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Body Politic: The Great American Sports Machine

Shields, David Author

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In Body Politic, David Shields looks at contemporary America through the lens of professional and college sports; the result is an unusually insightful and provocative book about Empire in denial.

The sporting arena is effectively our national cathedral, the place where we gather to study our national mythology. Shields relentlessly examines the way we tell our sports stories, both fictional and nonfictional; considers the kinds of athletes we choose as heroes; delineates the lessons and values we glean from sports; explores the intricate and telling relationships between athletes, coaches, fans, black and white players, immigrant and native players, male and female players, players and broadcasters, players and fans, players and advertisers...and in the process shows us the stories we Americans tell ourselves about the kind of people we believe ourselves to be.

Chapter by chapter, a portrait emerges of a country both in conflict with itself and in denial about the sort of nation it has become: an America that sees itself as simultaneously (and impossibly) the Best of All Possible Countries and a land of ceaseless rebellion. To read this book is to understand the essential mystery of America after 9/11 -- a country utterly at odds with itself, perpetually believing in its own restlessness as it settles back into the pillows of Empire.

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Review:

In Body Politic: The Great American Sports Machine, critically acclaimed sportswriter, essayist, and novelist David Shields focuses on race and cultural relations, as observed in the media's portrayal and myth-building of sports, particularly professional basketball and baseball. Although no sustaining contention ties the chapters of the book together, Shields attempts to explain the place in popular American culture, as created and influenced by TV commentators and the figures themselves, of such known iconic quantities as: Howard Cosell, Phil Jackson, Charles Barkley, and Japanese baseball imports Ichiro Suzuki and Hideke Matsui. Also included are chapters on Howard Schultz, Chairman of Starbucks and a principal owner of the Seattle SuperSonics; the perceived dichotomy between East Coast (hard) vs. West Coast (soft) athletes and teams; baseball players whose careers have ended because of tics that cause them to suddenly flub routine throws; a brief analysis of the most popular American sports films; and the tattoo culture of basketball and racial themes in its advertising.

The book mainly consists of Shields's musings on quotes from and about sports figures, which do not always support the matter-of-fact interpretations he would like us to believe. He (wisely) decrees: "whoever owns the story tells its meaning"--which leaves room for your own judgment and speculation on what was said, and meant, by the sources. Somewhat thin but entertaining nonetheless, Body Politic provides interesting, evocative material and food for thought on what professional sports, and star athletes, are all about. --Michael Ferch

From the Author:

"[Shields] elucidates superbly the paradox of sports coverage: although feats of the body seem to defy language, sports is nonetheless 'imprisoned by its prevailing rhetoric.' The ambition in these piercing essays is to discern the reality behind the rhetoric." --Daniel G. Habib, Sports Illustrated

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