Appropriation in Popular Culture

For my appropriation post, I chose to use an iconic image of Muhammad Ali moments after he had knocked out then boxing champion Sonny Liston.

The original picture, taken by Neil Leifer, has become one of the most inspirational and iconic images of all-time. It was chosen as the cover of the Sports Illustrated special issue, “The Century’s Greatest Sports Photos”.

In order to know the importance and meaning behind the original photo, one must first learn a little about Ali and the background of the fight. At the time of the first Liston-Ali fight on February 25, 1964, Sonny Liston was the world heavyweight champion, having beaten Floyd Patterson by a first round knockout in September 1962. That knockout plus his impressive overall record made Sonny Liston appear unbeatable. Ali, a notorious loudmouth, often took his trash talking to somewhat spiritual levels through the use of poetry and clever rhyming schemes. He often proclaimed, “I’m the greatest!” and “I shook up the world!”

Leading up to the fight, there was a lot of talk going on between the two fighters. Previous to the match this photo was taken at, the two fighters had already met before in a previous match, had been won by Liston. As the second fight drew near, public awareness was at an all time high along with Muhammad Ali’s popularity.  Ali knocked out Liston in the first round and promptly hovered above his opponent yelling taunts rather than returning to his own corner. This image has a lot of meaning, and is a showcase for Ali’s dominance, perseverance and confidence. A lot of people were drawn to him as a person, making him one of the most famous athletes and people of all time.

This image has been appropriated by Adidas in order to make a successful brand advertisement. Although only part of the image exists, it is common knowledge, which pieces of the original are missing from the Adidas ad. The image has also been appropriated in two different ways.

The first use of appropriation is the physical use of Neil Leifer’s original image. This second use is the meaning that is behind the original image. As previously stated, Ali’s victory meant a lot more than winning a boxing match to a lot of people all over the world.

The meaning of the new Adidas advertisement is exactly what the company states is their new slogan, “Impossible is nothing.” In many ways, Adidas simply ripped of everything that Muhammad Ali stood for as a person in order to make a buck. However, Adidas is known today as a company, which respects its values. Muhammad Ali himself supports the ad campaign and his signature appears on each ad.

I have attached images of both the original photo and the Adidas advertisement.


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