Taina Kinnunen & Jan Wickman
In this article, we discuss conflicting meanings of the male athlete’s body in contemporary Finnish media representations. In modern and postmodern societies, sports have been a central arena on the construction of ideal masculinity. Both masculinity and sports have strong nationalistic connotations. In Finland, successful male athletes have traditionally played an exceptionally important role in the discursive construction of the nation, simultaneously embodying the hegemonic ideal of task-oriented and inexpressive masculinity characterized by superiority, toughness and non-femininity. However, the increased sexualization of the male body in advertising and popular culture has recently spread into the realm of sports publicity. The trend is advanced by the postmodern “cult” of the body modification, and, in the context of athletics, by the mediatisation of sports. The new imagery carries meanings of feminisation and sexual ambiguity, challenging the traditional representations of masculinity in sports. There seems to be some particular reluctance within the sports world to embrace the new trend although athletic bodies are very compatible with the sexualized ideals. In addition to the traditional masculinism of sports culture, the nationalistic connotations of sports and masculinity add to the poignancy of the clash between the postmodern sexualized commodification of male bodies and modern orthodox masculinity, in this particular context. Using the concept of “sacred” in the durkheimian sense, the clash is interpreted to reflect a conflict between the status of sexuality in two different kinds of community, which are constructed through these images, one based on nationality and one based on a life style centred on cultivation of the body.
male body, body culture, media, sports, nationalism