C.Walter: Muhammad Ali: The quintessential American: or, how did he do
C.Walter is renowned for his charismatic public speaking and his paper
was eagerly awaited. The paper looked at the myth of Ali and the way in
which he has become a legend, amongst both black and white people. One
particular feature John focused on was the endearing quality of bragging
in Ali; indeed, as he indicated, "Bragging is as American as apple
pie." Certainly this image fits in with the articles from the 1960s
in The Ring magazine, with numerous stories being run about the Louisville
Lip. His Lip has made him famous across generations
and his braggioso endears him as a black America using his
gregarious personality for the collective good of fellow black people.
went on to stress that honesty in a man is a vital characteristic, indeed
it is the quintessential American trait. It was this quality that Ali
embodied and which appealed to the American psyche. If this was indeed
true, then it is tragically ironic that his honesty lost him the world
heavyweight crown following his refusal to be drafted into the military.
Ali declared that "I aint got no quarrel with them Vietcong."
Yet even in defeat, Ali demonstrated tremendous courage and grace under
pressure. It is this, according to Johns analysis, that attracts
Americans to Ali, regardless of race. Ali provided a distraction
from the miasma of political corruption and showed the development of
his political ideology. It could be argued that Alis entry into
the field of boxing saw the abandonment of the search for a white
hope, as Ali was everyones American; a point which John expanded
upon in the plenary session.
is hard to analyse the appeal of Ali to different audiences, for each
comes to look at him with their own personal history and agenda, but Johns
lecture provided food for thought and justification for further study
in the field of race and sport.
Clare Horrocks, Liverpool John Moores University
Brookeman: Muhammad Ali, Norman Mailer and the mythology of boxing
American Studies in the UK Chris Brookeman is amongst the most highly
respected and well known writers and lecturers. His work on all aspects
of America, covering everything from Jackson Pollock, to the president
and the American West, reflects his skill in examining the diverse elements
of American society and culture.
paper examined Alis performance both in and out of the ring and
placed it into a framework of popular culture. Alis ability to draw
on images, that had been developed by African Americans since the last
century, brought together aspects of both Vaudeville and Hollywood. Ali
then used this as a means of provoking those who attacked or criticised
him. Chris then linked this to Norman Mailers writing on boxing
and particularly his work on (his long time friend) Ali to highlight the
central role Ali played. Consequently, his skill and ability to manipulate
and re-structure these images made the world embrace him, and allow Ali
to demonstrate his anti-imperialism. Chriss paper was both provocative
and illuminating and made the audience reconsider their own need to challenge
racism in whatever form.
Ian Ralston, American Studies Centre.
Video Link up with the USA
afternoon session involved a live video link between New York, Atlanta
and London. It brought together Professor Jeffrey Sammons of New York
University, Al Brown, a boxing promoter/trainer and Chairman of the Indiana
Black Expo Invitational, with a panel in London consisting of John C.Walter,
Johnella Butler (University of Washington), Chris Brookeman (University
of Westminster) and Kasia Boddy (University College London.) .
discussion covered a full range of issues that had been raised during
the morning sessions, particularly regarding the question of the responsibility
of black athletes to comment on issues of race and exploitation, as well
as a critical discussion of the representation of Ali and the Rumble
in the Jungle in the film When we were kings. On both
issues the changes within American society since the 60s and the expectations
of both white and black America were identified as a central factor for
consideration. Although the session was prematurely cut short after one
hour due to technical difficulties, it was agreed by all that the exchange
of views had been constructive and added yet another dimension to the
discussion of the Greatest.
Ralston, American Studies Centre