‘It’s Not Breeding That Kind of “I’m an Athlete” Arrogance’: Roller Derby and the Construction of Local Celebrities

In: The Performance of Celebrity: Creating, Maintaining and Controlling Fame
Jade McDonald
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The contemporary revival of roller derby is commonly regarded – in both mainstream media and academic discourse – as a highly theatrical sport that disrupts traditional sporting and gender norms by providing a space for women to engage in ‘masculine’ forms of physicality while performing femininity atypically. Existing research on roller derby predominantly focuses on either the sport’s history, or on skaters’ performance of gender and sexed embodiment. However, with the growing popularity of roller derby there is an opportunity to analyse experiential aspects of celebrity at the local level. Based on initial research from observation and semi-structured interviews with skaters, non-skating officials and spectators, I draw on literature conceptualising ‘local celebrity’ to analyse the significance of skaters in roller derby culture. I propose that skaters in roller derby achieve a ‘local celebrity’ status – although some inevitably achieve more fame than others – enabling an analysis of skaters’ often modest representations of celebrity experience. Through this analysis I will explore the conflict between skaters’ recognition of their growing fame, and claims that they are just ‘regular’ or ‘average’ people. I also suggest that as a result of roller derby’s Do-It-Yourself ethos and maintenance as a grassroots level sporting culture, the boundaries between ‘fans’ and ‘celebrities’ are less distinct; skaters’ active engagement with their fans, removing physical barriers and moving amongst the crowd, are just some ways that the interactional dynamics of fan/celebrity relations are being reconfigured in roller derby.

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