Three Men Walk Into a Chat Room
Three white males have just finished a discussion about professional sports, past experience, technology and what it means to build an audience. Two of these men are hosts of a talk show, one is their guest. As the first guest signs off, the next arrives, to much fanfare; he is an enigma, a black man celebrated for his status in a field dominated by white men. He is treated as somewhat of a curiosity, but is shown every hospitality and the respect due to his stature.
Before the conclusion of the segment, however, a second black man is paraded in. He is also a curiosity in the field, and is verbally poked and prodded in much the same fashion as the first, though now with less sensitivity, perhaps.
This talk show segment has gone from what may reasonably be perceived as an interview to a spectacle of difference. The subjects are celebrated for their novelty value; the hosts clearly do not know how to approach them in an adult manner, so they don’t.
A scenario similar to this played out on Neil Browne’s Tour Chats, when an interview that was clearly intended to celebrate the internet character that is @mmmakio devolved into a panel that could rightly have been called “Asian Girls of Cycling” after @mplsminx showed up. The hosts seemed excited to have her, but once they did, they clearly had no idea what to do or say. Predictably, the hosts and the participating audience fell back on cherished cliche’s and double entendres.
All in Good Fun
So what is the problem with this if it’s all in good fun? The problem is that professional cycling, like much of the media landscape, is dominated by white males. It is a problem if the same people who openly criticize promoters for unequal pay in women’s racing use their privileged place in the media to unknowingly frame something that they are uncomfortable with (gender, race, difference) as a curiosity.
Karl Marx defined ideology with his famous quote “they don’t know it, but they are doing it,” and that is precisely what is happening here. No one is trying to marginalize women or asians as being different, but we are. When we ask women stupid, shallow questions and fall back on sexual innuendo when we don’t know what else to say, we reinforce that hegemony.
Something to Gain, Something to Lose
I’ve noticed a marked change in the electronically connected cycling fans that show up in my twitter feed. So-called “Snark” is all the rage, perhaps understandably so, since a sincere approach to cycling commentary or fandom will almost certainly end in failure. Relentless irony combined with the desire to promote one’s point of view, one’s blog, one’s self, have left a once contentious community hobbled and reluctant to say anything approaching the level of honesty that was present when the anti-doping movement was at its peak.
The pro cycling peanut gallery now suffers from the same condition as those in the professional peloton; they have a stake. It shows in everything, even that familiar point of view. They don’t know they’re doing it, but I can see it.