Nike and the American Body

JUST DO IT. SWOOSH. THERE IS NO FINISH LINE. Few athletic icons rise in our consciousnesses faster than Nike. Who can deny the ubiquitous swoosh and its national, indeed global, impact on the ways in which we play our games and even view our own bodies? Nike's advertising has assumed a lion's share of cultural capital which inserts itself into every nook and cranny of the American mindset. Nike appears atop the cultural pyramid and has perched there longer than most companies could dream. Katz (1994) descries that "special Nike strain of the myriad intricacies of cool," whereby Nike has come to interject itself into the fabric of culture by defining what it means to be irreverent, athletic, and entirely 'with it.' Consistently re-inventing its appeal, Nike works to gear its products toward the maintenance of the athletic body. One statement of purpose declares the company exists "to enhance people's lives through sport and fitness," while another imagines Nike engaged in "keeping the magic of sport alive" (both Katz, 1994: 25).

Yet an underlying set of principles informs the Nike behemoth and contributes to its continued success. This project intends to take an introductory look at those principles and synthesize them into a working model of American fitness culture as influenced by Nike.

I'll preface with a number of questions designed to determine the loci of power for Nike and the fitness culture.

Using the history of Nike as a jumping off point, one can begin to order the list of drives and desires that contribute to the fitness culture and Nike's place therein.

Popular conceptions of the body and exercise didn't just appear overnight. Rather, they were the result of a long simmering that gradually came to represent what Americans now think about when they imagine fitness and exercise.

Looking to semiotic analysis of Nike's advertisements (specifically those concerned with running), I hope to draw out some of the meanings and foundations of thought informing popular fitness culture and those who use it to make money, i.e. Nike.


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