Posts Tagged ‘American Icons’

In May, there will be an international symposium on the topic of Icons at the University of Angers. Anyone who is near and far should come to the conference. There will be great presentations on films and places and on Wall Street, The West, hot dogs, and bomb shelters.

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I think what is most interesting about Rocky is the way that many American icons were used by Apollo Creed and his team. When Mac Lee Green drops out of the Bicentennial fight, Creed now views the fight as a moneymaking opportunity by manipulating the American public through our icons. The fight was always about race for Apollo, but now, by exploiting American’s pride in the underdog to sell Rocky Balboa as a contender beyond his race, he’s “guaranteed” to win, therefore making a ton of money while still fulfilling his ambition to win a fight against a white man. Balboa is white and Italian, which Apollo thinks would be the perfect person to beat on the Bicentennial, celebrating America’s foundation, because he represents those that first discovered America. The money is a plus. At the same time, Creed taps into patriotism with other American icons to win American’s favor, while, again, still maintaining his racial message. By dressing up as George Washington and Uncle Sam, he says, “I, a black man, too can represent America.” Surrounding himself with black Statues of Liberty, he says, “All black people can, too, represent America.” Creed even wears the colors of the American flag on his shorts as a constant reminder of his patriotism. The Bicentennial fight is a show for Creed to make a statement and money, and patriotism is his character.

At first, Americans buy into his patriotism and his superiority as a fighter, admiring the underdog for his courage, but knowing he probably won’t win against the champion who has never fallen from a hit. However Balboa puts up a fight, and American’s favor shifts to routing for the underdog. But who will win? Rocky is a battle between patriotism and the American underdog story. As both are necessary representations of America, neither Creed nor Balboa can win. So patriotism and the underdog story tie.

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Slideshow Dream Team

After my presentation, I was told the US basketball tem in the ’92 Olympics of Barcelona – most known as “The Dream Team” – was not that much an American Icon. What do you think about it ? Here is my presentation text and slideshow, please leave a comment to express yourself on the question !

The Dream Team is the nickname given to the American basketball team during the 1992 Summer Olympics of Barcelona. This team is considered by many specialists and journalists to be the greatest sports team ever assembled and the greatest collection of basketball talent on the planet.

I – The origin

In 1988 and as it happened in every Olympics since 1930, USA sent a basketball team only composed of college players who were stars of the NCAA, the college sports championship but had no professional experience and they only managed to finish at the third place, winning the bronze medal. This defeat was considered as a disappointment and that increased calls for professionals to play in the Olympics. The International basketball federation advocated for this and the decision was agreed in 1989, despite America voted against this proposal. This decision started the phenomenon of the Dream team as USA Basketball wanted to take their revenge from the previous Olympics and gather the best players they could have. The first time the word Dream Team was on the cover of the famous magazine Sports Illustrated of February 18, 1991 with five superstars playing in the NBA, the US basketball league.

The roster was announced in May 1992, four months before the Olympics.

#4 Christian Laettner – the only college player of the team

#5 – David Robinson

#6 – Patrick Ewing

#7 – Larry Bird – considered as the best shooter in the history of the game

#8 – Scottie Pippen – remembered as the lieutenant of …

#9 – Michael Jordan – “His Airness”, the GOAT, greatest player of all time

#10 – Clyde Drexler

#11 – Karl Malone

#12 – John Stockton

#13 – Chris Mullin

#14 – Charles Barkley

#15 – Magic Johnson – the best point guard in the history, he invented the notion of showtime with his team, the Los Angeles Lakers and applied it to Team USA. He was also known for being the first seropositive athlete who still played after he revealed his disease.

Coach Chuck Daly

II – A crushing success

Before the Olympics, the US team trained themselves to international competition with the Tournament of the Americas, a competition between countries of North, Central and South America. For their first game together, Americans defeated Cuba 136-57, winning by an incredible 79 point differential. It led to a famous quote from the Cuban coach who said after the game “You can’t cover the sun with your finger.” This first win was the only the beginning as Team USA won this tournament, beating Venezuela in final, only with a 47 point differential. During this tournament, Team USA won their games by a crazy average differential of 51.5 points.

After a week of training in Monaco when they spent more time in casinos than on the court, USA arrived in Barcelona with the status of superstar, eagerly awaited by the fans of course, because it was the first time all these players played basketball in Europe, but also by their opponents as even the other teams in competition went to the games with cameras to take pictures of these players they had never seen before in flesh and bone and who were their idols. This status didn’t only have a bright side as they had to live in a hotel the whole time of the Olympics because of the terrorist risks in the Olympic village.

During the Olympic competition, USA was opposed in the first round with Angola, Croatia, Germany, Brazil and Spain. For their first game of the competition against the African team, the Dream Team clearly wanted to send a message with a 68 point win, 116-48. The captain from Angola stated after the game that “those guys were on another level—a galaxy far, far away” The rest of the Olympics will be pretty much the same as they won every game by at least 32 points, this differential occurred during the final against Croatia and a 117-85 win for the gold medal.

Despite this astonishing domination, Americans enjoyed the opportunity to get to know each other in a casual setting, often playing cards all night and, for Jordan, playing several rounds of golf daily with little rest. For instance, Charles Barkley walked around the city alone despite the threats. When asked where his bodyguards were, he held up his fists and answered, “This is my security.”  Barkley was later described as “the number one U.S. Olympic ambassador” for his visits in popular places such as La Rambla, where he met with adoring crowds such as anybody would do.

Opposing teams were nonetheless overwhelmed by the talent of the American roster, losing by an average of 43.8 points per game. The Dream Team was the first to score more than 100 points in every game in an Olympic. Its 117.3 average was more than 15 points more than the best scoring average before 1992. The level the US team showed in this tournament is still considered more than 20 years later the best ever seen in a basketball competition.

III – Why this team was iconic ?

  • Sense of the show

The Dream Team didn’t only play a good and solid game, they added a show dimension to their game, with a lot of spectacular moves such as no look passes or devastating dunks. As the US is known for its tradition for the show, the cinema, these players managed to give to a sport a sense of entertainment, which has never seen before, except in the NBA and which suits perfectly to America in the XXth Century.

  • Bringing people together

This team was made of 12 players with many different stories, many different backgrounds and some of them had a true rivalry with their clubs. For instance, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were the two biggest stars of the NBA in the 80’s, but they were almost perfectly different. Bird is a tall White man, with Irish origins, a fantastic player but with almost no physical abilities : he wasn’t fast, wasn’t strong, he didn’t jump high. He played for Boston, an industrial town on the East coast. Johnson was is Black, who is always smiling and who loves to make the show, with spectacular fashion. He was extremely high for a player who organizes the plays of his team. He was a great representation of his town, Los Angeles and all its exuberance. But for the time of the Olympics, both players played and lived together in perfect harmony, only focused on winning. Basketball brought people together and erased the differences, even in the stands. The atmosphere of the match between Team USA and Cuba was almost like a party, even after all the political conflicts the countries had.

  • Basketball players as a symbol of world superpower

These 1992 Olympics happened just after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the USSR, putting an end to the Cold War. USA was the winner of this war and with the end of the Soviet Union, they could have the role of the major world superpower. This context was also a reason for the Dream Team. Opening Team USA to NBA players didn’t mean all the superstars would join the national team but America wanted to show to the world how strong they were, and sport was a way to bend the muscles. Even with only two or three of these players, United States would have probably won the gold medal, but they didn’t only want to win, they wanted to crush all their opponents. This idea of a super America was still present decades before when the US took the role of the international referee in any conflict (for instance in South America). After the end of the most important one of this period, they could do nothing but to show they were the best and this is what the Dream Team did.

  • Commercial (capitalism) interests

The Dream Team was not only use for political interests but also for commerce. Their image of superstars was used by many American companies which were able to set up in the European market. The most famous are of course Coca-Cola which was also a sponsor of the whole Olympic Games and the main sponsor of the next edition of 1996 in Atlanta, but also McDonalds which became a partner of the Olympic Games partly thanks to the Dream Team and US pressure. Barcelona was the first Olympics where a McDonalds restaurant was build inside the Olympic Village at the request of the US athletes and especially, the basketball team. Americans were not sure that European food was healthy and would be tasty. The Dream Team was also used for toys or more recently for video games as the best basketball simulation NBA 2K recreated the Dream Team for its 20th anniversary. Sports were used as a tool for capitalism, another symbol of the USA.

  • Brought basketball into a universal dimension

What is the most important for me as a basketball fan was that the Dream Team, gave fans a glimpse of basketball at its finest, and an entire world responded. Since 1992, basketball has exploded in popularity around the globe, rising to a place where it challenges soccer’s status as the  most popular sport in some countries in the world. Much of that is due to the impact of the Dream Team, which attracted fans and followers wherever it went. “It was,” said Coach Chuck Daly, “like Elvis and the Beatles put together. Traveling with the Dream Team was like traveling with 12 rock stars. That’s all I can compare it to.”. In France, three monthlies were created just after the Olympics.  Incidentally, the global basketball community embraced the American superiority in these games. Had young international basketball players resented the Americans for their abilities, they may have sought to develop the credibility of their own professional basketball leagues. As it turns out, the Americans were idolized and these young international basketball players sought to play basketball against the best competition in the world, which was clearly the NBA.  Due to their triumphs in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and their visibility as wealthy athletes, foreign-born basketball players from around the world sought to migrate to the U.S. and compete in the NBA. Thus, the Dream Team was a catalyst for the global migration of basketball talent, and changed the professional basketball forever.

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The AmericanIconsTemple page is home to a wide variety of interesting and well written articles which highlight and explain how certain icons are representative of the U.S. Other than simply stating the icon and providing a brief history, many of the blogs manage to link this to U.S culture, also thinking about an overall global impact and how the U.S influences other countries. However it is important to mention that icons may not symbolise the American experience in the same way for everybody. A good example of this can be found within one of the Bald Eagle blogs, which mentions that Benjamin Franklin opposed the national emblem as he believed ‘it is a bird of bad character’. It is more interesting to read a blog that challenges the main ideas and concepts behind the chosen icon. As the Bald Eagle can ‘see everything, from high within the sky’, this could also be carefully tied into the recent issues with U.S national security, in particular allegations of misconduct concerning U.S surveillance on other countries.   

 The ‘American Dream’ seems to be a popular theme within many of the icon blogs. More criticism could maybe be incorporated into these, as the reality of this ideal is often questionable. Over a million people migrate to the U.S each year in hope of better opportunities, however it isn’t as easy as it seems – many struggle to find work and end up living in poverty.

On the whole, the blogs are successful in providing a detailed analysis of some of America’s most prominent and also obscure icons.    

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Over the next few weeks, first-year students taking an Intro to American Studies module at Northumbria University will be posting a series of short commentaries on local examples of the relationship between the US and the North East of England. Later commentaries will reflect British student responses to the American Icons – and the readings of those icons – featured on this fascinating site. It is good to be able to contribute and thanks to Bryant Simon for the invitation to join the discussions.

Of course, one obvious recent example of those transnational connections is Northumbria’s decision to launch one of the most ambitious initiatives in American Studies in Europe for over a generation (see: http://www.northumbria.ac.uk/americanstudies/), but there are plenty of other historic and contemporary, cultural, economic, demographic, and political links to explore.

For example, the city of Newcastle upon Tyne, where Northumbria University is located, was (briefly!) once home to Jimi Hendrix; Frederick Douglass technically got his freedom on Tyneside in the 1840s; in 1967, Martin Luther King came to town to accept an honorary doctorate, Jony Ive, Apple’s main designer responsible for most of what look cool from that company, did his undergraduate degree at Northumbria; Jeremiah Dixon (the surveyor partially responsible for the Mason-Dixon line) was born nearby in Cockfield, not far from Hilary Clinton’s ancestral home; Muhammad Ali had his wedding vows blessed just south of the River Tyne in South Shields; the local Wallsend club won the national British baseball championship in 1896; countless US poets, including, Allan Ginsberg and Robert Creeley, have read at the historic Morden Tower venue; the kitchens at the historic Belmont Mansion in Nashville proudly boasts a huge urn made in Newcastle upon Tyne…and Krispy Kreme have recently opened a slew of shops and a factory in the area!

What else can you add to this list of US-North East connections?

Brian Ward, Northumbria University

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