More so than perhaps any “sports movie” in recent history, Murderball explodes our narrow cultural definitions of all manner of things deeply tied to the study of sport: game, athlete, masculinity, virility, strength, competitiveness, and success. Since its release in 2005, this quad rugby documentary has proven its utility in the scholarly realm, serving as an audio-visual text for academic discussions ranging from self-identity to social rhetoric. When my dean accepted a proposal for a special studies upper-level history course, Sports in Contemporary American Culture, Murderball instantly became a cornerstone of the curriculum. The course’s pedagogical and theoretical orientation betrays my own roots — especially in the innovative Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. Thus, we investigate sports’ role in the creation of modern U.S. culture with the foundational argument that nine distinct “perspectives” inform the social sciences, including Historical Narrative (Ranke), Rational Choice (Smith, Bentham), Marxism, Functionalism (Durkheim), and Cultural Hermeneutics (Geertz, Turner). This paper examines undergraduate students’ application of these perspectives to Murderball-as-text, and how it challenges or alters their assumptions about the social scientific study of sport and culture. It emphasizes the criticality of studying this nexus not just as fans, nor even as general scholars, but moreover as social scientists. Such an approach is, like Murderball itself, equal parts challenging, provocative, and, ultimately, satisfying.
|Keywords:||Murderball, Teaching Murderball, Social Sciences, Social Science Perspectives, Sport and Culture, Historical Narrative, Rational Choice, Psychoanalysis, Marxism, Symbolic Interactionism, Structural Functionalism, Modernization, Cultural Hermeneutics, Linguistic Structuralism, Structuralism|
Assistant Professor of History and Political Science, Department of History and Political Science, Howard Payne University, Brownwood, TX, USA