My research interrogates the cultural production, representation, and reception of the active body in popular media. In particular, I employ textual and ethnographic methods to critically probe the changing perspectives on women’s active bodies in 21st-century American television, film, and new media. I am centrally concerned with the ways that difference is written on the body and how that encoding is maintained, altered, or contested across a variety of new and legacy media forms. My work recognizes that the production, representation, and reception operate in a particular context that includes technological innovation, changing rituals of consumption, neoliberal logics, burgeoning discourses of women’s physicality, and the increasing visibility of difference.
My current book project, Converging Media and Divergent Bodies: Articulations of Powerful Women in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), examines the ways that the mixed-martial arts (MMA) promotional organization has introduced female fighters into its numerous media ventures, including pay-per-view fights, television specials, a reality TV show, video games, webisodes, and an interactive subscription-based platform for MMA content. Weaving textual analysis and ethnographic methods, I argue that the UFC introduced female fighters in 2013 as an innovative sports media convergence strategy that capitalizes on difference (including gender, race, sexuality, class, and nationality) as a key marketing and branding strategy. Nevertheless, such an approach also fails to address ways that racism, sexism, and other structural and symbolic barriers prevent many women from more equitably participating in the sport even as the UFC superficially celebrates difference. My interdisciplinary study illuminates the contested space of women’s physical participation in converging media culture while simultaneously surfacing tremors in longstanding ideologies of the gendered body.
Converging Media and Divergent Bodies surfaces changing perspectives on women’s active bodies in 21st-century American media by providing insight into the cultural impacts of converging media technology. I contend that the UFC’s approach is novel in sports media and is built on a burgeoning marketing ethos that believes increasing the type of representations available, via new media technologies, appeals to previously disregarded segments of the sports media market (i.e. women and/or fans of women’s sports). This project also attends to the structural or symbolic barriers that may prevent women from more equitably participating in the sport.
My research on women in mixed-martial arts media was published in a special issue edited by Sara Ahmed in New Formations: A Journal of Culture, Theory, and Politics and I have presented portions of this project at the American Studies Association, the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, and the National Women's Studies Association conferences. I further secured a grant from the Peter Clarke and Susan Evans Research Fund to conduct interviews with UFC staff and complete fieldwork at UFC events in Las Vegas and Rio de Janeiro.
My scholarship extends beyond sports to study discourses of the active body in a variety of other media contexts. I have published an audience reception project in Continuum: A Journal of Media and Cultural Studies that interviews young women about their perceptions of female physicality in action films. My book chapter in Feminist Erasures: Challenging Backlash Culture interrogates post-feminist and post-race discourses surrounding the physical agency of the protagonist in ABC’s Scandal. These projects use a variety of methods to investigate the way that white male bodies remain the benchmark of physical power even as contemporary discourses of gender and race produce images that may partially contest dominate ideologies of the body.