in which the naked chimp is unmasked, his machines debugged, and his bugbears debunked

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Of bingeing athletes (and binge aesthetes)

Somewhere between Wayne Carey’s PR-schooled (but actually quite ballsy) mea culpa and Matthew D’Arcy’s apparently unschooled but obviously very sharp left hook lurks something so big that no-one seems to be able to nail it. The people behind Australia’s Olympic team can easily apply the phrase “bringing the sport into disrepute” to censure the violent little D’Arcy, but this doesn’t get close to the real issue. Likewise, Carey can say he’s very sorry, sober up, and stop sniffing up, spewing up, screwing up, and slapping slappers around. But it still doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. There are Olympic Games and there are football games. There are also drinking games, but drinking itself is not a game… or is it? Or is it a hobby? That usually presumes accumulating skills. If you include ‘holding your liquor’ then yeah, I ‘spose it could be a hobby. It might also be a pastime, an activity, or a pursuit. But actually, I’d say that it’s much, much deeper than that. In fact, I think it’s one of the only things that all Australians share.

Think about it. There is death. There are taxes. For some, there is even real estate. But no matter who they are or where they live, all Australians are affected by binge drinking. And this is why, along with the other things just mentioned, it’s one of the only things we all have in common. Tell me what else reflects the reality of the lived experience of the entire community. Everything else is just imaginary… ANZACs? Only for skips. AFL? Only in Victoria. The beach? Whiteys again, but this time only the ones who live on the coast. The bush? Come off it. We’re a bunch of overweight ex-boat people who live in the suburbs. We love real estate, cars and petrol – and we’re unsustainable and abusive in the way we use all three. During the week, we drive our cars to our jobs, where we work to pay off the real estate we return home to in the evenings (in order to drink and watch petrol and housing prices rise on TV). And when the weekend comes and we have a choice with how to spend our time, most of us binge. And the ones who don’t? Well, they get to hide from, put up with, or serve kebabs to those of us who do.

Young and free? Nonsense! We’re fat and pissed. Girt by sea? Nonsense on stilts! Sloshed by tea is more like it. Paul Kelly’s ‘Dumb Things’ is the only song that could be used as our national anthem without dishonesty, ‘cos no matter who you are or where you live in Australia, you could tell me without distortion that getting very, very drunk is the activity that at least one member of your family takes to with gusto, regardless of age, gender, income, profession, or ethnic background. Even my cabbie the other night, who said, “You Aussies have beer; we have beards” is not excluded, ‘cos after all, he has to drive pissed idiots like me home. So what about mateship? Well, what’s a mate really? A mate is just someone who’s seen you really, really wasted. The mark of intimate friendship in Australia is getting to the point where you’re so pissed neither of you is even able to talk, which is also another handy way of solving the discomfort of emotional intimacy.

My friend Murray – a quintessential binger and a good mate – used to have a little saying, one that’s far more honest than most Australians are these days. It’s quite poetic, so I’ll quote it in full:

If you drink, then drive, you’re a bloody idiot.
But if you drink, then drive, and make it home okay?
Then you’re a bloody champion.

D’Arcy and Carey didn’t “bring the sport into disrepute” – they brought bingeing into disrepute. In other cultures, the mere fact of being very, very drunk is itself socially unacceptable. In Australia, provided you’re not hurting somebody, it’s heroic. And this is why every condemnation of a remote Aboriginal community, as well as each tut-tutting of an out-of-control athlete, is also an act of hypocrisy. If you so much as snickered at Murray’s ditty, you are implicated. K-Rudd has decided to frame bingeing as a ‘problem’. Some people have even gone so far as to say that it’s ‘part of our culture’. This is closer, but it doesn’t go far enough. Everyone’s happy to talk bingeing athletes, but what very few people are willing to concede is that, fundamentally, Australians are binge aesthetes. Bingeing isn’t a part of our culture, mate, it is our bloody culture. Cheers… oi, what the fuck are you lookin’ at?!


todd said...

"A mate is just someone who’s seen you really, really wasted"

sad but true, i don't even have friends who don't binge regularly.

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