by Andy Ruddock
It’s been a terrible World Cup. Germany and Argentina in the final. Again. Mario Balotelli on an early plane back to Italy. James Rodriguez sent home in tears. Neymar almost paralysed. Meanwhile, everyone’s favourite panto villain, Luis Suarez,secures his dream move to Barcelona. This year, nice guys finished last.
All of this raises familiar questions about footballers as role models. Suarez’s infamous transgression provoked predictable concerns about the effects of media on children.Kinder teachers discussed the difficulties of enforcing ‘no biting’ policies when kids can see miscreants getting away with it on screen.
They do have grounds to worry. Albert Bandura, architect of the controversial “Bobo Doll” studies, argued that unpunished screen violence can be a powerful source of social learning.
But there’s much more at stake here than behaviours. Social scientists pretty much agree that there’s a long journey between screen and real anti-social behaviour. Even Bandura concluded that replication required complex patterns of interpretation, motivation and opportunity, which hadnothing to do with media and everything to do with society.
Others have argued that violent television characters – and that is partly what Luis Suarez has become – affect how we think about the world. Succinctly, men who get away with violence time and again in popular culture encourage the view that we live in a ‘mean world’. The main ‘effect’ of these stories is that they erode trust.
We think that, other than our friends and family, the world is a mercenary place full of people who will do anything to get over. And right now, before the final, that seems to be Brazil’s main lesson.
But hang on. It’s been a great tournament, hasn’t it? Tim Cahill gave a masterclass on superstar dignity. Belgium flipped a much-needed bird to European fascism. The group stages were full of the sense that anything could happen in a truly global game. The only real disappointment has been that no referee tried to belittle a haughty defender by spraying him in the face with squirty cream.
All of which reminds us that the role model question is really about how we use football players as resources to imagine what we would like the world to be like.
The most erudite explanation of this process comes from literary scholar Grant Farred. In his bookLong Distance Love, Farred explains how his journey toward Ivy League success started with his passions for Liverpool Football Club and John Barnes.
As a boy in apartheid-era South Africa, football was an international media language that helped him articulate his experiences with global political struggles. And Barnes was a vital ingredient in this intellectual project.
By the 1980s, Farred’s love of Liverpool FC was chafing against his political identity. A generation of black players flourished in English football, but none had established themselves at the famous Merseyside club. Was this an expression of institutional racism? Did this leave Farred walking alone?
Barnes success at Liverpool in the late 1980s reconciled this personal/political conflict. So much so that the literature professor wrote a book about it.
He even travelled to Liverpool to talk about the project. There, one gloomy Wednesday afternoon, I sat with a dozen or so other people listening to Farred speak. It was just like any other seminar until the door opened and in walked … John Barnes.
There could scarcely have been a more authentic endorsement of the argument that popular culture matters. Barnes fully accepted that his career was implicated in racial politics. He didn’t think he was just a player. He did think that he counted for more than his ability to dribble past the entire Brazilian team and score in the Maracana stadium that will host tonight’s final.
But Barnes also warned that the ‘role model’ tag could never sit easily on any player’s head. Poignantly, he explained how, week-in week-out, the only way he could serve it was simply to play.
What Barnes was really saying is that fans need to work too. The encounter with Farred was, in the end, a recognition that football stars are raw materials for social conversations. If they end up saying important things, it’s up to audiences to help articulate the message. “Long Distance Love” is an extraordinary example of an ordinary process that we all engage in; projecting ideas and hopes onto players.
So it doesn’t really matter what happens tonight. What does count is how we interpret and learn from what we have seen. And that doesn’t depend on Suarez, Neymar or Messi. It depends on you. So what sort of role model will you be?
Dr Andy Ruddock is a senior lecturer for the School of Media, Film and Journalism in the Faculty of Arts at Monash University.
This article has appeared on The Conversation.
Find out more:
Updates from COP21: Marketing the climate summit by ‘greening’ the Eiffel Tower
Dr David Holmes, senior lecturer in Communications and Media Studies at Monash, is in France for the Paris Climate Summit and will be reporting regularly on the events.
Monash supports marriage equality
Monash has joined over 690 organisations and numerous Australian individuals showing their support through Australian Marriage Equality.
Consuming Anzac: some thoughts on the Anzac centenary
If prizes were given out for the enthusiasm with which nations commemorate the centenary of the Great War, Australia would be first by a long shot. Dr Carolyn Holbrook looks at ‘Brandzac’.
From hostility to lasting friendship: cultural reflections from Turkish and Anzac soldiers
For the first time in Australia, stories of Turkish soldiers will be told alongside those of Anzac soldiers in a bilingual exhibition at Monash Univeristy about the Gallipoli experience. The exhibition has been curated by Dr Azer Banu Kemaloğlu, of Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University.
On remembering and forgetting war
Join us this Remembrance Day for the launch of – World War One: A History in 100 Stories – a path-breaking social history written by Monash historians Professor Bruce Scates, Rebecca Wheatley and Laura James.
Monash project on Women, Peace & Security makes its way to United Nations Security Council
Australian ambassador, H. E. Gillian Bird, made in her statement to the United Nations Security Council yesterday during the annual debate on Women Peace and Security.
From pages to the silver screen: Death or Liberty documentary launched in October
A feature length documentary film adaptation of Dr Tony Moore’s book Death or Liberty, detailing the lives of rebels and radicals transported to Australia as political prisoners, will have its world premier in Victoria this month, ahead of screenings around Australia and Britain.
Godzilla, Wine and Video Games: Getting to know Monash researcher Jason Christopher Jones
Want to know how the Japanese language, wine, Godzilla and video games all tie in to being a researcher at Monash? Lecturer in Japanese studies, Jason Jones, tells us about his passion for ‘all things Japanese’, and about his research around the themes of cultural exchange and adaptation.
Telling the larger story about terrorism: a conversation with PhD candidate Noor Huda Ismail
PhD candidate Noor Huda Ismail is an author, filmmaker, activist, and self-described “repentant journalist”, and has a desire to tell a larger story about terrorism, foreign fighters and why people join violent organisations.
Mentoring matters: Global mentors for Monash University students
The value of a mentor both personally and professionally – to provide guidance, support and advice – is almost universal.
In the aid and development sector…
Welcome to Nowhere: Monash at the Fringe Festival
The Melbourne Fringe festival is providing plenty of opportunities for Monash to showcase its theatre outputs this year.
Indian dignitaries visit the Faculty of Arts
On 26 August, the Faculty of Arts had the honour of welcoming a His Excellency, Navdeep Suri, the High Commissioner of India in Australia…