance on the bodies of male athletes that both glorifies and subordinates men in ways that parallel and propagate the disciplinary practices of colonial power. These body-based visions of masculinity, moreover, are connected to ideologies and expressions of nationalism, and shape visions of Chinese and American identities in a global future.