Graduation Year

2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Communication

Major Professor

Elizabeth Bell

Keywords

athletes, corporeality, femininity, feminist theory, masculinity, performativity

Abstract

The purpose of this study is to expose the strategies through which extreme sports constitute gender through exaggeration, parody, queering, resistance, and transcendence of normative gendered binaries. I interrogate how extreme sports operate on the margins of sport, gender, media, and lived experience to better understand the processes and performances that retain, reinforce, and resist our notions of normative gender, bodies, and sexuality. Starting with the claim that performance is constitutive of gender and culture, I will focus on how extreme sporting performances create significant commentaries on mainstream assumptions surrounding sporting gender, sexuality, and corporeality.

These commentaries function in extreme sports' spaces: to critique how extreme sports reclaim oppressive language of gendered binaries; to give voice to sexual silences in performances that lampoon, retrofit, and transcend those assumptions; and, for athletes to reclaim corporeality through strategies of parody, resistance, and elision. Taking up the transcendent possibilities for gender, body, and sexuality in extreme sports, I suggest that these are also places to reimagine a phallocentric combat myth, revisit issues of class and performance, and speak of the invisibility of racial difference.

Using critical analysis, interviews, and personal narrative, I explore performances of gender, sexuality, and the body in mediated and live extreme events beginning with the revival of the roller derby phenomenon exemplified in the 2007 documentary Hell on Wheels, the 2006 A&E series Rollergirls, and the multiple websites, leagues, and fictional representations such as 2009's Whip It. I then turn to MTV's pranktainment playground of Jackass, Viva la Bam and Nitro Circus as well as the traveling motocross spectacle Nuclear Cowboyz. Finally, I attend to the extreme bodies of ultradistance running through multiple texts and conversations with runners as well as my own participation in the 2011 Keys100 in the Florida Keys.

My study will not repeat the many questions, critiques, or concerns of foundational or traditional scholarship on sports, media, or risk. Instead, I focus on several key issues across the chapters: how sport is housed as always already a masculine realm, how mainstream and extreme sports do gender corporeally, and the ways extreme sports challenge our mainstream notions of sexualities.

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