The Florida Classic: Performing African-American Community

ABSTRACT - Through description of an economically significant community-based, consumption performance, the Florida Classic football bowl week-end, the authors discuss performative mechanisms employed to create and sustain a community little discussed in consumer research: an African-American middle class. Types of performances, key symbols, and significant rituals are described. We show how the game provides a forum for the expression of values critical to community self-definition and representation to the broader society. For example, high involvement in the half-time marching band show and intensive, inclusive networking are two indications of this community’s distinctive value orientation. A particular coda, involving accusations of racism against a local mall, illustrate one source of tension within this community. This tension is nonetheless constitutive of this performative event. The authors argue that an understanding of performances like the Florida Classic provide insight into the community ties, that are, inturn, essential to understanding the African-American middle class.


Miriam B. Stamps and Eric J. Arnould (1998) ,"The Florida Classic: Performing African-American Community", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, eds. Joseph W. Alba & J. Wesley Hutchinson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 578-584.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, 1998      Pages 578-584


Miriam B. Stamps, University of South Florida

Eric J. Arnould, University of South Florida


Through description of an economically significant community-based, consumption performance, the Florida Classic football bowl week-end, the authors discuss performative mechanisms employed to create and sustain a community little discussed in consumer research: an African-American middle class. Types of performances, key symbols, and significant rituals are described. We show how the game provides a forum for the expression of values critical to community self-definition and representation to the broader society. For example, high involvement in the half-time marching band show and intensive, inclusive networking are two indications of this community’s distinctive value orientation. A particular coda, involving accusations of racism against a local mall, illustrate one source of tension within this community. This tension is nonetheless constitutive of this performative event. The authors argue that an understanding of performances like the Florida Classic provide insight into the community ties, that are, inturn, essential to understanding the African-American middle class.


"The difference between doing and performing is nothing at all, no thing at all, but a reciprocity of seeing and being seen" (Huston 1992, 26).

"It’s classic, it’s a really big deal" (focus group participant, sbf20s).

The Florida Classic is a thriving celebration that exemplifies the florescence of celebration that is transforming the annual holiday cycle in fin de siFcle America. Cities everywhere host public events that foster the cultural diversity of their populations (e.g., Cameron and Gatewood 1994; Errington 1987, 1990; Kates and Belk, n.d., O’Guinn and Belk 1987). The development of ethnic theme parks, historical pageants, arts and historic districts, as well as the florescence of the Classic and other African-American bowl games are part of the broader trend towards the creation of new secular, consumption rituals (Abrahams 1982, 1986; Kuglemass 1994; Manning 1983; Miller 1993; Moore and Myerhoff 1977).

Descriptively, the Florida Classic is an end-of-year football bowl game played between Florida A&M University (FAMU) and Bethune-Cookman College (BCC), the only two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in Florida. For 25 years, spectators have attended the Classic during Thanksgiving week-end in Tampa Florida. The game features a much anticipated and discussed half-time competitive show between the FAMU Marching 100 and the BCC marching bands. The Marching 100 actually consists of over 300 participants, while the BCC band fields about 100 band members. Very active tailgating and mall crawling precedes the game on the Tampa Stadium grounds and nearby Tampa Bay mall. Recently, the Classic has become nested in an evolving sequence of Classic events held throughout Thanksgiving week (see Exhibit 1). In 1995, the Center for Economic Research at the University of South Florida estimated that as a result of direct consumer expenditures and other effects, the Classic had an $11 million economic impact on the Tampa Bay economy. The Classic is a consequential consumption event in economic terms, but the question of interest to us is the significance of its growth and success for participants, and its relevance to consumer behavior more generally.

The interest and significance of the Classic derives first and foremost from the fact that it is a distinctively middle class African-American performative event. These relatively affluent African-Americans (AAAs) receive little attention in marketing scholarship despite their increasing economic and social significance. To know and understand this group of consumers requires a community orientation. This is because so much of their social and cultural life is conducted through extended, overlapping social networks that create and sustain community life. Thus, the Classic with its communal, participatory, and performative dimensions provides an ideal vehicle for learning more about affluent African-American consumers.

In this exploratory paper, we combine two years of participant observation field notes of Florida Classic events and focus group data collected with three groups of participants (students, senior women, young men). In addition, we report some results of a mail survey drawn from a list of identifiable alumni of FAMU and BCC, to which over 300 responded, to develop our interpretatin of this event. Because one of the authors is a cultural insider, with long experience of Classic traditions, our interpretation also strives to combine techniques of thick inscription with those of thick description (Arnould and Wallendorf 1994). In the remainder of paper, we first provide some background information on affluent African-Americans, that incorporates some of survey data to lay out the research setting. We then discuss the performance framework in consumer research, explore aspects of the Classic as a show performance, and finally discuss the implications of our interpretation.

Affluent African-Americans and the Classic

Some 35 million African American persons reside in the US. Together they effect over $235 million in annual spending power. But with the exception of some television sitcoms and movies, and the high visibility of a few actors, sports figures, and politicians, the African-American population typically is represented as poor and ghettoized by the popular US media. However, the Claritas’ market research firm identifies a consumer segment termed "Black Enterprisers," an upper income segment, comprising at least 1% of U.S. households. Approximately 4 million AAA adults enjoy incomes of $50,000 or more, placing them solidly in the middle and upper middle class. About 45 % of our FAMU/BCC alumni respondents (n=153) fall into this income category.

Members of the AAA generally are educational achievers, often attending the Historically Black Colleges And Universities (HBCUs) and Ivy League institutions. Almost half of the Classic survey respondents (n=147) benefit from post-graduate education. Remarkably, 30 % of survey respondents report that their fathers and 43% report that their mothers enjoyed at least some college education, as well. According to Claritas, AAA households reside primarily in urban and suburban areas of the south as do the participants in the Classic survey.

According to other market research studies, affluent African-Americans tend towards over consumption of some key categories consumer goods, and in general devote a significant share of income to consumption activities. The Classic week-end provides a significant cyclical opportunity to engage in many kinds of consumption. First, many participants travel to attend the game. Second, as our focus group participants affirmed, the Classic week precipitates anticipatory expenditures of clothing and coiffures for many participants of all ages. Further, over 70 % of survey respondents indicate that they are likely to spend 2 or more nights in Tampa. Twenty-five percent claim they are likely or very likely to stay in an expensive hotel, while 65% claim they are likely or very likely to stay in a moderately priced hotel. In addition to anticipatory expenditures, spending on lodging, and on the many private parties hosted during the week-end and tail-gating at the stadium, participants may attend functions that charge a fee. Thus, 20% of the survey respondents expressed some likelihood of attending the Presidents’ black tie gala, thereby incurring additional expenditures.



Indicators Of Distinctive Values

Researchers vary in their representations of affluent African-Americans’ values, some claiming that class is more important than race in defining their outlook and values while others assert the reverse. Examining the Florida Classic provides evidence to clarify the matter. There are indications that AAAs display characteristics of a distinctive sub-culture. For example, our data reflects the reportedly stronger adherence to family values popularly associated with the traditional white middle class. Affiliation, self-esteem, and demonstrations of personal excellence may be values more important to Affluent African-Americans than white Americans. Members of this community display allegiance to overlapping national networks of social clubs and volntary organizations targeted at men, women, and parents and children, and devoted to promoting excellence and achievement, and fostering links between community members such as Jack’n’Jill, Links, and the Guardsmen.

Not surprisingly, AAAs exhibit heightened perceptions of racism in society, and this is evident in our data as we show below. African-Americans are more favorably disposed towards advertising and consumption in general than is the population as a whole. Finally, as evidenced by such diverse phenomena as the success of Afrocentric shopping venues like the DeKalb mall in suburban Atlanta, the dramatic upsurge in attendance at HBCUs, and the growth of Kwanzaa, the African-American Christmas celebration, they display increasingly positive attitudes towards consumption of goods, services, and experiences, expressive of the elusive "black experience."


The performance metaphor has generalized in pluri-disciplinary scholarly research to organize, understand, and explain the significance of a broad range of cultural forms, including consumer behaviors. In fact, Deighton (1992) argues that performance is a necessary condition that gives rise to all consumption experience. In other words, consumers behave as if they were audiences responding to or participating in performances with products, services, and experiences. A consumption performance assumes a plot like form, involving anticipation, tension and resolution; it has a rhetorical purpose, and enlists participants in the action. All performance takes places in space and over time.

The boxed Exhibit 1 summarizes the temporal flow of events that surround the Classic as they have evolved over the years. Our attention focuses on the Florida Classic football game, but an initial indication of the temporal complexity of the performances that surround this event is necessary to appreciate the framework for analysis we develop below.

Drawing on a diverse literature, Deighton develops a typology of consumer performances differentiated by the extent to which consumers play a passive or active role in the performance, and whether the performance takes place in a naturalistic, realistic setting, or an artificial , fantastic setting (see Exhibit 2).

As Exhibit 2 shows we classify the Florida Classic as a hybrid form, combining elements of show, festive, and thrill performances. This is why we term it a ramified cultural performance (Kuglemass 1994). A show performance has elements of spectacle: spectacular display, separation of audience and performers, and rhetorical amplification of moral values (DeBord 1977; Firat and Venkatesh 1995). Show performances incorporate rich, complex visual images and environments that convey cultural meanings that consumer/ participants understand. Further, interest lies not with the outcome, but in the process. In addition to the Classic bowl game, the step shows staged by fraternities and sororities from various colleges and universities exhibit these characteristics.



The Classic includes a number of more festival-like performative elements. In festival performances, events unfold in a fairly ritualistic and predictable manner within relatively narrow limits, retaining the artificiality of staging characteristic of show performances. Nevertheless, festival- like events allow for more interchange in the roles of audience and performer, and exhibit multiple, rather than singular foci of action and attention. Mall-crawling, tail-gating, the Glory Foods party, the black tie gala, and perhaps the gospel concert, are examples. And it should not be forgotten that embedded in the Classic week-end is Thanksgiving Day that is set aside for familiar, festive, family consumption performances (Wallendorf and Arnould 1991).

Finally, in contrast to both show and festive performances, informants someties emphasize the events’ realism, and their own high level of involvement. Some even say that the whole Classic week is like a "reunion." Because of this, parts of the Classic may be thought of as a consumer paced, thrill performance. Examples include affinity group luncheons such as the pharmacist’s luncheon, and attendance at the round of private parties that include the FAMU band ball, but also the informal networking and display and parading behaviors that occur at many venues. Given limitations of space, we will now turn to a presentation of data only in terms of the first of the three types of performative genres evident in the Classic: dramatistic show performances, associated with the Classic bowl game.


Deighton defines dramatistic show performances in terms of a number of criteria that informants also evoke in their discussion of the Classic. First, the setting is artificial, even fantastical with a narrow focus, and predictable outcomes. As Deighton points out, sports events like the Classic often display some of these traits.

The Florida Classic is spectacle-like in its clear framing, exaggerated displays, predictability, and the indifference of participants to the outcome of the game. Examples of exaggerated display are many. One focus group informant, a teacher, said that local high school students often plan their wardrobes weeks ahead. And one women spoke of having bought clothing that she set aside to wear at the game months ahead of time. Some wealthy people may buy a box at the Tampa Stadium just for this game, and indeed a lot of socializing, networking, and display behavior takes place in these boxes. People say that hair dressers are booked for weeks ahead of time, and there is no way to get an appointment in the week prior to the Classic. One of our focus group informants even warned us that she had an appointment after the session, thus hoped it would not run too long. As one student focus group member said, "they come out in their best...with the hair and everything." And at the game, one can indeed observe very elaborate plaited, colored, and woven "do-s." Attire includes fancy clothes, but also elaborate get-ups in the colors of the two schools.

In a way, the football game is the frame for the half-time spectacle. This show features lengthy musical performances by the bands that include virtuoso feats of drumming, marching, dancing, and showmanship. Hundreds participate in the synchronized performances that includes troops of musicians, majorettes, and drum majors. People expect the drum majors to split their pants. People anticipate the performances of the majorettes like the BCC Golden Girls, wondering how lascivious they will dare to be. These performances rivet consumers in the stands, and elicit clapping and singing along with familiar songs. During half-time the concession area, where young people and ordinary attendees parade and network during the game, is deserted. And in 1994, the stands actually emptied out in the closing moments of the football game just as the underdog BCC team was advancing up-field to make a winning touch-down attempt. In fact the underdog team won. But as people say about the Classic:

the Classic is, usually you don’t really, a lot of people don’t really care about the football game, they really care who wins and loses but watching the game is kind of boring, plus you’re kind of distracted cause you’re in the stadium...( focus group participant, sbm20s).

Ask anybody who went, they’ll tell you the bands, but they don’t even know who won the football game (focus group participant, student).

And you know that’s the one time of year that you’ll see the people again, so the emphasis wasn’t even on the football, really. I mean, you went to the Classic...(focus group participant, sbm20s).

In other words, the battle of the bands, and the consumption of this spectacle, not the game, is the thing.

An additional twist, like that experienced at gay rights parades (Kates and Belk, n.d.) , is that for many African-Americans being in the majority is part of the unnatural nature of the experience:

... something different where you can go to a stadium and it's full of black people and you say, "Hey, wait a minute-everybody's having a good time here." And, you know, it was to me just a completely new experience, you know? The first time I went I'll never forget it. It was actually raining that night at the game, it was an evening game and it was raining, and

..... but, uh, we stuck it out in the rain and we sat there and as long as the band was marching and the game was playing... (focus group participant, sbm 20s)

Second, events in dramatistic show performances occur to fulfill social obligations. Human agents are held responsible for the performance, and participants understand that people intentionally contrive effects. And, the audience is relatively passive. In the following complicated exchange, students express their anxiety about band members' commitment to excellence, critiques, commitment to band traditions, and desires to live up to them:

I: Natasha, you said you were going to be in the half, you were going to be in the...

R1: Band next year. 1: ... band next year?

R1: That's why you all are criticizing the band, you know what I'm saying.

R2: You know, take it to heart. R3: No, we don't...

R2: Cause I'm going to be criticizing you when you're out there on the field.

R1: ... no, I'm gonna be on it. But as far as the band ... No, I'm marching next year ... but as far as I'm saying, you know, the band isn't what it was before, realizing this they've come a long way from the beginning of the year, but still they're not up to par. Know what I'm saying? It takes a rebuilding year, the freshmen from this year are a lot different than the ones in the past. They're hard-headed, personally, I'm a freshman and I can tell you they are hard-headed. They don't want to do what they're supposed to do and they don't come to practice, they act like they're upper-classmen already and they're not (focus group, students).

Also in the case of the Classic, a typically American value, competition, is molded to the special obligations imposed by the Classic on participants. Both official performers and ordinary participants compete and perform in order to demonstrate their best, not to win out over others:

You can talk to anyone and you've got all the majority of the black members of the Florida Legislature-they come back for the game-and they're very visible walking around. You've got people who are in corporate America where they're walking around having fun. You've got people from all walks of life and everyone is right there. No one feels that they're better than anyone else. They want to do their best at whatever they're doing, but it doesn't faze you, you know? (focus group participant, sbm20s).

... who has the best looking car in the parking lot, there's that competition, you know? It's just everything is competitive but it's not so much, "Oh, I want to do better than you or I want to put you down, but it's I want to do the absolute best that I can." (focus group participant, sbm20s).

I: So, why is it you want to work so hard to be in this band? This sounds like a lot of work to me.

R1: Okay, like a football player. If you have it in your heart...

R2: People at FSU, people at Florida, University of Florida, people in the football team, they have to work hard. They might go over to the sidelines and pass out for a second...

R3: But they're back up, you know what I'm saying?

R4: ... but they have pride in their football team.

R1: It's just like the band. It's like a brotherhood and sisterhood thing, you know? With your sisters and brothers, those are the people that, you know, that you will ... when you're in [the Marching] 100, you get in [the Marching] 100, like in (the Marching] 100 for life, so, you know, you'll have all those people ... (focus group participants, students).

A third component of dramatistic show performances is that events are ritualistic, and highly predictable. Participants articulate the value they place on this predictability. We've already mentioned some of these elements. But there are many examples. People expect the Classic to fall during Thanksgiving weekend. Survey respondents overwhelmingly (59 %) want to keep it on that week-end. Also they expect to attend; fifty percent of survey respondents had attended 4-5 times before 1995.

The half-time show follows a definite order of events. Brief speeches by the university presidents announcing the amount of scholarship moneys received, and presentations of, and parades by the homecoming courts of the two schools frame the big event, the performances by the two school marching bands. Familiar music is expected, although specific selections may surprise. Customers consider clock-work-like timing and orchestration a must in these performances:

R1: But this band, the way the announcer brings them out on the field, the way the drum majors come out, is a complete presentation. No part of it, there's nothing that they do, that does not serve a purpose or does not entertain. They way in which, if you look when they come on-when they leave the stands--how orderly they leave the stands to prepare for something, the way in which they just walk along the field, you see the sections breaking up and it's the camaraderie between, you know, the members,of each section. I mean ... they'll lay their tubas all, you know, in a circle right their together in the same pattern. Before they get ready to lift their tubas up, you know, one at a time, and it's just total, complete order. The whole shoe.

R2: From the time they get off that bus at Tampa Stadium until they get back on, you just follow them the whole period. Those 3 hours, just follow the band, just watch the band.

R2: You'd be amazed.

R1: Exactly.

R1: Because everything is orchestrated.

R1: Everything is orchestrated, everything is perfect.

Exhibit 2 provides a road map of events that people expect. Within this general road map, people also expect many small events such as getting one's hair done in anticipation of the Classic, "doing a walk" around the stadium, or seeing the FAMU band's "death march" yet again. There is a categorical sense of certainty about events that some seem to value:

R1: I mean, you know, that's just the way Classic weekend is. I mean, it's like Wednesday you get home, you call everybody--"where you going, I don't know, well let's just meet here." Thursday, everybody knows Thursday is reserved for your family.

R2: Yeah, Thanksgiving [Day].

R1: No one bothers you. It's like you've got from 12:00 until 7:00 p.m. to be with your family, but you know at 7:05 the phone is going to start ringing. You need to be dressed and you need to be ready to go.

R2: Yeah. I mean, it's Thursday night, you've either got the basketball game, I don't even know what it is now but, I mean, there's an activity Thursday night. Friday, you know you're going to the mail during the day. I mean, you know you're going to hangout a little bit and just meet up with friends, you know, go to peoples houses who are home for the break. Friday night you're going to the club. Saturday, you're definitely going to the mall in the morning, you know? And, you've got to figure out when you're going to get your haircut somewhere in there. I mean, it's just, you've got, you know what all you have to accomplish that weekend and nothing will stop you (focus groups, sbm20s).

A fourth and final feature of dramatistic show performances is that values are tested and affirmed. The data provides numerous examples of such values of which the combined sense of competition and community, and personal excellence demonstrated through performance have already been mentioned. Our student focus group participants also lamented a recent lapse in discipline of the FAMU Marching 100. Consistent with the desire for predictability, this lapse was blamed, in part, on the departure of the long-time leader of the band. Sixty-seven percent of survey respondents also .agreed with the statement, likewise enunciated by focus group participants, that the Classic is "very important" as a display of African-American pride.

Other values put to the test include respect and inclusiveness. Affiliation with, and especially participation in the band is a source of respect, pride, and inclusion that is put to the test during the Classic band performance, when new band members "go over" and old timers must renew the faith:

... let me tell you just marching down the football field is a task within itself, but to be dancing and to be doing the same dance steps that the girls up front that are carrying nothing but a piccolo and a flute and to keep up with that, you know, you're doing 130 beats or steps a minute, nah. To do that you are a spectacular athlete...

It commands respect.

... And, it's not fraternity per se, but it's that sort of spirit because you come into the band and the reputation proceeds the band and if you want to be a part of the history, you're going to be a part of what's known as the family marching 100 then you have to sort of pay your dues and that's why when you practice you practice only in white t-shirts or you practice in certain color tennis shoes. And the whole process concludes Thanksgiving, that weekend, when you perform your final show and then you're finally accepted. You know, the old, the guys who've been in the band from all those generations before now accept you into their fold. So, it's that whole respect... (focus group participants, sbm20s).

Inclusiveness is expressed frequently in the idiom of membership in a family:

And, everyone really gets involved and everyone's-it's got a family feeling to it and no one is unapproachable when you have a Classic (focus group participant, sbm20s).

Values of unity, inclusiveness, and meeting social obligations are also expressed through the pervasive networking that occurs throughout the Classic week-end:

I: Why is meeting new people so important?

R1: Cause you want to know what they're doing. R2: Exactly.

R3: You know what you're doing, what your friends are doing, you want to see what other people are doing too, and that's kind of why I said, you know, expectations of others and of yourself, and you meet your own expectations. And, you want to go out and see what other people have set for themselves and what ... (focus group participants, sbm20s).

Performing the value of inclusiveness and unity at the Classic is quite important to the AAA community, in part because of its concern about the growing gap between rich and poor African-Americans in daily life. People also express the feeling that racial unity was the price that was paid for the benefits of integration following the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Performing the Classic provides for the temporary unification of the entire black community, as one informant put it, "the Classic brings the Tampa Bay community together." An imaginary, unified African-American community, is temporarily realized (Anderson 1983). Since a majority of participants are probably not affluent, the reality of community is somewhat illusory, but the idea of community does bring together the aspiring AAA and the AAA, and provide ordinary African-Americans a glimpse of an aspirational reference group.

Violations of inclusiveness by different segments of the Tampa business community have been deeply felt. AAA community members reactions show how violations of values performed at the event have marketing consequences, One year the hotels were said to demand pre-payment by Florida Classic attendees. In 1994, the premature closing of the Tampa Bay Mall adjacent to the stadium, ostensibly because of the security problems provoked by the crowds of game goers, provoked sadness and outrage. Focus group participants spoke of the short-sightedness of these behaviors, their sense of special ill-treatment in comparison to how fans of other sporting events are treated, and the negative word of mouth and withdrawal of patronage both events precipitated.

The displays of pride and self-esteem, order, inclusiveness, family, perfection, respect, and other values exemplify what Deighton means when he says that dramatistic show performances represent the rhetorical amplification of a moral concept.


Performative events acquire intelligibility insofar as they form good stories; that is they exhibit narrativity. Performing the Florida Classic derives its narrativity both from its form, the recurrent sequence of events, but also through its association with the well-rehearsed meanings of US team sporting events (Arens 1981), and the Thanksgiving holiday (Wallendorf and Arnould 1991). Performance also enables participants to enact terminal values that are often in abeyance such as pride, inclusive unity, respect, and perfection, and thus provides a compelling story for affluent African-Americans. Another dimension of its narrativity is the roles that unfold through informants' lifecycle, thus linking life cycle and performative story together.

my interest was like the band and whatever cause I was marching last year in high school and I was like, God! I wish I could be in the band next year and all this kind of stuff. And you're sitting there all dreaming, you and your friends are all dreaming, God! We'll get there sometime, I guess we'll get there sometime. And that was like the experience from last year, it was like more of a wanting to get there. (focus group participant, sbf2Os).

I: Is it young people, younger people that would go to the step shows?

R1: Yeah.

R2: Usually college, high school.

R3: Well, sometimes it's a good variety too cause you have alumni who like to come back and watch to see how things have changed. You know, you sit there and you watch and compare notes and say, "Oh yeah, we used to do that ... (focus groups participants, sbm20s)

I like going to the old people, telling me little stories about things. I remember when you were little and you used to twirl that cat around and throw it over. And, I just think that's funny, you know? I like to hear them tell stories about stuff, you know, about little things (focus group participant, sbf2Os).

Through such experiential linkages, personal rites of passage (e.g., high school to band membership to alumni status) and the Classic, a calendrical rite of progression (Cheal 1989), mutually reinforce their significance to participants.

A good story also lacks complete closure. Retelling is both compelling and even a necessary part of the creation and recreation of culture. Both the telling and the outcomes are compelling, in part because of lingering uncertainty. Participants wonder which band will win. Will they meet someone new, or someone they have not seen in a while? Comments like the following were typical:

another thing is to, a lot of times I would come in and see people that I would meet, I mean, I would meet people that perhaps I didn't know and perhaps who lived in a different city that I had never been to and I would say, "Well, if I'm ever in that city, I'll give you a call (focus group participant, sbm20s).

But also, participants wonder whether there will be violations of the story. Is the basketball game canceled? Or more seriously, will participants in the Classic experience a slight at the hands of members of the dominant white community, raising the recurrent specter of exclusion and marginalization that African-Americans sometimes experiences? These dimensions of performance bring people again and again to such diverse phenomena as Shakespearean plays, action movies, and sporting events including the Florida Classic. Thus, surprises, both large and small are constitutive of the performance narrative.

Performative stories act as cognitive organizers. The Classic provides a way to enact and experience a whole set of meanings that anchor the hopes and dreams of affluent African-Americans, themes of unity, "the band ... It's like a brotherhood and sisterhood thing..." and self-worth, "We were on CBS, 60 minutes... I mean around the world." being prominent among them.

But stories also mitigate or make comprehensible departures from cultural ideals and norms. The Classic narrative performance was, for example, interrupted by the 1994 mail closing. This closing evoked a more general narrative of African-American exclusion from mainstream life. For some it evoked memories of the civil rights struggles of the past. And while it upset many people, the mall closing become explicable within the framework of the more general narrative of the African-American experience of marginalization and struggle. The evocation of this master narrative also clarifies why the mall closing event had such a powerful resonance in the African-American community, a point that was apparently lost on mall management. The event has led to plans to relocate the Classic to another city and another time in spite of the feelings of most of our informants that such a relocation would entail a loss.


As an alternative to the outcome oriented models (gap, cs/d) that prevail in consumer research, the performance framework allows us to see that satisfaction is interactive, depending on the actions of actors and audiences. It shows that satisfaction involves successful evocations of cultural norms and ideals. It suggests that satisfaction involves successful resolution of cultural contradictions such as status and income discrepancies among the black community and between the AAA segment and the dominant white community.

Our research also reinforces the finding that limited surprise (violation of expectations) can be a source of satisfaction. And, it suggests that participants' satisfactions with recurrent consumption performances may evolve over the life cycle as new roles and criteria of judgment are learned.

Consumer performances are a way of evoking the frameworks of action and interpretation by which people make sense of their world. Engaging in effective marketing actions requires an understanding of the situated meanings performances evoke, in this case, for affluent African Americans. Our study reveals some of the distinctive value orientation of AAAs. It also suggests that marketing to the affluent African-American community requires taking their complex relationship to community seriously. AAAs are concerned about the overall African-American community, and the impacts of marketers decisions upon it, and tailor their consumption decisions accordingly. Effective marketing to the AAA market adopts a relationship orientation rather than a transaction orientation, much as the HBCUs like FAMU and BCC have adopted towards students, alumni and the larger African-American community in Florida through recurrent staging of the Classic and attendant events. At the same time, our study suggests specific marketing opportunities associated with the Classic. Informants lament the lack of Classic paraphernalia in the stores and point out that the pre-Thanksgiving season is a typically slow one for retailers and hoteliers. If marketers linked the provision of these ritual artifacts and services to the values important to the community, and to support for the community and the schools, it is likely that this would have positive consequences for the firms involved (Rook 1985).


We have argued that the Florida Classic like many other contemporary consumer performances exemplifies the search for experience and novelty in post-modernity, and represents a form of Jamesonian identity work, an aspect of practices that swing between the quest for personal authenticity and the desire for affiliation with authoritative performances of shared values and ideals (Cameron and Gatewood 1994; Cheal 1989; Jameson 1979). We conclude that an understanding of performances like the Classic provides insight into the community ties, that are, in turn, essential to understanding a thriving African-American middle class.


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Miriam B. Stamps, University of South Florida
Eric J. Arnould, University of South Florida


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25 | 1998

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