Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Andy Roddick and The ‘R’ Word: “A Cultural Thing”?

Ever since this story broke there’s been a gaggle of commenters siding with Roddick over the dumb journo that dared speaketh The ‘R’  Word.

(video via TheDailyForehand)

It’s not difficult to see why – I mostly agree with them. Still, things are rarely that clear cut. They’re even less clear when different cultures are involved.

Despite that, as uneasy as I was with both the questioning *and* Roddick’s reaction to it, what really irked was the lazy idea quickly doing the rounds that this was “a cultural thing”.

Even if you believe that (I don’t), there’s a basic contradiction inherent in only cursorily invoking something as complex and contentious as “culture”. The rule, normally, is to steer well clear of it; or else, be prepared to go the whole hog: anything less is likely to lead to misunderstandings.

Lazy invocations of “culture”, in the present case, could  be taken to imply:


-- the hosts don’t know enough about the sport to appreciate the inappropriate nature of the question. Pretty sure that’s not true.

-- that “dumb journo” questions don’t exist anywhere else. I KNOW that’s not true: even if the “dumb journo” thing were “cultural” it wouldn’t be exclusive to any one culture – idiocy was globalised well before globalisation.

There is a third possibility. But it demands a far more rigorous and nuanced treatment of the word “culture”. The kind of treatment a 140 character limit doesn’t lend itself to.

Culture mostly operates as a self contained ecosystem. It’s not always insular, but even in this globalised age stuff from the outside not deemed relevant is allowed to fly past. Other stuff (maybe not deemed relevant elsewhere) may hold a peculiar local interest and would, as such, be allowed to permeate that ecosystem; in particular, this may provoke a reaction from its inhabitants deemed peculiar by the outside world. Its a curious and complex interplay that isn’t very predictable and doesn’t always end well.

I’m not much convinced this is one of those instances: some countries (as many were at pains to point out yesterday) might be more up front in the way they tackle certain issues, but I’m not sure speculating about someone’s demise is particularly welcome anywhere.

And even if that were the case, should a journo not be expected to know that might be particularly unwelcome to Roddick (he seemed to have done his homework in respect of other Roddick quotage).

”Culture” may have taken a little edge off it (or not), but this was, otherwise, a straight up case of the (spectacularly) “dumb journo”. We’ve met him/her before. Don’t lets complicate matters by invoking culture – especially if you’re not prepared to get dirty defining what that actually is.

Flipside: should Roddick have been so insulting in a country he’ll likely only visit once a year (if that)? A country which (despite Li’s monumental efforts) still only has a developing tennis tradition – one where you might argue someone of his standing should be doing rather more promoting and rather less alienating. And yes, one where cultural differences might still yield the occasional awkward moment (if that’s really what this was) – moments that surely warrant a little more tolerance.

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