Hello World: How Nike Sold Tiger Woods

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2013-11-26 21:01Z by Steven

Hello World: How Nike Sold Tiger Woods

The Margins (After 1989)
Asian American Writer’s Workshop

Hiram Perez, Assistant Professor of English
Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York

How did a multinational corporation like Nike appeal to diverse markets without violating the principle of colorblindness that became increasingly and insidiously sacrosanct in the U.S. in the 1990s? A deconstruction of two infamous Tiger Woods ads sheds some light.

Percussion punctuates the chanting voices of boys and men as images of Tiger Woods, first as a toddler, then a young man, are choreographed into a montage that builds to an emotional, triumphalist crescendo. Over footage of fist-pumping victories and slow-motion shots of Woods, golf club in hand, walking across greens surrounded by galleries of peers, media, and fans, the following title sequence appears:

Hello world.

I shot in the 70s when I was 8.

I shot in the 60s when I was 12.

I played in the Nissan Open when I was 16.

Hello world.

I won the U.S. Amateur when I was 18.

I played in the Masters when I was 19.

I am the only man to win three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles.

Hello world.

There are still courses in the U.S. I am not allowed to play

because of the color of my skin.

Hello world.

I’ve heard I’m not ready for you.

Are you ready for me?

Nike made Woods the new major face of its brand when he turned professional in 1996. That year Nike signed Woods to a 40-million dollar, five-year contract (eclipsed by the $100 million dollar contract that followed in 2001) and released its controversial “Hello World” television campaign. The skilled editing, writing, and scoring of the ad elicits goose bumps to this day, even from cynical viewers (like me)…

…Tiger Woods’ racial celebrity personifies the paradox of ’90s racial discourse: a simultaneous institutionalization of diversity politics and colorblind universalism. This union of seemingly contradictory ideologies becomes a hallmark of liberal multiculturalism and its commodity forms. Race does not matter, or it matters only insofar as it can be commercialized.

We see this clearly in “I am Tiger Woods,” the second Nike campaign for Tiger Woods released in 1996, which universalizes multiraciality to herald colorblindness. The television commercial begins with a black boy pronouncing, “I am Tiger Woods.” The next shot features an Asian girl doing the same—hardly a coincidence since Woods is the son of a black father and Thai mother. Accompanied by percussion and the flute-like sounds of a falsetto chant, several more children follow, each making identical pronouncements. In the final shot, Tiger Woods appears on a dewy green striking a golf ball in slow motion, and a white subtitle at the bottom of the screen announces, “I am Tiger Woods.” The ad succeeds in evacuating the fact of Woods’ blackness much more effectively than his now infamous identification as “Cablinasian.” Personal criticism of Woods at the time for his use of this neologism could have been more productively directed at Nike’s construction of Woods’ transcendent racial celebrity, an iconography that so effectively sutured multiculturalism to colorblindness. The celebrity of Tiger Woods and its corporatization safeguard status quo, institutionalized racism.

However paradoxical, colorblindness and multiculturalism ultimately advance similar ideologies. Each imagines racial difference independently from systemic racism. Liberal multiculturalism promotes diversity for the sake of diversity and has little interest in radically challenging the institutions that secure white privilege…

Read the entire article here.

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