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December 12, 2017

Televised sports: Why 2018 won’t be like 1984

By Sean Martinelli, Columnist

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Apple’s “1984” ad, which ran in 1984.

In January of 1984, during Super Bowl XVIII, a commercial aired promoting the new Apple Macintosh computer.

Portraying a distant, dystopic society, the ad was much different from the light-hearted beer and car commercials to which viewers were accustomed. A line of people all dressed the same, marching in unison into a theater where a video is being shown, it’s a world not unlike Plato’s Cave. All we can see is an enormous dour face spouting ideology. Implied is that this is the ruler of a futuristic totalitarian society.

Have televised sports become this totalitarian ruler? Have we become passive “citizens” of Sports Nation?

Sponsors, marketers and brands have assumed something of this authoritative rule over our favorite athletes, pulling the strings from behind the scenes, and making them into what they believe is the best for the sport. LeBron James is the perfect example of this; Nike is the responsible party for sculpting him into what the brands wants.

According to scholar Richard Mocarski, Nike has taken into account all aspects of LeBron, from his race, to his body type and even religion. Wanting to keep him away from black stereotypes, LeBron has been molded into a narrative of masculine hegemony. He is a quasi-Messiah, the King, King James.

Is this undue power influencing our biggest athletes? After all, he’s being paid $500 million by Nike to be so colonized for commercial gain. Are we as sports fans critically engaged enough to realize we can never really know LeBron?

Our beloved escape, televised sports, is so completely engineered as “spectacle” that we risk becoming the lemmings depicted in the Apple ad.

And the integrity of sport in America is at risk, as well. Sporting events are as much if not more about commoditization (selling) as anything else. Are pro sports at risk of becoming one big scripted event co-produced by sponsors and the media that broadcast them? Will we have the slightest clue as to who the athletes really are?

Throughout the dystopian Apple commercial, we see one figure who is different from all of the rest. A rebel disrupting the monotonous, robotic docility of the “citizens.” Running into the screening room where everyone else has gathered to hear the “wise” words of their leader, she hurls a hammer into the screen, smashing it into pieces. The commercial goes black, and we hear the words, “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won't be like 1984.” 

Depending on what we do as a society with respect to our sports and the celebrity athletes who perform them, 2018 can either be like 1984, or it can be something very different. You decide.

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