A Thread in the American Fabric

The quality of life in American culture has undergone extensive re-working in the minds and bodies of the public. Over the course of the last half-century, fit bodies have come to signify self-realized psyches, status in Yuppie-dom, and an individual sense of athletic prowess. In a society departing from standardized religious practice, exercise has come to stand in as a "secular religion," capable of imparting the sense of community and self-betterment of the faith. In many cases, as the discussion of the fitness culture demonstrated, Nike is interchangeable with the word exercise in popular American discourse. In fact, Nike has so woven itself into the American fabric that images such as this: draw little notice from defenders of the flag. In fact, Nike designed the uniforms for the USA Track and Field Team and the National Soccer Teams, incorporating the into the very symbol of the American identity.

Lasch and Narcissism in Contemporary American Culture

Although Cheryl Cole can make statements like "The story of Nike is one of global trade in the body," (1995: 365) ultimately the matter comes down to the individual. The personal drives and desires of individual consumers move the vast corporate machinery of Nike. Through efficient and effective appeals to its market share, Nike taps into a culture of "competitive individualism" wherein Americans no longer attempt to "inflict [their] own certainties on others but to find meaning in life" (Lasch, 1978: xvi). Though an older critique of American culture, Lasch's arguments concerning social narcissism still hold true when placed in the context of the fitness culture of which Nike is a component. Many of the shared characteristics between the clinical psychological dimension and the social manifestations of narcissism, can be effectively applied to the exercise aesthetic and culture of sport covered in this project. Lasch (33) lists intense fear of old age and death, fascination with celebrity, a sense of inner emptiness, and dependence on the vicarious warmth provided by others as some of the motivations of the narcissist. One could substitute the contemporary American fit athlete in his place. In point of fact, the modern media's definition of narcissism covers the idea quite well when discussing the fit body. Many of the consumers who represent Nike's clientele possess the vanity, self-satisfaction, self-glorification, and self-admiration that Lasch bemoans as an underdeveloped set of criteria for narcissism. Yet if these Nike customers did not hold these attributes, what would get them to buy the products in the first place?

So, we can begin to see that Nike culture (which very nearly subsumes fitness culture) holds the social and psychological aspects of narcissism in common. Exercise will always have individual dividends, regardless of the context in which it is performed. And this suits the American public just fine. Because for the foreseeable future, they will continue to JUST DO IT.

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