image pilfered from New Matilda
On Friday 29 May, some football happened, as it frequently does, and I ignored it, as I usually do.
However, days later, media is still buzzing with a certain incident, reading all manner of threat and offense in it.
As I say, football happens frequently to my utter indifference.
Even so, I'm not totally ignorant to the joyful celebratory activity of players overtaken with the elation of having scored points. Take the elaborate jersey-over-the-head antics of goal-kickers in the World Cup, say. To be honest, I'm not adverse to recreating the same in the front room when I score a goal against the kids in foosball…
Back to Adam Goodes.
Apparently, the game was an 'Indigenous Round'. I don't really understand the full ramifications of that title but I assume players are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background or ancestry, or at the very least, there is some link to those cultures that enable an otherwise broadly racist country/administration/sporting code/fanbase to feel it's doing its bit for race relations for another year.
It turns out, however, that Adam Goodes' little celebratory fancy-stepping is an alleged 'war-cry' dance. It was accompanied by some kind of 'hurling a spear' gesture. Although Adam later attributed it to an U16 team he's hung out with, the Flying Boomerangs, fact is, at the time, and in the days subsequent, the more Anglo aspects of Australian footy fanbase, admin, talkback radio and the population in general, appear to be losing it as a result.
There have been a range of often contradictory responses.
At half time:
“We’ve never seen that before and I don’t think we ever want to see it again to be perfectly honest, regardless of what it is.”
After the game:
"It’s quite aggressive, let’s be honest."
"Even if it made us feel a little bit uncomfortable in the first instance ... let’s not get too precious about the whole situation."
"Let’s discuss whether we want to have that type of celebration as an ongoing thing."
"I think we have to be careful on things where players are going to the crowd in any manner.”
"Personally, I don’t like to see demonstrative celebrations after a goal or anything else."
On Monday morning:
"Had we known before the game that Adam or the indigenous players were planning to do some sort of war cry, we could have been able to educate and understand the situation."
"This is a made-up dance, this is not something that has been going on for years."
And these were just some of the ones uttered by Eddie McGuire.
What? Eddie McGuire contradict himself over controversy involving Adam Goodes? Really? That's never happened before. Except with the foolish girl fan called Goodes an ape, not realising the racist overtones of the term, and Eddie stepped in to smooth things over. And then cracked a 'King Kong' joke at Goodes' expense not very long after. Still. Rugger b*ggers, eh? Does anybody really expect them to think? I mean the ones employed to make important decisions and be media personalities and all that.
There have been other responses by other people. But they all seem to revolve around the threat posed by Adam Goodes' pretend spear.
Waleed Aly intelligently pointed out that, on occasion, footballers have given opposing fans 'the finger': "they might get a fine, but they don't get boo'd for it," he said. "The fact that this was some kind of cultural expression that people found confronting is the issue."
His take on the furor?
"Australia is generally a very tolerant society, until its minorities demonstrate that they don't know their place. The minute someone in a minority position acts as though they're not a mere supplicant then we lose our minds and say, 'no, no, you need to get back in your box'. And that's why Adam Goodes ruffles feathers - it's because he says, 'I'm going to express Aboriginality, and I'm going to do it at a time and a place in which the vanilla frontier of Australian society doesn't cope with it very well'."
Now, forgetting for a moment the expression of Aboriginality ruffling the feathers of the vanilla frontier, consider this:
Football is a ritualised recreation of tribal warfare. This team, the warriors of the tribe from this village, fight that team, the warriors of the tribe from the other village - and we can tell them apart by their distinctive battle colours - over the disputed, desired object. If it were a beauteous chick instead of a ball, and one team snuck into the other team's half, secreted in a giant wooden Brownlow Medal that appeared to be a gift from the gods, we'd have the classic Trojan War scenario. Indeed, if the losing team (or the winning team - academics still argue about it) was sacrificed at the end of the game, you'd have Ōllamaliztli - the ritualistic ball-game 'played' by various Mesoamerican cultures, often as a proxy for war itself.
But all of this, though not being irrelevant necessarily, is pointless to dwell upon. Spectators, commentators, the elements of the Australian population who took issue with Goodes' dance and gesture just don't want an outspoken indigenous Australian threatening them. With his pretend spear.
And this is where the nonsense lies.
Consider sporting events involving a New Zealand team. How do they begin? With a ritualised dance. The one known as the Haka.
A Haka is a war dance. No two ways about it. Traditionally, it was performed before battle. I've been told it's all about threatening to tear the enemy's heart out, and eat it.
Did you get that?
TEAR THE ENEMY'S HEART OUT. AND EAT IT.
It's okay, though. It's just pretend. The New Zealand team isn't really going to tear the other team's heart out and eat it. Not literally. It's just pretend.
This is my question:
Why is Adam Goodes' war dance and pretending to chuck a spear more threatening than a whole tribe doing a war dance and pretending to threaten to rip your heart out and eat it?
Well, clearly, it's because, as Waleed Aly says, we're uncomfortable with the Aborigine ruffling our feathers. The ritual of the Haka is now part of the performance, part of the game; we know it's harmless. New Zealand's white population reconciled with and acknowledges the history of its indigenous peoples. There is some kind of actual and more real harmony - it would appear - in the New Zealand culture, compared to Australian culture.
But forget the lesson we should learn from that.
Back to pretend spearing and pretend ripping out and eating the enemy's heart.
Surely the pretend spear is just as harmless as the Haka.
No, actually, the pretend spear is even less of a threat than the Haka.
Think about it.
Which would you rather face? A pretend spear being pretend chucked at you? Or a tribe of warriors pretend threatening to pretend rip out your heart and pretend eat it?
I mean, at least with the pretend spear, there's a chance it will pretend miss.
How long do you think you'd be able to pretend elude a pretend attack of a pretend band of pretend warriors pretend intent on pretend ripping out your heart and pretend eating it? There's a whole pretend bunch of them - at least pretend one of them's likely to pretend catch you and pretend proceed with pretend rippage and eatage...
I prefer my pretend chances with the pretend spear.
If only footy and furore, and whatever the latest human rights violations they're diverting attention from (decimation or total eradication of our health services; sale of prime farmland - the food bowl of Australia - to a Chines concern, for coal mining; human rights violations in detention centres; the Trans-Pacific Partnership…) were also just pretend.