Marc Ellis might come across as just playing a "bad boy" role on television, but Waikato University sociologists say he is seriously reinforcing traditional male chauvinist attitudes to women.
Sports sociologist Toni Bruce, a former sports journalist, says the former All Black and colleagues on sports comedy shows such as the current Game of Two Halves and formerly Sportscafe, which ended last year, are part of what a British sociologist calls "new laddism".
"New lads" like Ellis play up to the notion that they are just "boys behaving badly", so they are aware that men are not supposed to treat women as mere "eye candy". But Dr Bruce says that is exactly what they do in a humorous way.
"It may be a sign that those things are really on the way out if the only place they are appearing is in the realm of humour," she told a Sociological Association conference in Hamilton.
But she added: "Overall, our analysis revealed that Sportscafe constructed a discourse about gender that privileged new lad masculinity and reinforced the marginalisation of women, while masking its messages in boyish humour."
She said "sexualisation" was a prevalent theme on Sportscafe, with "regular sexual innuendo and sarcastic references to sexual prowess (or lack thereof).
"This theme was most evident in the representation of the female dancers whose main role was to perform while the (usually male) guests walked on to the set," she said.
"Throughout, they remained voiceless and nameless while being the object of the gaze of the camera, studio audience and home viewers. Indeed, in one show Ric Salizzo referred to one of them only as 'Dancer 2'.
"In contrast, the male bands which provided musical background for the dancers were named and sometimes engaged in conversation with the hosts."
Roving reporter "Eva the Bulgarian" was often shown in camera angles that highlighted her breasts, lips and buttocks.
In one show, blond cyclist Katie Mactier was welcomed on stage with a huge "Yeah" from Ellis.
"As this did not happen for any of the male guests (and was consistent with his reactions to attractive females who appeared on other shows), his 'excitement' was clearly related to her appearance." Dr Bruce said Sportscafe celebrated "violent actions" in rugby. It could be seen as "the last bastion where men are safe from the threat of women", as represented by female political leaders and feminism generally.
"Thus the highlighting of discourses around toughness in Sportscafe embodies a reassertion, if not desperate clinging to, values that are culturally perceived to be under threat."
Dr Bruce said her male students who played soccer said they had to "negotiate their sense of masculinity because they were not taken seriously because they choose not to play rugby". A colleague who interviewed men about rugby for his 2003 doctoral thesis, Dr Richard Pringle, said being a Kiwi male was still linked strongly to playing rugby.
"I had some idea that it was changing because there were more boys playing soccer, but the guys I talked to, even at co-ed schools, said that the soccer boys in the first XI were still not as respected as being in the first XV," he said.
He said Marc Ellis was the epitome of a "so-called 'new image' of masculinity, the modern-day Kiwi joker".
The old, tough "Colin Meads" image had changed. Hard man Norm Hewitt had cried on television and danced with the stars.
Ellis himself had once been filmed in a sado-masochistic outfit being led on a leash by Matthew Ridge through a gay part of Buenos Aires. But the sports comedy shows did not show that "range of masculinities".
Sportscafe executive producer Ric Salizzo, who now produces a similar show on Prime called The Crowd Goes Wild, said the two sociologists were making "exactly the sort of moral judgments that we did rally against".
"We didn't take anything seriously," he said. "Our show revolved around taking the piss. We did it constantly. The primary target of our humour was ourselves, and we were not intelligent enough to be ironic. We were just trying to be us."
He said the female dancers were not named because they were a regular part of the show, whereas the male musicians were invited guests.