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In February 2007, Gillette, a major global brand which supplies razors and various different personal hygiene products purported to feature for their Champions Program three of the "best-known, most widely respected and successful athletes competing today, namely, Thierry Henry, Tiger Woods and Roger Federer as their new global brand ambassadors. When promoting the company's products in the television commercials the image of these already big named sport stars changes from how they are normally seen in their different sporting environments.
Sponsorship has developed rapidly over the past decade and the use of sports stars promoting a company's products, is seen as 'normal' even though the products, in this case razors, have nothing to do with sport. 'Gillette had gained experience of sports sponsorship since 1915'. (Polley, 2003:63) The images of these sports athletes are seen all over the world advertised through many different forms of media such as television, newspapers, magazines and on the internet and they are instantly recognisable.
According to Rutherford (2000) Foucault never paid much attention to propaganda as such. The operations he wrote about were the time-table, drills, the examination, the medical gaze, panoptical systems all of which might serve to construct docile bodies. However the propaganda of his time did amount to an attempt to realise discipline by other means. 'Discipline "makes" individuals' according to Foucault (1995), 'it is the specific technique of a power that regards individuals both as objects and as instruments of its exercise.' A rapidly expanding wave of social advertising defined the individual as a citizen who consumed, and populations as markets that bought public goods.
There are two main ways discipline can be thought of, one is tied to punishment, such as punishing a bad action, and the other is tied up with self-empowerment and the achievement of something. These two principles are connected through Foucault's concept of power-knowledge. Discipline became the art of composing forces to obtain an efficient machine.
The body is the subject of attention. However, the body is not subject to torture but to forces of discipline and control. Foucault analyses these various technologies that control and affect the body. Docility is achieved through actions of discipline, which is not the same as violence or force as it controls positions and operations of the body. According to Foucault (1991), the body as an object and target of power had already been formulated during classical times. The eighteenth-century's disciplinary practices increased the scale of bodily control over each individual's active body. The activities of the human body were submitted to constant control. Such meticulous control was achieved through 'discipline' that, according to Foucault (1991), has become an even more widespread means of practicing power over individual's bodies in today's society.
Foucault used the notion of docility to demonstrate how bodies become manipulable and effective means for discipline. 'A body is docile that may be subjected used, transformed and improved'. (Markula and Pringle 2006:74) When docile, the body becomes useful as it can be moulded as a vehicle for the technologies of domination.
The sports athletes have been transformed for these advertisements; the sports athletes are usually seen wearing their sports gear but they have been changed, transformed, wearing either smart black suits or without a top on showing their toned body. Therefore improving their image to signify the ideal body, therefore docile.
How the media presents the ideal 'fit' body can help people consider what a 'normal' fit body is in contemporary society. 'These popular representations of the 'fit body' undoubtedly contextualise the ways in which people read bodies'. (Pronger, 2002:144) The body becomes a useful force if it is a productive and subjected body, what is seen as the 'normal body'. The sports athlete's bodies are all useful forces to Gillette as they can be used very effectively and powerfully to promote their products.
The company Gillette give the impression to consumers that healthy, fit people with ideal bodies are also attractive people with the way they are portrayed. The sports athletes chosen to advertise their products are tanned, have healthy looking skin, have the ideal toned body and they are also relatively young, either showing off their toned body or wearing suits. The company make the most of this with the sports athletes showing off their body and focusing in on their healthy looking skin and toned body. In today's society health ideals and physical beauty, has a major impact on people's lives, therefore the interest in these healthy, fit sports athletes will be of great interest.
The prison system was a site in which the coercive force of disciplinary power could be used in a direct and overt way. The prison as a central disciplinary site can be related and compared to these companies such as Gillette as both systems have their own experts, hierarchies and networks. The company have their sports athletes, which are the prisoners and they are regarded as subjected bodies, made to perform routine tasks, in this case posing for pictures with products. They are producing people, subjected bodies, which are seen different than normal personal identity. The companies will monitor the sports athletes and train them to create what they want from them, which can be compared to the rehabilitation of prisoners.
Discourse was Foucault's most important concept in his work. 'Discourses can be seen as a set of deep principles incorporating specific grids of meaning which underpin, generate and establish relations between all that can be seen, thought and said'. (Shilling, 2006:66) Discourse focused on statements the first meaning suggests discourse as a reference to the general domain of statements, such as a production of phenomenon, production of objects or subjects. This therefore, can be related to these sports athletes as advertisers. This does not mean the sports players do not exist in material terms but the sports players are seen as workings of various discourses that shape their identities as sports players, or advertisers. Although the determining power of discourse means that Foucault's work does not go further than naturalistic account in allowing a theoretical view of the body.
Foucault's work on discourse has implications for understanding the operations of institutions. The institution has a set of relationships between different people, between people and objects. An institution can include a business, family, the government or the education system. For business the way of advertising is an institution, the company Gillette is made up of a variety of institutions such as, printers, media, and sports clubs. Most importantly the relationship between these sports stars and the company managers and workers. This institution belongs to the public sphere, which is more institutionalised and regulated than the private sphere.
Free thinking is a philosophical viewpoint that holds beliefs formed on the foundation of science, logic and reason, not influenced by any outside factors. It is a view that people make up their own minds and decisions.
'For Foucault, people are never simply free-thinking individuals'. (McHoul and Grace 1993 cited in Crawley et al 2007:87) Individuals have been caught up in prevailing cultural beliefs and values. These sports athletes in adverts and pictures show they are not free thinkers as they are being told what to do and what to wear by a hierarchy, in this case the Gillette company. If these sports stars were free thinkers, they would most likely not be wearing suits and showing off their body, but be wearing their own choice of clothing. This example then backs up Foucault's statement that people are not free- thinking. Also if these sport stars were free thinking individuals they wouldn't need managers and agents who sorted out these deals with Gillette, as money becomes a big aspect of why these sport stars put their bodies into the adverts in the first place. If there was no money involved in advertising and sponsorship, no sports stars would even bother thinking about appearing in adverts or what brand of football boots, tennis racket or golf club they used.
The term "Technologies of the self" comes from the way in which people turn themselves into a subject. They are a series of techniques which allow individuals to work on themselves by training/changing their bodies also their thoughts and way of being. 'Transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection or immortality'. (Bibby 1996:13) The sports athletes are turning themselves into subjects by either individually or with the help of others, training their bodies, giving them an ideal body and then this along with their sports status will attract sponsorships such as Gillette to use them and their bodies for advertising. Then their bodies are used as subjects to promote the company's products. This then shows the sports athletes as having ideal bodies and therefore it becomes the rationality and truth of the public. Although the problem with technologies of the self is it can act as a practice of freedom only if the individual problematises the limitations of their current identity.
Although an important part of technologies of the self is self-knowledge. This involves deciding the truth about the self, because only knowing this truth can an individual work on achieving happiness and perfection. Although in our culture to an extent, people never really question the thought of self-knowledge.
In conclusion, all Foucault's ideas and concepts analysed can all be related to the way sports athletes are used as advertisers, promoting the company Gillette's products. The power of the company Gillette, is also shown as sports athletes have been transformed for these advertisements; the sports athletes are usually seen wearing their sports gear but they have been changed, transformed, wearing either smart black suits or without a top on showing their toned body. This also shows lack of discipline of the sports stars as they are allowing themselves to be shown in these suits and with their bodies on show' therefore improving their image to signify the ideal body, therefore docile. Producing docile bodies is a big factor in the way advertisers use these sports athletes. Also as a healthy, fit body seen in the advertisements is classed in society as "normal", this then means that obesity and physical inactivity is identified as unhealthy therefore "abnormal", which is not a true reflection on today's society.