Among the scripts your correspondent will be dusting off in light of the Government’s new $70 mill for ABC drama — me and half of the inner cities, trying to get Windows Vista to read documents written on WordPerfect 3.1 for Mac — is a thing called Sportopia.

The basic plot of Sportopia is that at some point in the future, Australians have simply given up on the idea of a civilisation and just admitted who we are — a people who live by and through sport. Instead of the fig leaf of a few minutes political etc news before 20 minutes of league/AFL/20-20 analysis that would put a medieval scholastics conference to shame, we just run everything through sports, and piff off the rest.

The AFL runs the executive branch, league runs legislative, and the ACB is the judicial final court of appeal, under which all legal disputes are solved using the rules of cricket. The various Footy Shows are nightly, go for three hours, and matters like the Budget or the collapse of Pakistan are discussed solely in terms of their impact on sport. Australian children are educated in footy madrasas, where they rock back and forth, reciting old elimination final scores, and learn advanced maths through an explanation of the varying final four, five, seven systems etc.

The project was shelved because it was becoming too floridly fantastical in the writing. Looking at the ongoing Matthew Johns scandalette, I am wondering if it would now fail due to quiet understatement. Watching, on ACA, this galumphing spiky haired doofus poured into a suit, going through the wheres whys and whats of a New Zealand gang bang a decade ago was something else.

The affaire Johns is becoming a prism through which all the composite rays of our culture are being examined — but can it tell us anything useful? Gang bangs — consensual ones, as opposed to mass rape — are dead common in the worlds of sport, music and the competitive ikebana circuit; they are always ugly and tawdry in the re-telling.

In homoerotic sports like football, they’re a way for team-members to get as close to f-cking each other as they can, without having to admit the desire. The sports-besotted teenage girls they rely on as a sort of beard for male group bonding exist in some shadowy area between consent and its opposite. Yes, in legal terms, it’s usually consent. But any decent man, any mensch, would immediately assess a 19-year-old willing to lie on a motel bed and be done by half a dozen blokes furtively scoping each others’ choppers, as not really in a good place, and put her in a taxi.

Yet coming from the other end, so to speak, the prosecution of the whole issue by Four Corners etc appears way over the top — a proxy war by an inner-city culture that doesn’t have much time for sport, against its heroic and unquestioned domination of the way we live. The implicit argument came from a type of feminism leaning heavily on the idea of false consciousness — that even though women consented (although one story in the programme was about a non-consensual sexual assault), they don’t really consent. It’s a curious position strong on victimhood — and possibly of the production of victimhood by the way in which the argument is constructed.

Whatever happened in the Babylon of Christchurch all those years ago is simply an ugly by-product of a team culture — but is on the way to becoming a more general fable about gender relations in Australia. Though the league doesn’t seem to have hit the nuclear button yet — rehiring Catherine Lumby as spokesperson — I guess it will run for a while longer. Gang bangs are what people who don’t read The Monthly argue about in pubs I guess.

Favourite part of the whole imbroglio? Undoubtedly the clip in the Four Corners programme about the gender issues education courses, in which dopey young footballers are introduced to the issue of consent by being asked to imagine that a man has got them drunk and then bummed them without their explicit consent. “You wouldn’t like that much would you — well imagine how a woman feels.” Fantastic. As long as they get a chance to talk about s-xing each other, without really talking about it, they couldn’t be happier.

That will be episode three. Any interested parties have your people call my people.

Peter Fray

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