KRG member Matt Ventresca presented at the annual meetings of two national academic organizations this past spring. First, Matt presented a paper based on his dissertation research at the 5th annual meeting of the Popular Culture Association of Canada in Niagara Falls, Ontario (Matt also sits as a director-at-large on the organization’s executive). Matt’s paper, “Moustaches and violent gentlemen: Branding Movember in the culture of professional hockey,” interrogated the tensions produced through the overlapping branding practices of Movember and the National Hockey League.

Second, Matt gave a presentation at the annual meeting of the Canadian Communication Association as part of the Canadian Social Science and Humanities Congress in Ottawa, Ontario. His paper was titled “Investigating “Concussions Inc.” Sport, the commercialization of head injuries and the production of crisis” and investigated the communication practices underlying the emergence of a flourishing industry surrounding the prevention of sport-related concussions. Abstracts for each paper are posted below.

 

Moustaches and violent gentlemen: Branding Movember in the culture of professional hockey
Sport, Politics and Commercialization Session, 5th Annual Meeting of the Popular Culture Association of Canada, Niagara Falls, ON (May 2015).
This paper explores the promotional relationship between the National Hockey League (NHL) and Movember, the popular charitable movement in which men grow moustaches to raise funds and awareness for issues related to “men’s health.” I examine the promotional apparatuses that weave Movember’s brand, characterized by a playful, ironic version of masculinity, into the everyday discourses through which the culture of the NHL is represented. I argue that the ways in which the branding practices of Movember and the NHL are co-constituted reveal significant tensions regarding the hyper-masculine culture of men’s professional hockey and Movember’s philanthropic goals. This paper puts past scholarship on gender in hockey cultures (Adams, 2006; Allain, 2008, 2011; Robidoux, 2001) in conversation with critical studies of hair (Banks, 2000; Biddle-Perry & Cheang, 2008) and commodity activism (King, 2006; Mukherjee & Banet-Weiser, 2011) to interrogate the cultural politics that define this promotional relationship. Continuing my development of a theory of “ironic masculinity” (Ventresca, 2014), this paper seeks to contextualize the NHL’s participation in Movember within the league’s much celebrated history of playoff facial hair and controversial promotion of institutionalized violence. I argue that the overlapping branding practices undertaken by these two organizations enact a complex set of social relations drawing on playful understandings of humour and masculinity, but also racialized ideas about hair, violence and “gentlemanly” behaviour.

 

Investigating “Concussions Inc.” Sport, the Commercialization of Head Injuries and the Production of Crisis.
Communication and Commercial Practices in Sport Session, Canadian Communication Association Annual Conference, Ottawa, ON (June 2015).
The purpose of this paper is to consider how scientific research and new media technologies are commercialized in the context of sport’s contemporary concussion “epidemic.” The frequent incidence of head injuries at numerous levels of athletic competition has prompted urgent declarations that the sport world is experiencing a concussion “crisis” that places the future of contact sports in serious jeopardy (Carroll & Rosner, 2011; Culverhouse, 2011). Numerous doctors, athletic therapists and neuroscientists have made important arguments through the sports media about the need to consider the concussion problem as a public health issue with implications far beyond athletics (Klein, 2014; Picard, 2014; Tator, 2014). Yet in this paper I argue that these representations of expert scientific knowledge are mobilized in ways that contribute to the production of a “crisis” narrative around head injuries while shaping how the concussion problem is defined and what solutions are considered legitimate. More specifically, I explore how portrayals of scientific research and technological innovation are employed within commercial industries related to sport-related head injuries and draw on powerful aspects of the “crisis” narrative. After providing background on controversies surrounding equipment manufacturers’ claims to produce concussion “proof” or “resistant” helmets (Gray, 2014; Shankman, 2013; Sifferlin, 2014;), this paper investigates the growing market for concussion sensors that are worn by athletes during competition and measure the force of hits to the head. These sensors are often heralded for their ability to stream real-time data about the brains of athletes to the computers of coaches, trainers and parents; in this paper, however, I will argue that these technologies also take the surveillance of the athletic body to unprecedented and problematic new levels.

My analysis consists of close readings of the corporate website for a type of sports concussion sensor called The Shock Box (www.theshockbox.com) manufactured by Impakt Protective Ltd. I conduct discourse analyses of the website’s content, including images, videos and expert testimonials, to interrogate how The Shock Box is marketed as harnessing innovative digital technologies to produce new ways of knowing the brain and understanding the experience of sport-related head injuries. Similar to concerns about how trends in “big data” contribute to new forms of digital surveillance (Angwin, 2014; Bauman & Lyon, 2013; Magnet, 2011) and reduce athletes to objectively measured “quantified selves” (Andrews, 2008; Lupton, 2012; Millington & Millington, in press), this paper considers the implications of this nexus of sport, science and consumer culture. I draw upon critical analyses of the relationships between digital technologies and neuroscience (Bluhm, Jacobson & Maibom, 2012; Rose & Abi-Rached, 2013), as well as literature concerning the representation of “crisis” in the media (Altheide, 2001; Meek, 2010, Rothe, 2011), to argue that the promotional material for products like The Shock Box constrains the field of “legitimate” solutions to the complex concussion problem. This paper builds upon my past analysis of the portrayals of brain science in investigative reports and documentaries about concussions (Ventresca, 2014), and furthers my introductory research at the heart of a new project exploring the complex connections between sport, media technologies and neuroscience.