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kottke.org posts about Serena Williams

Some (Older, Whiter, More Conservative) Audiences React Negatively to Kaepernick’s Nike Ad

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2018

A research company called Morning Consult had 1900 people watch the new Nike commercial featuring Colin Kaepernick and record their reactions in realtime. The video above shows the commercial and the graphed reactions of four age groups: Gen Z (18-21, white line), Millennials (22-37, teal line), Gen X (38-53, yellow line), and Boomers (54-72, red line). The report also has graphs showing results by race and political affiliation (the dashed line is when Kaepernick first appears on screen).

Nike Ad Graph

Nike Ad Graph

Gen Z & Millennials rated the ad higher than the older viewers throughout and had a less negative reaction to the polarizing parts. Now, the report only mentions the effect of Kaepernick appearing on the screen, but to my eyes, there are four distinct moments when the opinions of some viewers (white, older, Republican) turn negative:

1. Right before Kaepernick is shown for the first time, ratings start to decline when the ad refers to LeBron James as “the best basketball player on the planet” and “bigger than basketball” for recently opening his I Promise School.

2. Kaepernick’s first appearance in front of an American flag with his large Afro triggers a steep decline in favorability among older viewers, particularly Boomers and Republicans.

3. Serena Williams being billed as “the greatest athlete ever” results in the steepest decline during the entire ad…and this was before the controversy at the US Open. Across all groups, only black Americans had no problem with that characterization whatsoever (Gen Z & Millennials showed only slight declines).

4. Immediately after that, Kaepernick is shown again and there’s a continued follow-on decline from Serena.

So that’s interesting! What’s going on here? [insert an entire apologist NY Times Op-Ed piece here about how famous athletes are polarizing no matter what, particularly when accompanied by best-ever proclamations, etc. etc.] But of course, it’s probably racism with a side of sexism — three outspoken black athletes, one of them a woman, are uppity. That’s the simplest explanation.

Being Serena

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2018

Being Serena is a five-art HBO documentary series on Serena Williams that focuses on her pregnancy, the birth of her daughter, and her determination to get back on the court and compete at a championship level.

I don’t know if there’s anything left for me in tennis, but I’m not done yet.

The first episode will air on May 2. Deadline has further details.

Two old, black girls…still holding up America

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2012

As it received high marks from friends, I wanted to like John Jeremiah Sullivan’s recent NY Times Magazine profile of Venus and Serena Williams more than I did, but I think Sullivan had so little access to the sisters that it turned into more of a sick Frank story than expected.

The story has been told so many times, of these early years, when Compton got used to the sight of the little girls who would always be playing tennis at the public park — or riding around in their faded yellow VW bus with the middle seat taken out to accommodate the grocery cart full of balls — but somehow the strangeness and drama of it retain a power to fascinate. The idea of this African-American family organizing itself, as a unit, in order to lay siege to perhaps the whitest sport in the world and pulling it off somehow. “I remember even talking to my sisters and brothers,” Oracene said, recalling a time before anyone had ever heard of the Williams sisters, “and telling them: ‘The girls are going to be professional. We’re going to need a lawyer, and we’re going to need an accountant.’ “

Isha, the middle daughter — sharply funny and practical, fiercely loyal to the family — told me: “Life was get up, 6 o’clock in the morning, go to the tennis court, before school. After school, go to tennis. But it was consistency. I hate to put it [like this], but it’s like training an animal. You can’t just be sometimey with it.” She still can’t sleep past 6.

My favorite observation from the story was actually from a behind-the-story piece that ran on the magazine’s blog.

One thing Venus talked about that was interesting was how easy it is for professional athletes to pick up other sports. So what they are good at is not the sport itself, but it’s just a way of being in the world. It’s a sense of their own bodies and an ability to manipulate their own bodies and have sort of a visual map in your head of what the different parts are doing. At one point she was talking about doing a benefit with Peyton and Eli Manning. They’d almost never played tennis before and they started out awful, and she said it was amazing to watch them. It was like watching a film. Every stroke they hit was noticeably better than the last. Every time they hit the ball. She said you could almost watch their brains working and by the end of it they were totally competent tennis players.

The Super Manning Bros anecdote hits because, as David Foster Wallace pointed out in his evisceration of tennis player Tracy Austin’s biography, it can be difficult for gifted athletes to talk about why and how they are able to do what they do. But Venus obviously can and I wish there’d been more of that in the main essay.