This autobiography of basketball star Dennis Rodman covers all the most titillating aspects of Rodman's life--sex, fame and money. He has a chapter about his romance with the music star Madonna and speaks freely about many famous people in basketball.
We at MIM do not find Dennis Rodman so very unusual. He is simply right about all the stupid conformity in basketball and life in general. With the huge sums of money infused into professional sports we find that the management of the San Antonio Spurs and the National Basketball Association (NBA) generally value conformity, and safe messages for its audience, more than winning the game or playing it with greater athleticism. As such, Dennis Rodman becomes a symbol of how ruling class demands for conformity stifle sports and the economy (through analogy).
We find that public attention to Rodman's supposed antics is in fact a means of control by the owners of basketball teams set on delivering non- controversial family entertainment--even if that means the sport of basketball should be damned. What we end up with is not the best basketball, but the basketball that generates the most revenue according to the guess of conservative entrepreneurs. Rodman spells it out that big money goes into hyping players such as Michael Jordan, Shaq and Grant Hill. The referees also know what entertains the public and they cut certain kinds of players slack to do certain kinds of thing in the game if the public will be more entertained. One job of the referees is to call fouls--to make those subjective judgments which nonetheless make and break careers.
Also important are the fines imposed by the organization of the league. Fines and bad press from owners are the ways in which basketball players come to go along with the charade of competitive sport. Dennis Rodman may not play any differently than anyone else, but he can be ejected from games, called crazy, have his capitalist lifestyle cut back and get condemned in the press. If a player gets ejected from the games or fouls out of the games, that player still gets his guaranteed salary but he may lose out on other perks and his next contract may be impossible to obtain. Meanwhile, players such as Shaq and Grant Hill who the NBA thinks will bring in the entertainment money have the way cleared for them to be stars before they leave college and join the NBA. Such is the influence of money on sport.
We at MIM believe in amateur sports over spectating. Too much energy of spectators goes into sports like football, baseball and basketball which the masses should be playing themselves instead of watching. That is not to say we oppose professional efforts at human achievement. Stalin believed that all kinds of sporting, science, art and other feats should be publicized and backed with state funding. For instance, the feat of trekking to the North Pole or climbing a mountain was something that Stalin believed in giving media to. This was Stalin's way of leading the people to understand their own capabilities in a concrete way.
Such feats can be organized and massively supported with resources without the spectator craze we have in the profit-mad entertainment industry in the imperialist countries. Currently the money and the sexual rewards for athletes and other famous entertainers take on a life of their own, as Rodman himself explains of both the case of basketball players and music stars like Madonna. Rodman correctly believes there are many sick aspects to such fame and fortune.
Rodman himself is cashing in on the decadence of imperialist society that leaves people searching for stars in sports and music to fill a gap in their boring lives. We do not believe there is anything particularly radical about anything he says about being bisexual-minded or wanting to play his last NBA game nude. He is just making himself more of a commodity with that and his colored hair and female clothing stunts. (We do applaud his speaking out against homophobia.)
However, he is astute in calling himself a "sports slave" and comparing himself to prostitutes and models (p. 81). In the imperialist countries, we have this phenomenon of the Madonna and the Rodman. While biological females dominate the modeling and prostitution businesses, biological males dominate the sports. In both cases the body is the center of attention for entertainment and in both cases the stars are selected for their unique or dramatic physical characteristics.
It takes the free time that goes with money in order to have physical characteristics become sexual privilege. Somewhere in our leisure-time culture Rodman goes from being a 220 pound 6 foot 8 Black man to being a sex symbol. Rodman and Madonna are not sexploited, but in fact they hold privileges connected to their own exceptional bodies and the imperialist system of gender oppression. The issues of able-bodiedness and access to the human body are important parts of leisure-time life that form the bulk of what we call gender oppression. Men in prison may have similar physical characteristics to Rodman, but they are gender oppressed because their access to sex and the human body is completely controlled by the state.
Other so-called communist parties shy away from saying that having a harem like Rodman or Madonna is sexual privilege. They talk about "bourgeois feminism" all the time without ever talking about gender oppression. For example, most phony Marxists side with the players in the sports strikes and believe Madonna is sexploited because she is a sex object. In fact Madonna is part of the ruling class in the sexual hierarchy; she has access to the human body in leisure-time and the means of production, both to the utmost degree.
(from MIM Notes 126, Nov. 1996)
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