Et tu Aussie John? The big man of mortgages told Sydney radio this morning that he too would be reconsidering his sponsorship commitments to the Cronulla Sharks, in the wake of electronics giant LG’s decision to “pull the plug” ((c) all newspapers) on $700,000 worth of sponsorship at the end of the year — all due of course to multiple scandals, the most recent being the Matthew Johns Christchurch chop-up. With Cronulla owing nine million to the banks, the club would appear to be well beyond the brink of collapse.

One could care, but the interesting thing is how it got to this point. It is not merely that sexual mores have changed to the point where the “(anything) goes on tour” line can no longer be got away with. It is also the product of a culture in which stereotypical versions of masculinity and femininity — Ralph vs. Sex and the City — have to be continually re-asserted. This is necessary not because they are so different, but because they are increasingly similar. Men and women work together in the same sort of jobs, have intermingled social roles, have very few separate spheres of life — in a culture, where, 30, 40 years ago, they were almost all separate.

The gang-bang culture has nothing to do with sport per se — it’s borrowed from a rock n roll culture, the Led Zep thing, which can no longer sustain it because, post-Madonna, it too is populated by powerful women who do more than merely front a band. Gang bangs aren’t sexual per se — they’re a celebration of Dionysian excess, but also of Apollonian male power.

In your average tribal group s-x fertility ritual, men and women copulate in relatively equal numbers, to replenish the earth, to celebrate a big wedding, etc. The modern asymmetrical gang bang isn’t a celebration of a triumphant masculinity, it’s a neurotic maintenance of a threatened one. The sobby, blubby mutual support groups that the Footy Shows have become couldn’t be better proof of what a soap opera sport has become, an endless performance of wounded post-modern maleness.

Just about the only thing worse than this has been the official response, whereby any sort of lapse in manners, decency or morals is the occasion not for either the law or simple disapproval, whichever applies, but behaviour modification via sensitivity training, counselling, anguished Stalin-lite televised confessions (with the wife at the side — isn’t that great! You get to make her feel like sh-t, twice, and televised nationally!) etc etc. As Miranda Devine noted the other day in the SMH. See what you made me do.

Where Devine is wrong however, is in seeing player behaviour as some sort of urspring of inherent male behaviour, as if players were just dogs to be tamed by a cabal of officials and consultant feminists. Yes male s-xual aggressiveness is hardwired to a degree, but it’s also culturally produced. Rugby was as violent 30, 50 years ago, but teams didn’t have gang bangs on the agenda. Let’s face it, when sport was something you did as well as holding down a full time job, and getting paid 2/6 to play, your only perk was a warm pastie. If you were horny, you waited for the pastie to cool, then you rooted that. No-one got hurt, except those who couldn’t wait long enough.

Devine blames “androgynous feminism” (the sort of androgynous feminism that says a woman can write a politics column, rather than covering hats or Royals). Of course she would. The complex causes behind a scandal such as has hit Cronulla are no competition for continuing the zombie culture wars. Women won’t let men open doors for them, so the only alternative is a vukkake party. Amazing how the places where feminism has really changed the culture — Scandinavia for example — never sees this sort of crap happening. Amazing too, how for Bolt, Devine and others, men’s behaviour is women’s fault, whether they’re in Christchurch or the UNSW cultural studies department. No wonder people can’t take conservatism seriously these days. It’s as weepy, wounded and self-pitying as The Footy Show.

Mind you, if it were just a team and some players, the club could tell people to go root their boot if they didn’t like it. But the wider part of this scandal is that players ain’t players no more. They’re a commodity, a billboard, a representative of a household appliances manufacturer — and how much more feminised can you get from that. LG is obviously petrified that women shopping for irons will think of a semen soaked motel room everytime they see the logo, and, a couple of people I know aside, that ain’t a selling point.

Sport as a whole is beginning to suffer due to its wholesale rush in the 1970s, from being a low key professional activity, to wilfully becoming an integrated TV/brand/marketing product. One of the reasons its players are so nuts, is because they are now so feminised in traditional terms — treated like Hollywood starlets of old, to be phoofed, primped and paraded for the cameras, the sponsors, the audience. Sport has now discovered that, amazingly, it ain’t sport anymore — its autonomy has been swallowed by a wider system of images. There must be more than a few NRL and club officials sitting at their desks wondering how they got to a point where half their job involves pleasing a whitegoods manufacturer, and the other issuing today’s apologies.

If sport really wants to assert itself — here’s a wild idea — the piff off the sponsors, the networks, the spritz, and play for a living-wage in a field. You’ll miss out on the alcopops sponsorship, and attending the new Ford launch, and all those other joys, but who knows — you might start to enjoy the game you once played for pleasure. And you wouldn’t have to sit through re-education sessions or be at the beck and call of Aussie John.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey