Monday 11 March 2013

All of This is True

3. Romance of the Damned

I’m going to talk about football now, specifically the English Premier League. Don’t worry if that’s not something you particularly care for, I’m completely confident that you can substitute in your home country’s most popular sport and you’ll know exactly what I’m on about.

The gist of it is this: footballers are dicks. Overpaid, preening, egotistical dicks, with all the character and integrity of that rain-soaked cardboard box full of jazz mags you once found by the bins round the back of Morrisons. Which of course begs the question, what the fuck were you doing by the bins round the back of Morrisons? Dirty bastard.

As for the footballers, you imagine there’s a secret meeting every July where they decide who gets to indulge in which particular brand of despicable behaviour for the coming season:

“Alright lads, holidays are over. Busy few months coming up now, so game faces on. Ashley, Kieron; you’re still bedding in so we need you in free roles. Improvise a bit up front; I wanna see low-res pictures of your genitals in public as much as possible. Sexting, webcams, mix it up a bit and keep them guessing. Prove you can do this and we’ll have you in three-in-a-bed romps and granny-fucking whorehouses in no time. Eddie, Didi, if you could get in some kind of unnecessary physical altercation with a low-level match-day functionary, that’d be just grand. Let’s get the basics right, boys.

“Ryan, you’re the veteran so we need you to lead by example, but keep it simple. Just screwing around with some D-list celebrity behind your missus’ back should keep things ticking over. John, great work shagging your teammate’s bird last year; this time we’ve got you penciled in for dishing out some racial abuse. Luis, if you fancy chipping in with that as well at some point, that’d be great. Johnny, Steve, you guys are up for the nightclub assault and Paul, we’re gonna have to ask you to slap your old lady about some more. Remember boys, it’s the unglamourous stuff that gets the results. We’ll decide who takes the gambling, drugs, and manslaughter kicks on a match-by-match basis.

“And Bob, just before the transfer window closes, you’re coming out of the closet.

“Just kidding. We’ve got to draw the line somewhere, haven’t we?”

All of this is reported by rolling TV news and the tabloid newspapers (and increasingly the ‘quality’ press, though that’s very much a relative term) in their trademark tones of hyperventilating voyeuristic Puritanism.

Quality journalism.

I am in no way going to defend the majority of this stuff. A lot of it is genuinely repugnant, all the more so for being tolerated and implicitly endorsed by people who really should know better. But some of the tamer stuff: the nightclubs, alcohol, ‘sex romps’, well, I can’t judge them too harshly for that.

Officially, the first week of the academic year in English universities is called Freshers’ Week, and is dedicated to having fun and getting first-year students into the swing of things. Unofficially the name is more alliterative, and it’s dedicated to swinging and having fun getting things into the first-year students. It’s fucking carnage. It is also not so dissimilar from the carryings-on of those similarly-aged football players, merely that the sportsmen are able to afford a better quality of alcohol and lodgings. It’s just regrettable that, unlike all these nice middle-class students experiencing the youthful indiscretions that are an inevitable part of gaining one’s independence, footballers are such terrible oiks and chavs. The working-classes simply lack the breeding to lie vomiting in a taxi-queue at four in the morning with any grace or decorum.

Give young adults, young men in particular, a negligible amount of responsibility, a bit of disposable income, and a large amount of free time, and this is what’ll happen. You can see where this is going now, I hope.

Good clean fun.

There are a huge amount of unspoken assumptions attached to the concept of the Charisma Man, and almost all of them are uncomfortable at best. Charisma Men are white, right? If people talk about black men having ‘charisma’ it’s not sarcastic, because everyone knows that they all get a large helping of it at birth along with their innate sense of rhythm. Can’t have one without the other. “What’s black and hard in the morning?” comes with a very different punchline.

It’s also a totally heteronormative discussion. I have no way of commenting on the lesbian experience of this, but the few (i.e. two) Western gay men I’ve know well enough in Japan to discuss this with have suggested that the Charisma Man phenomenon doesn’t feature all that much within the gay community here, or at least not to the extent where there are glib labels for it. They have, frankly, got other more pressing issues to contend with.

And that’s the thing. If you’re a white man – if you’re a young, middle-class, straight, white man – then Lady Luck basically gave you a hand-job the moment you fell out of the womb. I can quite easily see how other people not in receipt of those randomly bestowed advantages might come to resent yet more good fortune being thrust at these guys/us as reward for mere accidents of birth.

Equally, there’s a very real risk that Charisma Men, unused to the attention, let it go to their heads. They’re hardly the only ones to have ever mistaken interest in What they are for interest in Who they are though, are they?

But I’m really not going to get too worked up about the gosh-darn unfairness of it all for the poor, undeserving Charisma Men. Whilst prejudice is never desirable, there are obviously more important examples to get worked up about. You’d ideally want it all to cease, but I’m sure they can cope with a few nasty names as redress for all that sweet, sweet J-poontang.

Ahem. Sorry. That’s the part that riles me. The guys can deal, that’s as much part of the whole ‘growing up’ thing as developing a bit of confidence and a few social skills. And while I do believe most people stuck with the Charisma Man label are relative ingénues who are just pleasantly surprised to have unexpectedly fallen into an barrel of tits, there are obviously more cynical guys looking to game the system for all it’s worth. As there are everywhere.

It takes two to tango and for every Charisma Man there’s a Yellow Cab, and it’s the implicit assumptions about Japanese women which are the most offensive part of this discussion. For example, as I hinted at back at the start, the inference that they’re inherently less capable of spotting a player or bad apple than their Western counterparts. Because of course no-one back home would ever dream of hooking up with anyone for anything less than wholly honourable reasons.

Again, on the (unfortunately not watertight) assumption that all involved are adults capable of making their own decisions, Charisma Man/Yellow Cab labels encompass all the usual ‘young idiots showing poor romantic judgment’ issues common the world over, but gloss over the more standard complicating factors such as class, education, and expectation, and add a nasty dash of racism and sexism just to spice things up. Take the sarcastic pejorative out of ‘Charisma Men’ and you just get ‘Men,’ but that doesn’t work with the other half of the equation.

It’s not the teasing of the privileged I object to here, so much as the concurrent, implicit mocking of those who are already pretty ill-served on that score to begin with. Any relationship worth its salt is hard work at times, and many of the closet couples I know initiated their relationships in decidedly inauspicious circumstances. If it works for them, why sneer? And if it doesn’t, if people are acting like dicks and idiots, then why can’t we just call them on that without the thinly veiled racism and misogyny?

Why can’t we all just get along?

Good lord. When I started writing this I thought it’d just be an mildly interesting way to tie some song lyrics to culturally conditioned notions of attractiveness. Funny how life turns out, eh?


  1. I was glad to see you nailed Brave John Terry in there. Personally, I've always been depressed that the beautiful game is played by such jerk wads; why can't they all be classy like me? (I had the same problem on my high school team. Couldn't stand most of them.)
    Not gonna touch the more complicated stuff, as it's midnight here and we just did the daylight savings thing, so my brain is quivering helplessly. And football is depressing enough right now anyway, until Liverpool can get its crap together and get some separation from, say, Swansea.

    1. Ah, CBJT eh? You'll be a fiver reader too then? Figured as much. Regardless of quality, it will always hold a special place in my heart for its description of Emile Heskey "galloping majestically down the field, clinically controlling the ball with his knees, shins, and face."

      Wouldn't be holding your breath on the Liverpool front, tbh.

    2. I have been known to dip into the Fiver once in awhile, yes. Though right now is college basketball season, so I'm busy heatedly following a different set of uneducated-yet-physically-gifted young men. That Heskey bit is brilliant. Good thing I didn't have a beverage in hand.

      Liverpool depresses me. I'm much better off watching the Bundesliga and the J League. (Footy crowds here in Seattle are great, but the on field product lacks a bit.)

    3. "Liverpool depresses me."

      I'm not hugely into football, tbh. But obviously I still have a club, and that club is Wolves.

      I sneer at your depression. Sneer at it, I say.

  2. "if youre white...lady luck basically gave you a hand job when you fell out Of the womb" lol fell outta my chair? Nice post!

    1. Cheers. I was going to go with 'tit-wank' but then figured there's no point overselling the accident of birth angle. The cultural and social advantages you get later from being a middle-class straight white male, they're the tit-wank.

    2. No shit. All I had to do was not fuck up. Respect to those I've known who actually had a challenge: one was white, but spent a decade in foster homes and got into and through my university. He was a right dick in fact, but I still had to respect what he'd achieved.

  3. That's exactly it. I should probably make the photo credits bigger. It's Japan Probe, unfortunately, but they had the pictures -

    It's no worse than anything that happens in most university towns in the UK in early October every year. It is, of course, significantly worse than anything that happens in any Japanese town ever (at least regarding public drunkenness). Plus by definition most of them will have done university already so you'd have hoped they got it out of their system then. I'm all for giving people one or two free passes for Dumb Behaviour Whilst Young, but the supply isn't infinite.

  4. Thing is, I never did that Halloween Yamanote ride when I was dumb enough and in my twenties, and here. Now I'd be tempted to do it just to out-obnoxious the oyaji, but that's not only spiteful, pathetic, but joyless. Will admit that my JET friends and I toasted not with 'kanpai!' but something our UK grandparents might recognize:

    "Oversexed, overpaid and over here!"

    Might as well live down to expectations.

  5. "Might as well live down to expectations"

    No-ones forcing these idiots to do this, but you can certainly say they're far too tolerated, and in some people's minds toleration=endorsement.

    Why bother adapting to a new society when that society's made it very clear it'd like you to bugger off again after not too long?