Friday 20 September 2013

Of Diplomats, Footballers, Jokes, and Cake

There’s something called Paris Syndrome, which is like Stockholm Syndrome except with less cross-country skiing and more museums. That’s actually a lie. The happy truth is that Stockholm Syndrome, where a group of hostages will come to agree with and support their captors, is in many ways the polar opposite of its Gallic counterpart.

Paris Syndrome, you see, supposedly occupies a significant proportion of the time and effort of the Japanese diplomatic mission to France. The symptoms largely consist of crushing, debilitating disappointment and it’s experienced by Japanese tourists who come to Paris expecting a city of high culture and epic romance populated by effortlessly chic women, charmingly rakish men, and scrappy street-children who nevertheless possess spotless dentition and excellent singing voices, only to find the capital of France is populated by, well... the French. This can come as a shock.

The Japanese embassy has a dedicated helpline for any of its citizens suffering from Paris Syndrome, and every year it affects a few tourists to the point where they need to be repatriated under medical supervision. I swear I’m not making this up.

It does raise interesting questions about how people view the world outside their own borders: how realistic those views are; how those views are mediated by various groups with their own vested interests; how the seemingly inevitable disconnect between image and reality is comprehended and accounted for by various societies and individuals. I have to say that I’ve got a good deal of sympathy with the Japanese francophone diplomatic corps in have to wrestle with these issues on a regular basis, especially as it threatens to distract from their primary job of complaining about tasteless jokes told by private individuals.

Seriously, offering official protest regarding the humour of non-governmental media organizations would appear to be the main task of Japanese diplomats. They were displeased about a football commentator’s, er, comments a while back, and now they’re unhappy about some cartoons. The Parisian embassy seems to bear the brunt of this, but in recent times their colleagues around the world have also seen fit to complain about American magazine covers and British light-entertainment TV shows. And to be fair, while you may  question the validity of these complaints or the value of making them through official channels in the first place, they are generally expressed in a manner befitting the complainant. At this point, by way of comparison, I’ll draw your attention to Israel’s now former Head of Online Diplomacy, who managed to invert that validity/expression paradigm and in doing so display an alarming lack of understanding of the final word in his job title.

Read up on that little contretemps? Good, because now I’m going to talk about Robbie Savage.

Robbie Savage, for those of you who are happily unaware, is a former professional footballer in the UK. During his playing days he was perhaps one of the most reviled men in the sport, because he was a cheat (also: his hair).

There are essentially two types of cheating in sport – the sneaky and the blatant. The sneaky, at least in football, involves trying to con the ref – diving, simulation, call it what you will. This is generally the preserve of the less physically intimidating athletes and is seen, despite copious evidence to the contrary, as something of a foreign affliction. With the increasing internationalization of the English leagues it’s become more tolerated by fans, and many see it as an almost legitimate way for more technically skillful players to protect themselves from the other sort of cheaters.

Because the blatant cheaters are your enforcers, your midfield hard-men (it’s a relative term), the type who like to get their retaliation in first even if it leads to an early bath and the inescapable conclusion that they really are ‘that type of player.’ It’s largely on the wane now, but despite all the compulsory hand-wringing about tarnishing the image of the game there’s still fewer more amusing sights than seeing a truly late tackle.

Cheaters of both types generally find their niches and some form of acceptance, however grudging, by fans and commentators alike. Robbie Savage’s failing was that he wasn’t one type of cheat, he was both (also: his hair). One minute he’d tackle someone so late their unborn grandchildren would feel his studs, then the very next he’d be flopping on the floor even though his nearest opponent was somewhere in the next county. If he’d just been a diver that would have been fine, if he’d just been a thug that too would have been tolerated; it was the shamelessness with which he tried to have his cake and eat it which really rubbed people up the wrong way (also: his hair).

Can’t imagine what made me think of him…


  1. Divers... This is why football/soccer has not, and will never, get on in the US and Canada. We cannot take the sport seriously, or the fans (i.e. Europeans, and who's joined you? E.Asians). Enforcers we get, and we have them in hockey to the extent we call them the same: 'enforcers'. Goons to a man, but players like Gretzky only kept skating because the enforcers on his team would tear you a new one if you made a bad hit on him.

    I think all team sports are daft if played by people over twelve, nevertheless I'd put money on any hockey enforcer over a soccer/football one.

  2. Honestly, I did try to watch soccer/football once. My father is after all from your foggy North. But I saw some continental get brushed on the shoulder, grab his jaw and start limping. If I'd watch male sports it'd need to be played by men.

    1. I have a lot of sympathy for all those arguments, to be honest. And I'd definitely agree that football's idea of a hard-man is not something I'd want to put up against the equivalent from most other sports (that 'relative term' link should make that fairly clear, I think ;)

      But I have 14 (I think. I lose count) uncles, cousins, and second-cousins on my dad's side. All male. This made developing an interest in the game pretty much unavoidable...

  3. "only to find the capital of France is populated by, well... the French"

    Wow.....fucking classic line right there!!

    Japan is complaining? Does anybody outside of Japan watch the shows they have over here? The racism is of a pure old form. So fucked up it's hard to imagine till you see a show talking about the Charisma of Hitler and having one person out of 6 lament that he was actually kinda bad.....

    It wasn't a comedy show.

    1. It felt a little obvious, to be honest. Shooting fish in a barrel. But we all know I'm not above that every once in a while and I just couldn't resist.

      They're ALL comedy shows. Surely we've established this by now? Admittedly most shows don't realise they're comedies, but that doesn't change the fact ;)

  4. I would have to look up details, and that is no fun, but I vaguely remember Nakata in his waning Bolton days getting a red card for flattening Robbie Savage. Everyone seemed to think it was admirable.

    Americans claim they hate footy because of the diving, but really it's just because nobody in the EPL suffers debilitating spine/head/neck injuries every few minutes or has crippling dementia and no working knees by their 40s. Pansies.

    1. I wouldn't have been at all surprised if Nakata had earned himself a standing ovation for that effort.

      Every so often there'll be a report on a study into the dangers of heading footballs. I saw a show a while back about attempts to fit a sort of airbag into American Football helmets, a level of tech usually found in a family car, which does rather put the whole 'goal-line technology' debate into perspective...

    2. Quick counterpoint: Many Americans DO like football (of course we call it soccer, since the correct term was co-opted horribly here), often far more than we like the Spandex Tackling Game.

      People who hate football because of diving -- a claim I've never actually heard in the US -- would have to be totally ignorant of their own sports and the cheating that goes on there, which also isn't a condition I've seen in many people here.

      Americans don't often follow football because they're so rarely AWARE of it. Many of us play it when we're very young, and then it's given up due to "hey look, Real Football" once you're big enough to wear the armor (and the spandex).

      I think it's a chicken and egg problem: People in general can't be interested in something unless they're exposed to it, and if no one you know is aware of and interested enough to introduce it to you, how can you possibly expect to find out about it?

    3. Don't worry, Anonymous-san, I was mostly joking. After all, I am an active part of the most heated, celebrated, and money-making soccer (football) rivalry in the US.

      Also, my son is tearing up his U6 league as part of the unbeaten Speedy Beetles. (Fearlessly coached by me and a weekly parade of Youtube instructional videos.)

    4. Thank you all. I do though feel prompted to reiterate that this post isn't really about football...