I study masculinity and ice hockey from a sociological perspective, so within that context, I am often asked what I think about Gongshow Gear, a Canadian lifestyle hockey apparel company, and the way it portrays male Junior ice hockey players to society. My opinion of Gongshow is that it’s a company with a bit of a personality disorder—it portrays Junior hockey players as walking contradictions and I’m not really sure whether or not that’s intentional.
For those less acquainted with Gongshow, the company has traditionally been known to tout a Junior hockey player lifestyle involving alcohol consumption, fraternizing with women, and general shenanigans—all activities typically associated with decreased social responsibility among young people and particularly associated with the hockey player stereotype that is rampant in Canada.
The stereotype: If a younger guy has long hair, a medium build, is wearing socks and sport sandals, has a hat on backwards, and a nonchalant air about him, many assume he is a hockey player and that he engages in the above-mentioned activities. It’s not an entirely inaccurate assumption, but I do think Gongshow overuses and embellishes it. A quick look at the company’s website reveals the tension between images of hockey players who drink and womanize compared to written text or videos about the wonderful bonds between players, their discipline and dedication to their sport, the importance hockey Moms, and how Gongshow supports charitable organizations such as the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and Do It For Daron.
Similarly, Gongshow Magazine, which is put out seasonally, can be counted on to feature female hockey players obtaining NCAA hockey scholarships while simultaneously displaying a female wearing nothing but one of the company’s t-shirts as well, which was the case in the Spring and Fall/Winter 2012 issues. Moreover, the company just came out with its own beer, Beauty Beer, which not only emphasizes the company’s focus on alcohol, but makes an interesting statement about the place of beer in the Junior hockey player lifestyle seeing as how entry-level age is usually sixteen, which is below legal drinking ages in Canada.
The thing I dislike most about Gongshow’s image and advertising is that neither makes room for LGBTQ athletes. The company both represents and targets a heteronormative male audience. While I understand that most of its audience does indeed fit that description, it does nothing “to help grow the sport of hockey,” which the company states it tries to do through its apparel on the Our Story section of its website.
The NHL continues to go without openly gay athletes and companies like Gongshow who spotlight hockey players are in a perfect position to raise awareness and promote acceptance and inclusion, but they do not. Of course, such an endeavor wouldn’t fit with the heteronormative lifestyle they claim all hockey players live. At this point, the company is not contradicting itself—it’s contradicting real life. Not every hockey player is straight. Additionally, not every hockey player likes to party and wheel women. It’s simply not generalizable.
With all of this said, despite its contradictions, I don’t think Gongshow is all bad. I buy Gongshow apparel (at least, the things that don’t feature possibly weird hockey/sex double-entendres) and part of me is amused by its contributions to hockey player vocabulary and some of the realities of the hockey player lifestyle—even though they may be problematic at times. Most importantly, though, I cannot discredit the fact that the company is donating to worthy causes and promoting Canadian ice hockey. I fundamentally believe that Gongshow’s goal is to improve hockey—not to dismantle the progress made in the way of gender and sexuality studies and advocacy.
The fact remains, however, that my job is to analyze and discuss the progress made in hockey in terms of gender and sexuality and Gongshow really comes up short in that department. By continuing to portray Junior ice hockey players as childish, drunk, and philandering, the company is not doing the athletes any favours. The public perception of ice hockey players continues to be tarnished and younger athletes coming up the ranks believe that such an image is what they should strive for when, in fact, it is not necessarily real.
Does this mean that we should boycott Gongshow or start some sort of hockey apparel revolution? No. Not really. I think it’s important to support Canadian companies and I find it endearing that hockey is able to have its own lifestyle apparel that makes people feel like they are part of some sort of community. I just think that the company would do better to promote more positive images of hockey players, especially male ones, and their lives. If anything, that would help the company cast a wider net and attract a bigger, more progressive audience.
Did you like this post? For a similar read, check out Courtney Szto’s piece from a year ago on sexist Warrior marketing.