Trivialisation, Fetishization and New Modes of Sexualisation: The (re-)Constitution of the Paralympic Athlete

Friday, 20 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Michael SILK, Bournemouth University, United Kingdom
Dan JACKSON, Bournemouth University, United Kingdom
Emma PULLEN, Bournemouth University, United Kingdom
This presentation draws on early findings from a large-scale, multi-methodological, project that focuses on the media production and consumption of the Paralympic Games and the impact this has on addressing current political challenges of equality for, and representation of, disability. The findings are drawn from an integrative methodological approach that combined elite media para-sport production interviewing, multiple and theoretically informed textual readings of Channel 4’s (the UK’s Paralympic broadcaster) Rio 2016 Paralympic broadcast content, focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with the general public, document analysis, and, analysis of archival materials and footage. In the context of the rapid commercialisation of the Paralympic games and the power of corporate media in constructing social realities, our analysis explores the ways in which neoliberal inclusionary strategies manifest specific forms of representation and whether such representations provide sites of empowerment for everyday people living with disabilities. In so doing, we contribute to on-going theoretical debates (and media practice) around mediasports celebrated and idealized embodiments of neoliberal economies: healthy, fit, sexual, hetero-normative, and attractive bodies (Andrews, 2006; Miller, 2001). With the antithesis being the pathologisation of ageing, death & disability (Turner, 1988), our discussion focuses on the increased hyper-commercialisation and hyper-visibility of disability—via Paralympic coverage—and is suggestive of movement in the representation of disability. Indeed, previous research conducted has highlighted the ubiquity of the ‘supercrip’ or 'superhuman', representing the para-athlete as the self-made hero, technologically productive / functional, but largely asexual, accommodated within limited modes of neoliberal regimes. Our data however, suggest a nuanced shift in these dominant narratives, especially around the increasing sexualisation, eroticisation and devised bodily aesthetics of the para-athlete. We suggest this shift has important implications for representing alternative modes of embodiment and empowerment, understanding para-sport narratives as sites of resistance, and with respect to the ‘boundaries’ of neoliberal inclusionary practices.