Search using this query type:



Search only these record types:

Item
File
Collection
Simple Page

Advanced Search (Items only)

Ballyhoo and Backlash

Ballyhoo

Carpentier’s manager François Descamps, never one to shy away from hyperbole or unvarnished hype, promised newspaper readers six weeks or so before the fact that the Carpentier-Dempsey match would be nothing less than “the greatest fight in history.”  He opines that the sport has reached new heights with Carpentier and Dempsey:

The two greatest boxers the world has ever produced will be facing each other.

I regard Dempsey as head and shoulders above any American fighter either past or present.  Carpentier is unquestionably the best the Old World has ever produced.

It will be shown in Jersey City July 2, whether it is physically possible for the greatest of the light heavyweights to defeat the greatest of the heavyweights.  The fight will also reveal the great progress that boxing has made in the last decade.

Jeffries, Johnson and Corbett were untutored beside Dempsey and Carpentier.  Not only is the modern boxer better trained and better developed physically by modern training methods, but he is richer in actual ring experience. [1]

But it was not just interested parties like Descamps and promoter Tex Rickard who waxed hyperbolic. The eminent sportswriters of the time, both before and after the bout, did not hesitate to pull out the big rhetorical guns in ascribing historical significance to the event:

For the greatest single day in the ancient history of an ancient sport has come at last, a day that has caught the imagination of more people, from crowded centers to the remote off-lying places of existence than any single contest since the world’s dim dawn. (Grantland Rice, quoted in Kahn, 258)

Well, customers, to-day is the day.  The champion and the challenger—American and Frenchman—July second, nineteen hundred and twenty-one.  Put it down in your little black book while you’re sitting in the full glare of old Sol waiting for the boys to climb into the ring.  To-day is the day. (Police Gazette CXIX, no. 2290, July 2, 1921, p. 3)

The over-blown rhetoric continued after the fight:

Jack Dempsey knocked out Georges Carpentier of France in the most thrilling championship battle of modern times. (Robert Edgren, New York World, July 3, p. 4)

It will be something to talk about in years to come: something to go over punch by punch; something to speculate about for a generation—this occasion when two heavyweights fought with the speed of bantams, stood toe to toe and slugged, and gave an exhibition that never faltered, never slowed up during the three rounds and fraction. (Paul O’Neill, New York World, July 3, p. 3)

Those who saw the lighted billboards announcing Dempsey’s victory could be proud to recount this great event to their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren. (Chicago Tribune, cited in Bernard, Autour du ring, 193)

For his part, Tex Rickard does not hesitate to pull out all the stops in praising the fight that had just made him so much money:

I think Carpentier is the greatest fighter for his weight I have ever seen. […] He’s a wonderful boy and don’t make any mistake about it.

[…]

I’m very glad that the fight lasted four rounds.  The people went away satisfied.  It was the greatest fight I have ever seen myself.  They couldn’t have asked for more.[2]

A day-after front-page editorial in the New York Times provides a more analytical commentary, implying that the remarkable level of interest provoked by the event was a more important story than the bout itself.  The editorialist emphasizes the international aspect of the event and wisely suggests that the emotion surrounding the bout had its origins in lingering feelings about the war:

So ended the “battle of the century,” fought before 90,000 people—a fight which had aroused more interest, in all probability, than any other in all history.

[…]

Yesterday’s fight was international, too; it drew a bigger crowd than had ever seen a prizefight.  It brought forward fro the first time a real heavyweight contender from the Continent of Europe in a sport where heretofore the English-speaking world had had no serious competition.

There was novelty not only in the size of the crowd, but in the  composition of it.  The throng included thousands of women and a considerable number of public officials such as have rarely been seen in this country at a professional boxing bout.  The fight aroused an intensity of interest that would have been impossible but for the still living emotions roused by the war.

It is important to note that the hype was not an exclusively American phenomenon. French journalists were also doing their bit. Le Petit Parisien (which claimed to publish the greatest number of copies of any newspaper in the entire world) published voluminous, more-or-American-style in the days and weeks before and after the event.  Indeed, beginning in late May and continuing through mid-June of 1921, Le Petit Parisien published Carpentier’s memoirs in daily installments. The series, which appeared on the front page of the paper, always accompanied by a photo, every day for three weeks, was directly comparable to the autobiographical series that had appeared in the New York World the previous spring, on the occasion of Carpentier’s first trip to the US. It serves to acquaint (or reacquaint or better acquaint) readers with their national hero and fuel their passion for him. By putting Carpentier’s face and words in front of vast numbers of readers on a daily basis, the series contributed greatly to the public interest in the upcoming fight. The last installment appeared on June 14, 1921 and along with it an ad for Carpentier’s memoirs in book form (Ma Vie de boxeur), to be published “very soon.”  Sure enough, a mere twelve days later, Le Petit Parisien ran an ad for the book, already available for sale.  Not a terribly sophisticated scheme, but an effective one and one that very closely resembles commercially-minded practices of American newspapers of the period.

Following the publication of the serial memoir, in the days leading up to the fight, Le Petit Parisien continued their buildup to Carpentier-Dempsey:

-- Throughout the month of June, numerous small articles on various aspects of the fight (details of the training of the boxers, a profile of promoter Tex Rickard, the historical context of the match, etc.), some with pictures, some on the front page;

-- On June 29, translations of excerpts from George Bernard Shaw’s encomium to Carpentier, “The Great Fight” (written just after the Carpentier-Beckett fight in December 1919), appeared;

--The July 1 edition included, among other things, a report from the paper’s “special envoy” on a visit to the two boxer’s respective training camps;

-- Four of the six columns and a large sidebar on the front page of the July 2 edition were taken up by news about the fight;

On July 3, 1921, the day after the fight took place, Le Petit Parisien again gave four of its six front-page columns to the story, topped by a large headline reading “Dempsey Remains Boxing Champion of the World” and accompanied by several photographs, including one of the crowds gathered on the Place de la Concorde to hear the news.

On July 4. 1921, the Carpentier-Dempsey fight was still front-page headline news but this time the story had a very particular and self-serving angle: “Thanks to our organization, prepared weeks in advance, Paris found out the result of the great fight AT THE SAME TIME AS NEW YORK […]” The Petit Parisien thus orchestrated things so that the story ultimately became about them. The technological innovations employed in reporting the result of the match across the Atlantic were a significant aspect of the story in most  of the Paris papers, but because the Petit Parisien played a key role in the process, they assured themselves that the story would be, at least in part, about their own “organization.” No American newspaper was more commercially canny or opportunistic.

Nor was Le Petit Parisien alone in its embrace of hype.  Examples of the sensationalism and commercialization of the fight in France include interviews with august historians from the Sorbonne on the question of whether the bout was a genuinely “historic” event (would it be taught at the Sorbonne one day?); a bicycle marathon sponsored by L’Echo des Sports, open to amateurs and pros alike, with the winner being the person who was able to carry the news of the outcome of the fight the farthest by 6 am the following morning; travel agencies offering special Paris-to-New-York package deals (hotel included) for the event and souvenir ashtrays commemorating the bout, made of aluminum and bearing Carpentier’s regal profile.

Backlash

Predictably, the ballyhoo provoked a backlash.  Numerous commentators and men on the street chafed at the notion that they were being manipulated by a carefully orchestrated press campaign, by journalistic coverage that was deliberately bloated and distorted to serve the commercial purposes of a caball headed by Tex Rickard. Intrinsic to some of the critiques is a questioning the actual pugilistic worthiness and interest of the bout, while others focused exclusively on the excesses and lapses in taste and intelligence of the press coverage without raising questions about the fight itself.  There were journalists who produced the excessive and hyperbolic coverage of the event and those who made it their business to criticize that excess and hyperbole.  The latter group questioned the morality and even sanity of ascribing so much importance to a sporting event, however compelling it might be to fans.

Articulate nay-sayers derided the creation of artificial heroes manufactured by an overenthusiastic press. In the July 20, 1921 edition of The New Republic, just two-and-a-half weeks after the event, an editorial entitled “Carpentier: A Symbol” dissects the creation of Carpenter the super-hero following his fight with Dempsey. At bottom, it suggests, Carpentier-worship is nothing more than a fad:

With great quickness and completeness a new name or new faith gets a circulation, and the circle of fame widens until it takes in most of the big cities in the western world.

The latest of these amusing fads was Carpentier. (206)

The piece goes on to lay out, quite accurately, the reasons why Carpenitier became so popular, particularly with middle-class fans: his multiple status as boxer/war hero/show biz personality, his good manners, good looks and all-around clean-cut persona (“someone you’d be glad to meet in a drawing-room”), and his underdog status going into the fight as the smaller, less powerful man.  None of this, the writer suggests, has anything to do with boxing itself and that is the heart of the problem.  The American middle class fell into the trap of sentimentality, an entirely inappropriate reaction to a prize-fight, according to the writer:

If we cannot have a prize-fight without rampant class-feeling and sentimentality we should cut out prize-fights and leave them to the hard-headed gentry who understand such things.  […] [Carpentier fans] seem to us to revealed either as frustrated mollycoddlers or as tiresome snobs.  They had no real interest in the merits of the struggle, no information or understanding.  They took the fight as an orgy of sentimentality, and twisted Carpentier into a figure which the realities of this attractive prize-fighter do not support. (207)

In the wake of the hyperbole about Carpentier’s heroism following the fight, the writer reminds his readers that what took place was, when all was said and done, a boxing match:

Beauty and truth were not degraded when Dempsey hit Carpentier in the stomach, and afterward smacked him on the jaw.  Brain did not go down before brawn, or gaiety before sullenness or the Greek god before a teamster.  It wasn’t as tragic or symbolic as all that. (207)

He goes on to explain that Carpentier’s defeat has the decided advantage of discouraging “sentimentalists” who know nothing about boxing from following the sport in the future:

[…] the fact that Carpentier was beaten is possibly not an unmitigated evil.  It drives the great army of unemployed sentimentalists in another direction than prize-fighting.  It leaves prize-fighting to the people who can be objective about it and who established the odds of the late combat as, coldly, about 3 to 1.  Among such people the undiscriminating lovers of truth and beauty have no place.  They should look for the triumphs of truth and beauty in some other sphere less arbitrary than one in which ten counts “out.” (207)

So boxing will once again be left to the true fans, to those who actually understand and appreciate the sport on its own terms. (This prediction was in fact only partially true.  While the Dempsey-Tunney bouts later on in the decade would not inspire anything like the levels of “sentimentality” and loopy allegorical interpretation, they did draw in record numbers of fans, many of whom were certainly not otherwise interested in boxing.)

In a complementary vein, P.W. Wilson, writing in the August 1921 edition of Current Opinion, argues that excessive coverage of boxing in the press, and the concomitant tendency to ascribe it much more importance than it actually has, will lead to its downfall as a mainstream diversion. Such hyperbole will eventually lend fuel to the fire of the opponents of the sport.  Given the fact that the future of boxing was still debatable (it is important to remember that the Walker Law, which legalized and regulated professional boxing in the state of New York and would serve as a model for similar legislation in numerous other states, had gone into effect only a year before), this is a non-trivial perspective:

Ought such contests to be forbidden?  That is a question for Americans themselves to answer.  Of one thing I am certain.  The surest way of mobilizing sentiment against the prize-ring will be to exaggerate reports in the press to the exclusion of matters involving the happiness and progress of mankind and the dignity of citizenship.  If this sport is worked up into a menace it will be resolutely dealt with by society.  No such activity can be tolerated except as an “extra,” subordinate to the more substantial basis of the program of modern life.[3]

An editorialist in the London Times, writing on the day of the fight, neatly sums the anti-hype sentiment, with the suggestion that at some point in the future “a professor of history will use the Dempsey-Carpentier fight as proof that ‘the age lacked a sense of proportion.”

Backlash à la française

The excesses of American journalistic coverage of the fight constituted an even more substantial and significant leitmotif in the French press. Ballyhoo journalism was, according to the more high-minded French commentators and despite ample evidence to the contrary, a fundamentally American phenomenon.  Le Figaro, for example, published an article on its front page the day of the fight (July 2, 1921) that included descriptions of the excesses of the US press coverage, under the rather flat-footed sub-heading “Americanism.”

 The same day, the front page of L’Intransigeant included the following report from correspondent Bénac:

All the newspapers give more and more importance every day to the fight.  Today, on an average of about four pages in each paper, you can read news about the two boxers, about the physical conditon and their mental state.  A person who wanted to peruse everything written on a given day about the Carpentier-Dempsey match would find that there were not enough hours in the day.  It has been estimated that the New York papers publish approximately 30,000 lines on the World Championship.  The coverage includes some stories that are hard to believe; many of the accounts are contradictory, not to mention the “facts” that are pure invention.

A similar report had already appeared in an article published in Le Miroir des sports a week or so before the fight:

The press in the United States never runs short of sensational news and large amounts of it are required to satisfy Americans, who are basically overgrown children. […] Any sense of proportion, concern for the truth, or taste for accuracy give way in the face of the most unreal fantasies, the most extreme excesses of imagination, and the most outlandish inventions. […]

The French press are following suit, but maintaining more dignity, and their principal concern seems to be predicting a victory for Carpentier.[4]

French accusations of American journalistic sensationalism and inaccuracy are themselves somewhat questionable.  While it is undeniable that the US press coverage was excessive to the point of silliness, very little if any of the material in reputable newspapers was “invented.” And it must be said that the French press was indulging in quite a bit of excess as well, as evidenced by the coverage in the Petit Parisien discussed above. In France, things tended to break down along more clearly defined lines of social class and (real or perceived) intellectual level than in the United States. The more “serious” French newspapers were markedly more restrained in their coverage of the event than a “popular” publication like Le Petit Parisien.  The very fact of this restraint is a signifier of their disdain for both “American” journalistic methods and the French publications that emulate them.

Le Figaro, for example, took a much more restrained approach than its popular counterpart Le Petit Parisien. On July 1, Le Figaro gave the fight two of its five front-page columns and no photographs.  The July 2 edition gave the story one front-page column; in fact, the story didn’t even take up the entire column.  On July 3, after the match had been fought, Le Figaro’s devoted only two of its five front-page columns to the story and included not a single photograph. So while the more popular press in France was no less eager or excessive than US newspapers, the more mainstream, bourgeois publications were considerably less enthusiastic about participating in the hype.  The assumption appears to have been that “serious” newspaper readers, such as those of Le Figaro, would have a limited interest in such affairs (or, if they were interested in the trivia surrounding the event, could satisfy their curiosity elsewhere, by engaging in a bit of journalistic slumming). This is where the contrast between the two countries becomes clear. The New York Times, inarguably an American counterpart of Le Figaro as a mainstream, middle-class, presumably intended for high-minded, well-educated readers, published staggering quantities of material about the fight.  In terms of both quantity and content, the Times coverage is much more comparable to that of Le Petit Parisien than to that of Le Figaro.  One need only compare the day-after editions of the mainstream papers in the respective countries to appreciate the extent of the contrast: the Times gave the fight a banner front-page headline, five out of eight front-page columns, many photographs and thirteen full pages of coverage; the Figaro was dramatically more restrained, giving the story two of five front-page columns, with no accompanying illustrations.

The French daily newspaper Le Temps provides an even more extreme example of French journalistic resistance to hype.  Their coverage of Carpentier –Dempsey was minimal:

--No coverage at all on July 1, 1921, the day before the fight (or, for that matter, in the last days of June);

--On July 2, one small article, on page 3, in the rubric “Sports;”

--On July 3, one fairly small article, on page 4, more focused on the means by which news of the fight will be received than on the match itself;

--On July 4, one article, by no means the largest or most prominent, among many others on the front page, placed halfway down the third column and without any illustration of any kind, and a second article on page 2 with an account of the fight (again, this is neither the largest or most prominent of the articles on the page).

Furthermore, it is important to note that much of the discussion of the event in Le Temps centers around two extra-pugilistic topics: the technology involved in reporting the result or a critique of the journalistic hype. Coverage of the fight in Le Temps is the antithesis of that found in Le Petit Parisien. In order to understand the extent to which a newspaper like Le Temps staked out its identity as an anti-tabloid, it is instructive to look more closely at the content of its fight coverage.  On July 4, the only story concerning the match on their front page consisted of an article, signed “P.S.” and entitled “Surrounding a Boxing Match” (“Autour d’un assaut de boxe”). Aside from the fact that the piece is not particularly prominently placed on the page, at a time when more “popular” newspapers such as Le Petit Parisien were giving the story pride of place on the front page, complete with headline and photographs, the title is revealing.  The title makes clear that the author of the piece, and by extension the paper as a whole, takes a detached view of the event; the most compelling topic for comment is not the fight itself but rather what surrounded it (not the assaut itself but rather what is autour).  Indeed, the very choice of the word assaut is significant: assaut is more frequently used to refer to a sparring match than to an actual fight, which would much more typically be referred to as a combat or a match.

The piece itself opens with an expression of regret at Carpentier’s loss (“So Carpentier has been beaten.  One has sincere regret for this courageous boy […]”). The fact that Dempsey emerged from the fight entirely unscathed is, according to the author, “stupefying.”  However, he points out, the result of the fight is not. Dempsey was simply bigger than Carpentier and, perhaps, more skilled.  The first paragraph concludes with a reminder that “such is the law of sport” and admonishing readers not to harbor any sort of bitterness concerning the outcome.

It is in the second paragraph that “P.S” attacks his real subject: a critique of those who would set Carpentier up as a national hero and view his defeat as a national tragedy.  Such a reaction, the author opines, is not only absurd but dangerous:

What would be particularly absurd, and would make fights like this truly dangerous, would be to get feelings of national pride mixed up in them.  We are in all the better position to make this observation here since we already made it in happier times for Carpentier, when he knocked out the Englishmen Bombardier Wells and Beckett and became champion of Europe. We didn’t think then that it was either our revenge for Waterloo or a disaster for England.  We thus have the right to say today that neither is Carpentier’s defeat a cause for national mourning in France and does not definitively, nor even temporarily, assure the hegemony of young America over old Europe.  

The editorialist goes on to argue that boxing, while it has its place, is hardly an appropriate barometer of national status:

The greatness of a country comes, fortunately, from more serious and more profound sources than victory in a boxing match.  And perhaps this sport has less importance than scientific, artistic, literary and military genius.  

It is not the simple fact that sports are less important than other endeavors that bolsters the editorialist’s opinion; it is also the fact that, according to him, boxing relies more on brute strength than on intelligent strategy, rendering it an unworthy source of national pride (or, in the case of a defeat like Carpentier’s, shame):

Intelligence plays a large part in certain deployments of strength; for example, in the preparation of a great battle.  Napoleon was, without any doubt, the most intelligent of the great military leaders of his era and Foch’s intellectual merits had been well known for a long time to those who had studied under him at the Ecole de guerre. The experts told us that Carpentier had the advantage, in this sense, over Dempsey.  But this advantage, apparently, is of only mediocre importance in boxing; truly, something quite different is required to knock out one’s opponent.

Furthermore, the editorialist argues, the frenzy surrounding the fight in both countries is simply ridiculous. According to this version, the French are no better than the Americans in this regard. Both have fallen prey to a silly passion for a trivial matter:

Not only was nationalistic passion completely inappropriate, the over-heated excitement of simple curiosity seemed out of proportion and a bit ridiculous as well.  A veritable fever took hold of the public on both continents and ended up winning over, in spite of themselves, even level-headed people.  Frankly, it was hardly worth it.

Here the editorialist expands on the idea he had already suggested above, that the nature of the sport of boxing renders it unworthy of so much attention and emotion on the part of so many people.  Interestingly, he does not argue against the validity of the existence of the sport, as so many did, but rather says that it should be of interest only to its genuine fans, not to the general public.  He seems to be arguing that boxing should remain on the margins of society, that it belongs in its own ugly little ghetto:

Boxing is no doubt an interesting sport for its fans, but a bit painful for everyone else, who will always be repulsed by this mania for two people punching each other in the face.  It’s perhaps not a great display of respect for the dignity of man, which is inscribed on the human face.  

Ironically, what the editorialist fails to realize, or at least to say, is that it is precisely because true fans of the sport see the artistry, technique and skill of the sport that it is of interest to them.  It captures their attention not because it consists of two people punching each other in the face but precisely because their knowledge of the sport allows them to see that it is much more than that. But what concerns the editorialist is not the knowledgeable fan, the connoisseur of pugilism, but the man (and woman) in the street, the person previously uninterested in boxing who has suddenly become passionately engaged by unfolding spectacle of Carpentier-Dempsey. And spectacle it is: P.S.’s assessment that non-boxing fans were drawn in by the fight as theater rather than sport is astute. Whether non-fans found the actual exchange of blows between the two men compelling or not, they clearly found the drama of the encounter irresistible:

The great wave of passion of the throbbing masses can be explained by the dramatic aspect of these encounters: they are theater! Indeed, theater is the spectacle of a conflict and the situation is all the more highly emotional when the conflict is more immediate.

Boxing may be comparable to theater, the editorialist continues, but it is nonetheless unfortunate that the sport commands greater respect and more attention than theater itself:

But the bottom line is that theater tickets cost less than tickets to the stadium in Jersey City; fewer telegraph operators are mobilized for the occasion, fewer airplanes, fewer movie cameras, and the newspapers devote fewer columns to even the most brilliant play or the most noble masterpiece.

The example of the importance accorded to athletics in Ancient Greece, often cited as a justification for the modern popular obsession with sports, does not obtain as a comparison:

Don’t even talk about the Greeks!  The Greeks appreciated and practiced physical exercises.  But the winner of the boxing tournament in Olympia remained quite a small personage compared to an Aeschylus or a Sophocles, the winner of the tragedy contest in Athens.  In recent days, one was more likely to be reminded of the guards of the circus of Byzantium.

Ultimately, the stance of this editorialist and of the “serious” newspaper in which he wrote, was that boxing was a dramatic spectacle but brutal, unworthy of interest on the part of “serious” people such as those who read Le Temps. The disproportionate level of interest on the part of people who would ordinarily know better is explicable by the ridiculous nationalistic spin given the event by the (other) newspapers and by the sheer quantity of their coverage.  The editorial is thus less a critique of boxing than a critique of the coverage given the sport. The real story for Le Temps.

Le Temps was not the only “serious” French newspaper to critique the coverage of the Carpentier-Dempsey fight. The Communist daily L’Humanité  (founded by Jean Jaurès) published a similar critique of the foolish hype surrounding the match. They gave the fight somewhat more space than Le Temps, with a front-page article (two columns out of six) on both July 2 and July 3; the July 2 article was accompanied by photographs of both boxers and the July 3 one with a photo of Dempsey in action.  It is instructive, however, to look at the content of these relatively high-profile articles.  The July 2 article was entitled “Who Will Be the Champion of the World Tonight? Dempsey or Carpentier?” but had a more telling subtitle: “Despite an all-too clever press campaign, today’s match is of great athletic interest.” With this brief subtitle, the newspaper (or its author, “L. Plenard”) manages to convey the paper’s dual position vis-à-vis the fight: first, it has been the object of excessive and cynical hype in the press and second, it is nonetheless an important athletic event.  The inclusion of the adjective “athletic” gets across another important point, that an event such as this can be of genuine importance within the world of athletics but that does not necessarily mean that it is of any importance outside that world.

After a brief introductory paragraph consisting of one sentence simply stating the most basic facts of the fight (“Today is the day of the big fight in which Dempsey and Carpentier will square off to fight for the title of heavyweight champion of the world […]”), Plenard  immediately turns his attention to what is for him the heart of the matter: the press coverage.  Making a clear distinction between the big-circulation, mainstream daily papers (la grande presse) and the more specialized, more overtly politicized and thus more “serious” publication for which he is writing, he is explicit about the fact that more important issues have been given short shrift in order to make room for coverage of the upcoming fight.  This constitutes nothing less than a sort of false consciousness (though he stops short of using that term):

The mainstream press has been engaging for several weeks now in a frenzied publicity campaign, obviously intended to capture the attention of the public, who nonetheless have other matters of an entirely different order of magnitude crying out for their attention.  The clever procedures put in place have succeeded in creating a veritable passion in those who read without thinking, or who think without questioning, or who question without delving more deeply. Alas! They are legion!

Furthermore, he goes on to explain, the entire enterprise is tainted by the worst sort of unthinking nationalism:

A sordid chauvinism has come to attach itself to the strictly athletic perspective, and lots of fools, both young and old, great swallowers of the lies of the mainstream press, would consider Carpentier’s defeat a national disaster!

Plenard’s summation, before finally entering into a discussion of the pugilistic questions at stake, is that while the fight does not merit the excessive coverage it has received in the “bourgeois” press, it is nonetheless genuinely of great interest within the world of sports:

Without according this competition an importance as grossly excessive as the bourgeois press has done, we  can acknowledge that it goes beyond the usual framework of pugilistic encounters and constitutes a true event in the athletic realm.

The irony here is that Le Figaro, arguably the most bourgeois of French newspapers, gave roughly the same amount of space to the fight as L’Humanité.  Both publications clearly made a conscious choice to limit their coverage, albeit no doubt for different reasons.  So the “bourgeois press” referred to by the Communist Plenard is in fact not that read by the grands bourgeois (Le Figaro) but rather that read by the petits bourgeois and working classes (Le Petit Parisien, Le Journal, et al.).

What follows this critique of the press is a fairly straightforward and objective presentation of the match-up, complete with the men’s measurements and details of their respective records.  Plenard does get in one final jab at the rampant commercialism of the entire affair in his last paragraph:

In any case, the two men who will get in the ring this afternoon in New Jersey would do well to apply themselves seriously and without any sham, if they don’t want to topple from the pedestal onto which the profiteers of the sports world have hoisted them.

The final indication of the stance taken by L’Humanité vis-à-vis Carpentier-mania is a cartoon at the bottom of the same front page (July 2) entitled “The Eternal Defeatism,” showing a crowd of men wielding sticks or canes of some sort, obviously beating someone over the head.  One on-looker says to another: “It’s a bad Frenchman—he expressed some doubts about Carpentier’s victory.”  This is clearly a critique of the way in which the fervor over Carpentier had come to mirror, perversely according to this view, the patriotic fervor of the recently-ended war. “Defeatism,” the expression of the very notion that defeat was a possibility, is considered a form of treason to patriots in time of war.  The application of those same standards of enforced patriotism to a mere boxing match, as the cartoon suggests, is ludicrous.

L’Humanité’s coverage of the fight itself, on the front page of their July 3 edition, is introduced by a stab at the hype surrounding the fight.  The very first sentence of the short article, again by Plenard, introducing a longer piece detailing the bout reads: “Despite the tasteless hype that had presented him as an invincible idol, Georges Carpentier has met his match, so to speak.” Plenard also brags about having predicted well in advance that Carpentier would lose.  This lucidity was possible, he suggests, because unlike his journalistic counterparts, he was not blinded by unthinking nationalistic pride:

Right here on these pages, speaking from a purely athletic perspective, we predicted Dempsey’s victory some ten days ago.  We will not gloat, despite the fact that we were the only ones to make a prediction so bold and so irreverent to our national glory.

Pleanard sums up the situation with a final sentence: “Today the comedy is over. Now let’s move on to serious things!”

The fact of introducing a blow-by-blow account of the fight with such an overtly cynical perspective assures that no reader of L’Humanité could fail to get the point.  In very few words, Plenard reiterates all the points of his critique of Carpentier-Dempsey, already articulated the previous day: the press hype was ludicrous, objectivity drowned in misplaced nationalistic sentiment and the entire affair was simply not “serious.”


[1] This was a syndicated article, published in the Beloit (WI) Daily News on May 17, 1921.  Ostensibly written by Descamps, it was almost certainly generated by the Rickard hype-machine; Descamps may in fact have never seen the words attributed to him. Return to text

[2] Rickard is quoted in the July 3 edition of the New York World (p. 6). Return to text

[3] P. W. Wilson, “The Big Prize-Fight Psychologically Considered,”  Current Opinion LXXI, no. 2 (August 1921): 175. Return to text

[4] Gabriel Hanot, “Un Evénement Sportif Sans Précédent: Le Match de Boxe Carpentier-Dempsey,” Le Miroir des sports 51 (June 23, 1921): 389. Return to text