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:
Dr Sharman Stone new patron of Monash University’s Gender, Peace and Security Centre
The international profile of Monash University’s Gender, Peace and Security (GPS) Centre is set for … Continue reading Dr Sharman Stone new patron of Monash University’s Gender, Peace and Security Centre
“Legacies of resistance we need to act upon”: PhD candidate Matteo Dutto
Sometimes dubbed the ‘black Ned Kelly’, Jandamarra of the Bunuba nation is an iconic figure in the history of Australian … Continue reading “Legacies of resistance we need to act upon”: PhD candidate Matteo Dutto
Monash University appoints new Dean, Faculty of Arts
An internationally recognised expert in criminology and winner of numerous awards including in human rights has been appointed as Monash University’s Dean, Faculty of Arts, following an extensive global search.
How does a play further human health? Interview with Head of Theatre & Performance Jane Montgomery-Griffiths
Associate Professor Jane Montgomery Griffiths is driving a new research project, funded by the Monash/Warwick Alliance, to investigate … Continue reading How does a play further human health? Interview with Head of Theatre & Performance Jane Montgomery-Griffiths
Making a mark in AFL and life: BA alum Emma Race
Arts alum Emma Race, producer and host of the groundbreaking Outer Sanctum Podcast shares what the freedom of an Arts … Continue reading Making a mark in AFL and life: BA alum Emma Race
The global opportunities with Arts at Monash
Arts/Law (2012) graduate Sarah Holloway co-founded Matcha Maiden, a global e-commerce organic matcha powder supplier, … Continue reading The global opportunities with Arts at Monash
Calvin Fung’s winning short story and research
Calvin won the Monash University entry for his short story, ‘The Beggar and the Glimpse’, … Continue reading Calvin Fung’s winning short story and research
Part II: Raising the political stakes with Jeanne d’Arc and Dr Ali Alizadeh
I think truth is something we, artists and scientists alike, are all interested in in … Continue reading Part II: Raising the political stakes with Jeanne d’Arc and Dr Ali Alizadeh
Part I: Raising the political stakes with Jeanne d’Arc and Dr Ali Alizadeh
Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc)’s controversial life and death are being depicted in a comprehensive … Continue reading Part I: Raising the political stakes with Jeanne d’Arc and Dr Ali Alizadeh
2017 Green Room Best Actor winner awarded to Monash Professor
Theatre-maker and Director of Monash’s Centre for Theatre and Performance, Associate Professor Jane Montgomery-Griffiths, has … Continue reading 2017 Green Room Best Actor winner awarded to Monash Professor
Speaking the language of us
In 18 months, about 60 people from 30 different nationalities who speak 40 languages in … Continue reading Speaking the language of us
Monash journalism staff & graduates win three Quills