Two Cycling Films Added to the Sports Film List

I’ve just updated the philosophical sports film list that I’ve compiled to include the recently released The Armstrong Lie and the forthcoming Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist. The former I’ve seen, the latter I haven’t.

The Armstrong Lie is a slightly disjointed film that jumps back and forth between Armstrong’s hey-day, his complete fall from grace and his early attempts to regain control over his destroyed reputation. The disjointed nature can be explained by the fact that the director (Alex Gibney) set out to make one film – about Lance’s comeback from cancer in 2009 – and ended up recording Lance’s downfall. Unfortunately, though it provides some interesting insights and interviews with some of Lance’s (former) friends and colleagues, its lack of coherence detracts from what is a fascinating story.

…and the most interesting philosophical question – that the film doesn’t address – is who actually won the Tour de France between 1999 and 2005?

The list of philosophical films can be found here: Sports films relating to philosophical issues

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A Philosophical Account of ‘Summer Storm’

This year, as part of my module called ‘Sport, Meaning and Value’ I gave my students the option of writing a philosophical analysis of a sports film. Below is one of the best ones, written by Jehmeil Lemonius (and is reproduced here with his permission).

A Philosophical Account of Summer Storm: Masculinity, Identity and Coming out in Sport.

Traditionally, participation in sport has been viewed as the epitome of masculinity.  Research has suggested that, in western societies throughout the twentieth century, sport has become a proverbial litmus test for what it is to be perceived as ‘manly’ (Connell, 1995; Messner, 1992), creating an institution where hegemonic masculinity, heterosexism, and homophobia continue to fester (Anderson, 2002; Connell, 1995; Hekma, 1998). As a result of the apparent hostility to behaviour not usually associated with masculinity, openly gay people continue to be hugely under-represented in sport, and those hiding their sexuality are subject to a range of pressures to conform which have otherwise been brought close to extinction elsewhere in society. As a result of the uniquely challenging experiences of gay people participating in sport, a minority of films have aimed to address the issue head on; ‘Summer Storm’, a coming-of-age movie and the subject of this essay, is an example. This essay will seek to examine the film’s portrayal of sexual orientation and sport in the context of wider academic literature.

Summer Storm (Sommersturm), a German movie released in 2004 and directed by Marco Kreuzpaintner, is a comedy-drama which follows Tobi, a confident, popular teenager who is the captain and social leader of the RSC rowing team, set to the backdrop of a yearly rowing regatta. Tobi and his best friend, Achim, are team-mates, and share a close relationship, at times bordering on physical intimacy, but always falling short of direct sexual contact. Whilst Tobi harbours strong feelings toward his best friend, Achim’s affection lies elsewhere with Sandra, a fellow rower and participant in the competition, and Tobi himself is the subject of advances from Anke, the attractive female friend of Sandra.

The story unfolds at the summer rowing camp, where teams from all across Germany descend on the ground for a week of training in the lead up to the final rowing race. Behaving stereotypically, the male team are excited at the prospect of camping with a female rowing team from Berlin. However, the girls’ team cancels, and are replaced by “Queerstrokes”, an all-gay youth rowing team who take vocal pride in their homosexuality. As hostility and competitiveness between the two groups becomes fierce, Tobi is forced to confront his feelings for Achim, come to terms with a blossoming relationship with Leo, a member of Queerstokes, and declare his sexuality to his team-mates.

Superficially, ‘Summer Storm’ follows a generic ‘coming out’ story narrative, structured around successive periods of tension, crisis and resolution. The predictability of such storylines are reflected in commentary; Gove (1996) argues that films dealing with teenage representations and ‘coming out’ narratives almost universally deal with gender stereotypes, given the symbolic value of adolescence as a key moment in the development of a person’s gender and sexual identity. The genre of films dealing with revelations of sexual orientation during adolescence are, by their very nature, concerned with positive representations of gay people – Bronski (2000) goes so far as to argue that such films are ‘inseparable from the idea of pro-gay propaganda’ (P.20). Homophobia is portrayed exclusively as backward and unacceptable in the film, with Anke even commenting, on hearing Achim express his need to be ‘informed’ of a rower’s sexual orientation, ‘Why don’t we just ask them to sew a pink triangle into their jackets?’ (25:28).

Bronski also views the experience of protagonists in such films as unrealistically positive, with the story failing to reflect the harshness of homophobia in the real world, and ending conveniently after the triumphant declaration of the characters’ sexual orientation without any exploration of its possible consequences (Bronki, 2000). This opinion is reflected in much critical commentary on Summer Storm, with many criticising its unoriginality, predictability, and over-emphasis on wish-fulfilment rather than reality.

However, in many such films, gay teenagers are represented as unpopular, sidelined, and lacking in confidence – their emotional journey leads them on a journey of discovery and eventual belonging to a gay subculture. Summer Storm not only portrays its central character as a popular, masculine, and confident with women, but it does this in the context of sport, a rare backdrop for the genre, and one which provides a variety of challenges for Tobi to overcome. Sport has, in the past, been seen as the bastion of traditional masculinity; Davis & Weaving (2010) suggest that the sporting environment facilitates the reproduction of masculine character qualities which are embroiled within a patriarchal society. These qualities consist of behaviours that are stereotypically associated with alpha males such as aggression, competitiveness, and suppression of emotion. With these attributes being closely associated with success, this discourages participation from those who do not identify with such qualities, reaffirming an environment which can be considered segregated, homophobic, and sexist, and glorifying masculinity through a thinly disguised misogyny (Anderson, 2008).

Such behaviour is portrayed in the movie, when many of Tobi’s teammates talk openly and explicitly about their intentions to seduce female participants at the regatta, and the initial reaction, on Queerstokes members revealing their sexuality, is one of repulsion and hostility. If gay people do participate, Price (2003) argues that they resort to extensive measures to present an image of “normality”, conforming to traditional heterosexist structures and endure discriminatory practices to maintain acceptance in this setting.  With Tobi’s adoption of a role as the class clown and alpha male, and his efforts to maintain a heterosexual relationship with Anke and avoid socialising with Queerstokes, the viewer is confronted with the intense pressure to conform as a player of a team sport. The matter of conforming is also the subject of some conflict within the Queerstokes team, with one character commenting that his team-mate should exercise more control over his propensity to ‘behave like a girl’ (40:05).

Georg, a member of the RSC rowing team, represents Anderson’s (2008) classic archetype of traditional masculinity – he is openly hostile toward the Queerstokes team on account of their homosexuality, objectifies women, and engages in traditionally masculine banter with fellow teammates. Georg engages in an open conflict with Queerstokes’ own captain, Malte, who pursues Georg sexually in response. However, rather than portray the relationship as a one-way educational experience for Georg, the film shows Malte as a direct reflection of him – his overtly sexual, humorous, sporty, and domineering personality illustrates all the hallmarks of the same hegemonic masculinity adopted by Georg. The film is therefore unafraid to portray the alpha-male equivalents in both the heterosexual and homosexual groups, and the resulting relationship between them, culminating in Georg feeling horrified by Malte’s eventual sexual advance, is amongst the most interesting in the film. At this point, the only thing separating the two characters is the gender of their sexual targets – stereotypes about sexuality have been broken down entirely.

One of the film’s major dramatic plotlines comes from the central friendship between Tobi and Achim. Many such films contain a similar relationship, some of which serve to portray the heartbreak of unrequited love, with others providing the plot device through which the protagonists romantic dreams are fulfilled. Summer Storm represents this differently – whilst Tobi’s sexuality is not openly acknowledged, the two share explicitly intimate moments, and Achim is on some level aware of Tobi’s proclivities. The storyline eventually climaxes as Tobi leans in for a kiss, but is spurned by Achim who, tellingly, responds with ‘You expect too much of me’ (45:00). The viewer is efficiently made aware that, whilst potentially experimental, Achim is heterosexual, and is unable to fully reciprocate Tobi’s feelings. The film demonstrates restraint in refusing to portray the advance as a shock to Achim, and, whilst the friendship begins to break down in the final act, this can be attributed to Tobi’s jealousy of his friend’s relationship with Sandra, rather than any genuine homophobia on Achim’s part. Such a representation – placing the emphasis on the protagonist as the engineer of his own problems in the face of a relatively accepting response – is an original take on a common story arc, and presents the idea that gay people can experience the same inner turmoil even in the absence of strong intolerance. This is shown most effectively in Anke’s barbed response to Tobi’s continued efforts to hide his sexuality, after Tobi had confided in her his secret: “I have to accept that you are in love with a boy – I cannot compete with that. But do you want to make a comical act out of yourself? Do you want to continue lying to the others?” (1:04:45).

Having been spurned by Achim, Tobi joins the Queerstokes team for an afternoon by the lake. In this scene, the audience witnesses a traditional moment of belonging and realisation – the character feels kindred to those around him for the first time. He develops a relationship with Leo, and shares his first gay kiss. With an employment of pathetic fallacy, against the backdrop of a summer thunderstorm, tensions result in Leo confronting Tobi about his homosexuality in front of his fellow team-mates. Back at the camp, as the storm threatens to destroy their tents, a tree is uprooted, crashing to the ground and separating Tobi from the rest of the camp – Tobi looks at his team-mates through the rain, the imagery reflecting his feelings of isolation and loneliness.  The group eventually find shelter in a local hostel, where Tobi argues with Achim, and ends up in the arms of Leo.

The next morning, Tobi arrives in the breakfast lobby to be greeted by two tables – one occupied by his RSC team-mates, and the second by Queerstokes. After a moment of hesitation, and with the audience expecting him to choose the group who reflect his new-found homosexual identity, the film surprises when Tobi sits with his original circle of friends. At the table, Tobi kisses Anke on the cheek, and asks, casually, ‘What, I can’t kiss girls now, just because I’m gay?’ (1:22:40). His team-mates react with bemusement, but give a wary smile of acceptance, before Toby returns to his leadership role by giving a motivational speech to his team. The scene is in keeping with Summer Storm’s alternative take in choosing to represent sexuality as incidental to personality, and, suddenly, Tobi’s ‘act’ appears real. This challenges the viewer’s own stereotypes that his role as alpha-male had to be a pretence due to his homosexuality – Tobi is able to be both gay and traditionally masculine. As the film ends, Tobi and Achim reconcile, and in a final nod to acceptance and diversity, a last-minute injury results in the gay and straight teams mixing for the regatta race.

Although Tobi’s experience of acceptance has been the subject of much criticism by reviewers, many of whom have declared it unrealistic, the storyline’s realism is actually supported in recent academic research. Studies have attributed homophobia in sport to the lack of experience of, or knowledge of, openly gay male athletes (Wolf Wendel, Toma, & Morphew , 2001), implying that the introduction of even a single gay athlete could produce a significant reduction in homophobic attitudes. Anderson (2009), historically a major advocate of sport being inherently hostile to homosexuality, has noted a significant and recent change in attitudes to gay people within sport. He now refers to many sports as being ‘inclusive’, and considers the hegemonic form of conservative masculinity to have lost its dominance. This assertion has led to Anderson developing newer theories on an ‘inclusive masculinity’ – and that numerous masculinities can co-exist without any hierarchical arrangement. The theory supports the existence of multiple masculinities, and the rejection of homophobia, compulsory heterosexism, stoicism and sexism (Cashmore & Cleland, 2012). Further, Clayton and Harris (2009) state that males who now engage in behaviour which, in the past, would have been deemed to be homosexual, do not face any threat to their heterosexuality. This build up in new evidence goes some way to suggesting that attitudes across sport and wider society may be changing.

In this vein, criticism of Summer Storm’s representation of a gay teenager’s coming out in a sporting environment may be unfair – in some ways, despite following a predictable broader path, the film presented an entirely original philosophy of homosexuality in sport. The concept that traditional masculinity is present in both the homosexual and heterosexual male communities, for better or worse, suggests that far more unites male sport participants than divides them. Indeed, Tobi’s internal melodrama, which continued to exist despite no genuine hostility from his best friend, his girlfriend, or his team-mates, presented the idea that the process of coming to terms with homosexuality can be independent of homophobia – this point is a brave one to raise. Regardless, in choosing to address the issue of sexuality in male sport, Summer Storm is a member of a very small club, and one which should grow if the stereotypes and clichés associated with gay teenagers, in part propagated by coming out films themselves, are to be challenged and abandoned.

 

References

Anderson, E. (2002) Openly Gay Athletes : Contesting Hegemonic Masculinity in a Homophobic Environment. New York: SUNY

Anderson, E. (2008). Being masculine is not about who you sleep with…:” Heterosexual athletes contesting masculinity and the one-time rule of homosexuality. Journal of Research, 58, 104-115.

Anderson, E. (2009). The Maintenance of masculinity among the stakeholders of sport. Sport Management Review, 12, 3-14.

Clayton, B. &  Harris, J. (2009) ‘Sport and metrosexual identity: Sports media and emergent sexualities’, in J. Harris and A. Parker (Eds.) Sport and Social Identities. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Connell, R. W. (1995). Masculinities. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Cleland, J.A. & Cashmore, E (2013) Football fans’ views of racism in British football, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, OnlineFirst, pp.1-18, DOI: 10.1177/1012690213506585.

Davis, P., and Weaving, C. (2010). Philosophical perspectives on gender in sport and physical activity. London: Routledge

Bronski, M. (2000), ‘Positive Images and the Coming Out Film: The Art and Politics of Gay and Lesbian  Cinema’, Cineaste 26.1, , pp. 20–26, p. 20.

Gove, B. (1996) ‘Framing Gay Youth’, Screen 37.2, 1996, pp. 174–192, pp. 174–79

Messner, M. (1992). Power at play: Sports and the problem of masculinity. Boston: Beacon Press.

Price, M., & Parker, A. (2003). Sport, sexuality, and the gender order: Amateur rugby union, gay men, and social exclusion. Sociology of Sport Journal, 20, 108-126.

Hekma, G. (1998). “As long as they don’t make an issue of it…:” Gay men and lesbians in organized sports in the Netherlands. Journal of Homosexuality, 35(1), 1-23.

Wolf-Wendel, L., Toma, D., & Morphew, C. (2001). How much difference is too much difference? Perceptions of gay men and lesbians in intercollegiate athletics. Journal of

College Student Development, 42(5), 465-479.

Bloomsbury Companion to the Philosophy of Sport – Review

Cesar Torres’ The Bloomsbury Companion to the Philosophy of Sport has just arrived on my desk. Firstly I’ll say that I do have a partisan interest in it as I contributed a chapter towards the end on ‘Resources in the Philosophy of Sport’ which I’ll mention in more detail later.

My first thoughts on seeing it ‘in the flesh’ were ‘wow! what a great resource!’. If you are looking for a encyclopaedia on the philosophy of sport, this is it. It is different from all the other books in the field because it contains very short chapters on the whole range of issues by most of the eminent scholars working in the field today: Scott Kretchmar, William Morgan, Robert Simon, Jan Boxill, Angela Schneider, plus many, many others. These authors are serious experts and have reputations to prove it.

The structure is pretty straightforward and logical. It starts off with a brief history of the field, outline of typical research methods, consideration of key issues, detailed glossary of key concepts, before finishing with further resources and an annotated bibliography.

From a personal perspective I am really pleased to see space given to the different research methods used in the field. This will undoubtedly be helpful to my students who are often quite unsure and confused about philosophical research methods as they are often misled into believing that the only types of research in the study of sport are quantitative or qualitative; of which obviously philosophy fits into neither. The fact that a range of philosophic research methods are considered; Analytic, Continental and Eastern, means that I can give my students (and colleagues!) more direction as to what the philosophy of sport does and how it does it.

The largest part of the book is then given over to a consideration of current and future issues. This covers pretty much everything from fairness, equality, disability, risk, environment, aesthetics, knowledge, spirituality, technology and commercialisation. This strength of such a breadth is however unsurprisingly limited by a lack of depth, and it clear that many of the authors found it a challenge to cover arguments and discussion that are contained in hundreds of thousands of words, into just a short snapshot. I certainly don’t envy their task but generally they have done a really good job in setting out many of the key problems and providing some ways of solving them.

The glossary of key terms and concepts used in the philosophy of sport is really helpful and covers contested and difficult terms such as ‘cheating’, ‘deception’, ‘fair play’, ‘formalism’, ‘gamesmanship’, ‘rules’ and ‘sport’ itself. Again, the authors have had a tight limit as to what they are able to say but again, it provides a good introduction to these central concepts.

The final part is further resources, careers in the field and key literature. My chapter on resources essentially provides a complete reference list of works in the field and divides them into thematic sections, such as: general texts; ethics, values and fair play; sport and play; sport and the body; doping and sports medicine; aesthetics of sport; political philosophy of sport; coaching and education; Olympic philosophy; and epistemology, critical thinking and research ethics. I then provide other resources such as websites, videos, associations, and social media. The challenge with these kinds of electronic resources is obvious but as far as I know, they are still up-to-date upon the book’s publication!

The section on careers is a tricky one and I’m not sure why the publishers thought it necessary to include it. Studying the philosophy of sport will (unfortunately) rarely lead to a job in that field although the author is absolutely right to highlight the use and merits of studying philosophy itself. The inclusion of several courses and the content they cover may encourage other academics and managers to include the philosophy of sport in their curriculum although perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part. Equally, the inclusion of various associations, conferences and the grants available may be of use to undergraduates and potential postgraduates who are unfamiliar with the field. However, this is the chapter that I think is the least useful and as much as I respect and value my friendship with Charlene, I think she was given a pretty hard task in making this fit with the rest of the book.

The final chapter is effectively an annotated bibliography of key papers throughout the history of the philosophy of sport. Again, the authors had an almost impossible challenge in picking the most important papers and I’m sure that there will be disagreements about which papers were included and ignored. Nevertheless, I think the authors have done a pretty good job in tracing the development of the field by highlighting particular influential works.

So overall:

  • Positives: absolutely brilliant resource covering pretty much everything and anything in the philosophy of sport and written by the best scholars in the area.
  • Negatives: the broad scope of the book means that it is just a snap-shot of the key issues, concepts and ideas and is unable to go into any real depth.
  • Audience: undergraduates and postgraduate students studying sport, undergraduate and postgraduate students studying philosophy; it might also be of use and interest to the general reader.

Every library that supports students studying sport should have at least one copy. It really is an incredibly useful resource in helping to understand what the philosophy of sport is and the types of issues it covers.

Why Helen Grant’s MP comments were misjudged

Sport minister, Helen Grant MP, has just given an interview to The Telegraph newspaper stating that women should be given more opportunities to participate in feminine sports, such as cheerleading. The article goes on to quote that it enables “those participating [to] look absolutely radiant and very feminine”. And the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation have released a statement agreeing with her.

The problem is however, that it perpetuates gender stereotypes that suggest female = feminine and male = masculine. And it is these stereotypes that have held women in sport back for so long and led to years of people (mainly men) suggesting that sport is bad for women. Indeed, it is only in the last couple of weeks that we saw comments made by Russia’s ski jumping coach, Alexander Arefyev, who said that women should not be participating in ski-jump because “Women have another purpose – to have children, to do housework, to create hearth and home.”

So however well intentioned Ms Grant’s comments were – and I do not disagree with the fact that everyone (male and female) should have an opportunity to participate in a range of sports and exercise activities – unfortunately they were completely misguided. The headlines that have been drawn focus upon the notion that women and girls should (as a moral imperative) be emphasising their femininity through participation in particular ‘feminine’ sports.

What we really need to be doing (and this has been a focus in Parliament recently) is trying to dispel the gender stereotypes that begin at birth and are enforced throughout childhood. We need to stop ourselves saying to girls in particular ‘that’s not for girls’ or ‘that’s not very ladylike’ in the way that we expect them to behave where we have no issue with ‘boys being boys’ and playing roughly or getting muddy. This is what will help to change attitudes for girls participating in sport and exercise, so that when they get to secondary school they don’t feel that sports which leave them hot and sweaty aren’t for them.

Yes there should be a range of activities for both girls and boys that enable them to enjoy physical activity, but focusing upon ‘femininity’ just seeks to preserve the same old stereotypes.

How Nelson Mandela Used Sporting Patriotism for Good

In Tännsjö and Tamburrini’s excellent edited collection, ‘Values in Sport’, Paul Gomberg and Nick Dixon debate whether patriotism in sport is a good thing. Whilst Dixon argues that a ‘moderate patriotism’ can be morally defended, Gomberg presents a vehement argument against it. For Gomberg, patriotism is morally equivalent to jingoism and any patriotic attitude can be used for nationalistic purposes: “..moderate patriotism, even as cultivated in sports, gives way in these situations to the most barbaric, fascist attacks on others, all in the service of the capitalist ruling groups who initiate this process.” (p98)

However, when Nelson Mandela chose to wear a Springbok shirt at the Rugby World Cup final in 1995 he showed how patriotism can be a force for peace rather than war. Mandela wanted South Africa to be for all South Africans, and in a climate of uncertainty where many white South Africans were fearful of the future and retribution for the past, this simple patriotic gesture helped allay fears and heal rifts.

Mandela and Pienaar 1995 RWC

Mandela showed how patriotic identity in sport can be morally acceptable. And Gomberg is wrong in his argument that “being moderately patriotic is like being a little bit pregnant” (p87) – this analogy is just incorrect. Being patriotic is not the same as being jingoistic, rather it is about holding and forming an identity. Mandela wore the Springbok shirt not to show a hatred of other nations but rather to show that there is a common humanity between us all and he could identify as much with the white South African Francois Pienaar as he could with those that had been oppressed by racism in all corners of the globe.

References:

Dixon, N. (2000) ‘A Justification of Moderate Patriotism in Sport’

Gomberg, P. (2000) ‘Patriotism in Sport and War’

Both in:

Tännsjöm T. and Tamburrini, C. (2000) Values in Sport. London: Routledge.

Why it is wrong to stop benefits for the under 25s

I understand the rhetoric of the Conservative party. They want people to go out and work, pay taxes and be decent citizens of the United Kingdom. And George Osborne says there will always be a safety net to prevent those unlucky or unfortunate enough falling through the cracks. But apparently this doesn’t apply to anyone under 25. Why? I’m presuming because anyone under the age of 25 shouldn’t be unfortunate enough to need benefits. Or perhaps it’s because the under 25s are an easy group to target. They vote in far fewer numbers than other age groups, they hold far less power and influence, and others are far less likely to protest in their support. If you’re under 25 the Conservatives expect you to be either working or in education. And if you’re not, then you are left to your own devices. But you won’t get any help from the State. This seems unreasonably callous for an age group that are often struggling to find their way in life.

My experience of claiming benefits was as follows. I had just graduated from University and was trying to find a job. I probably could have returned home to live with my parents but I thought that it would be far easier to find a job in the affluent city of Norwich than my impoverished rural home in Cornwall. The benefits provided a short term safety net for me for four months until I got a temping job at Norwich Union. That the was the one and only time I claimed housing benefit and I really needed it then. Admittedly I was lucky enough to have parents that would be willing to put me up for a bit but not everyone is this fortunate. What of the 21 year old who has been in full time education his whole life but who is unable to find work as soon as he graduates? If he doesn’t have a family that will support him, and won’t get any help from the State, that education may come to nothing if he ends up homeless and on the familiar downward spiral that it often becomes.

Sometimes I find myself warming to the Conservative party. Sometimes, I feel that they have left the callous days of New Right Thatcherism behind them. And then they come up with a heartless policy like this and any thoughts I might have of voting for them evaporates. It is an easy target but that doesn’t make it a good one.

Technology and the future divide between the haves and the have nots

I’ve written a few times now about The Singularity and technological advancement and have just found this great TED talk that continues some of these ideas. In it, economist Andrew McAfee speculates about a likely near future and what it means for society. He gives some compelling data regarding the recent life-courses of those who have a good education, and are in professional, creative type jobs, and those that have had minimal schooling and have been limited to unskilled or semi-skilled manual jobs. Life has been good to the former whilst the latter have been marginalised and alienated as they have increasingly found themselves being long-term, out of work. Interestingly, an article on the BBC website only today reports an argument being made to the heads at the G8 summit, that more investment should be given to schools and universities in order to continue a prosperous economy. That education is the means to freedom and a better life is generally uncontested. But when this is considered in the light of McAfee’s predictions on a future high-tech society, it is clear that we should be taking this seriously in order to give everyone a chance of the good life that most of you reading this will already have.