Beautiful sport

Since orgtheory is pushing us forward into football fever, I thought I’d mention my jaw dropped at the Vanity Fair cover page pictorial of star athletes competing in the tournament.

The conceit is that these athletes “wear their flags–and little else–for Annie Leibovitz”, so the multi-page spread includes several group shots of two, three, and four football stars in boxer briefs–tight boxer briefs–with the design of their native country’s flag.

The feature story clearly traffics in a particular race-and-class inflected narrative. As the article  points out, many of these athletes are from working-class backgrounds (I remember a mention of “favelas”, which conjures up not working class, but chronic, multi-generational poverty, really). And although the “intelligence” of many players is noted in the captions, this adjective (and synonyms) are applied to their game play.

What’s the alternative? Most of the players earn more than $7 million per year, and have earned endorsements from major clothing, car, and athletic gear manufacturers. We might  spend a moment appreciating their fiscal can-do. And although I can appreciate the beauty of a professional athlete’s body (ever seen Mikhail Baryshnikov’s feet? There’s a nice Annie Leibovitz shot for a Louis Vuitton advertisement…), I frankly don’t need to know if a football star is circumcised. Boxer shorts or game shorts would have accomplished a body-conscious shot.

As “progressive” as some will claim these images are, and as much as fans will love the article’s celebration of football as “the beautiful game”, I’m worried we’ve just got another episode of the “pool boy” phenomenon.

Oh, did I mention the subscription demos for the magazine? 76% female. Average age: 40. 70% have a college degree and the average income is $58,000/year. As Gawker parodied editor Graydon Carter’s acceptance speech for the “Editor of the Year” award by AdWeek, : “I have a readership that consists entirely of baby boomer divorcees who drive matching Astrovans in Sapulpa, Oklahoma.”

It turns out that desiring the sexual compliance of working-class male bodies is the new aspirational fantasy for middle-America. Who knew that the beginning of the Baby Boomer elderly years would be The Cougar Years?


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