Cruisin’ for a Wedgie…

By skepticlawyer

One of the commenters over at Tim Blair’s called this bloke a ‘ponce’, which in British parlance has a pretty specific meaning: living off the immoral earnings of a woman. Thing is, it’s kinda true, because Robert Nelson is the serial nong who stuck a naked pic of his six year old daughter on the front page of an art mag for transparently commercial reasons. So living off his daughter, definitely. Immoral? Weeeelll, p’raps.

Blair’s busted him for hatin’ on sport. Not just the Olympics, either, but all sport, everywhere, for all time. Sad to say, Nelson is actually impossible to satirize.

First, there’s this:

The social role of sport is to provide an outlet for intelligent people to behave like brainless people. Everyone knows there’s no intrinsic point in shifting a leather ball from one post to another, no matter how energetic or invested the contest. Nothing is achieved outside the game; no one is wiser or can add a benefit to the world beyond the fury of the struggle.

Then, there’s this:

The habit of getting excited and screaming for no good reason creates a momentary dome of ignorance; it’s a hallowed asylum of folly, a carnivalesque institution of mania against the onus of wisdom.

There’s also this:

Important and urgent questions should be discussed, such as global warming; but the clamorous distraction of sport assures even the brainiest people that they too can enjoy the mind of an idiot …

And finally, this:

Art engenders speculation, a portal to new insights and imaginative growth. Like music, science and philosophy, art promotes an intoxicating wonder for where the mind can reach. Sports offers no similar transcendence because it lacks any admirable purpose beyond its own arbitrary exertions.

Sport is the antithesis of art, because art is all about the purpose behind the work.

Blair has more, but you see the point.

I dunno how many times Robert Nelson was hauled behind the bike sheds at school and flogged for being a smartarse, and I don’t much care. The reason I don’t much care is his signal failure to appreciate that his irritating whining is enough to make even reasonable people want to give him a bloody wedgie. He’s playing the ‘God preserve us from the suburbanites who have framed footy jerseys on the wall and no books‘ game. In Catherine Deveny’s defence, she seems to be losing her marbles. Robert Nelson has no such excuse.

I don’t like the way Australia treats its clever people – something I’ve made clear repeatedly over the years – but when intellectuals respond with this kind of pathetic palaver the jocks who go out of their way to make nerds’ lives more difficult suddenly become that much more explicable.

Here’s a tip, Robert Nelson: don’t go around with the word ‘victim’ painted on your forehead in giant red letters. It tends to attract attention.

Now, for a bit of un-Australian behaviour.

Over the years, I’ve done a range of fairly difficult things, both sporting and intellectual. At a fairly high level, too. And I can say with absolute certainty that my shodan in Shotokan Karate was far and away the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Harder by far than writing a bestseller, averaging over 70 in the BCL, or sundry university medals.

And last time I looked, karate was a sport.

UPDATE: Regular commenter Rafe Champion has a nice piece up at the ABC’s ‘Unleashed’ page on the essence of sporting competition. Slightly tangential to this post, but relevant in light of accusations that sporting competition is pointless.

UPDATE II: Tim Watts has an excellent response to this post, making the case (rather neatly) that sport and art achieve similar effects – and that those effects are generally positive.

UPDATE III: Seasoned theatre critic (and photographer Bill Henson’s redoubtable defender during the recent ‘porny pics’ kerfuffle) Alison Croggon also has an excellent piece – this time on what it feels like to be a real art-lover when the likes of Robert Nelson are dropping bombs everywhere.

24 Comments

  1. Rafe
    Posted August 15, 2008 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    The hardest thing I ever did was playing prop forwrd for the Australian Council for the Arts.

  2. Guido
    Posted August 15, 2008 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    I agree 100% Skeptic.

    “Nothing is achieved outside the game; no one is wiser or can add a benefit to the world beyond the fury of the struggle.”

    That is so wrong. Sport transcends you everyday life, a bit like art? Lots is achieved outside the game. Connections within families, friendships, social networks, I can go on.

    “Important and urgent questions should be discussed, such as global warming; but the clamorous distraction of sport assures even the brainiest people that they too can enjoy the mind of an idiot.”

    I can assure Mr. Nelson that I do think about ‘important and serious questions’ but I don’t think about them all the time. The same way that sometimes I enjoy watching ‘Spicks and Specks’ as well as ‘Compass’ or ‘Art Sunday’ or ‘Four Corners’ you know, you need to have some light relief.

  3. Nanu
    Posted August 15, 2008 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    “in British parlance has a pretty specific meaning: living off the immoral earnings of a woman”

    Hmmm…I think an effeminate or unmanly man is more accurate. Is used much like the way Aussies often say poofter in the non sexual sense

    ________________________________________

    When did art critics become sports critics anyway? Cut back in the Age are there?

    I wasn’t much of a sportsperson at my rugby playing boarding school mainly because I didn’t have much athletic talent (or maybe too much laziness), but I was fortunate to have grown up with four brothers so I knew never to behave like a ponce when I first went to the school. When it came to sport, I used to warn the “Robert Nelson” types that they’re allowed to be shithouse at sport but not precious. Needless to say those who didn’t heed the warning were left dangling from coat hooks by their Y-fronts. There was something honest about that typical reaction, the fact it was primitive/tribal notwithstanding.

  4. Posted August 15, 2008 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    You don’t need to be a star, simple competence will often do, and if you are just mucking around in the backyard or the park or playing in lower grades you can have a lot of fun and healthy exercise unless you have bad luck with inuries or thuggish opponents.

  5. Nanu
    Posted August 15, 2008 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    “You don’t need to be a star, simple competence will often do”

    Even better than that Rafe, just having a go is enough to have fun and exercise. My ten year old daughter doesn’t like to lose (or at best doesn’t like to be average or lower) so getting her to be more active is proving difficult and her fitness level is dreadful for her age. She’s a strong swimmer and loves the water so we’re hoping to start her in a swimming club soon. Right now probably isn’t ideal as everyman an his dog thinks their child a future Olympic swimming champion but we might get lucky.

  6. John Greenfield
    Posted August 15, 2008 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    As I have been saying for some time now, The Luvvies truly are the vilest people in Australia. And THICK!

  7. Tick Tock
    Posted August 15, 2008 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Question: was averaging 70 in the BCL that hard?

  8. Posted August 15, 2008 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Yah, TT, it was – the system is designed so it’s impossible to ‘nail’ your results. 70 or better is a ‘first’. It flummoxes Americans who study here – they come from systems where achieving 100% is possible.

  9. godfrey
    Posted August 16, 2008 at 2:11 am | Permalink

    “The social role of sport is to provide an outlet for intelligent people to behave like brainless people.”

    Lighten up, Francis.

  10. Posted August 16, 2008 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Kids with poor skills need to be taken aside so they can master some basic skills, like catching a ball, without any pressure. Parents should to that but maybe they are too busy these days. Sometimes that makes all the difference, kids who think they are uncoordinated losers turn out to be ok.
    .
    In NSW primary schools there is T-ball, like rounders except there is no pitcher, you hit the ball off a knee-high tee. Kids who can’t connect with the moving ball can have all the fun and excitement of the game that they would have otherwise missed, That was supposed to be one of a suite if games designed by Roy Masters to get more ordinary kids more involved. There was a kind of rugby with limited tackling and the backs and forwards rotated so everyone got a go at all the aspects of the game. Dont know what became of that program, apart from the T-ball which was a great success.

  11. John Hasenkam
    Posted August 16, 2008 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    It flummoxes Americans who study here – they come from systems where achieving 100% is possible.

    Interesting SL because one of the claims in The Bell Curve is that in the interests of Affirmative Action standards have been considerably lowered. Another factor here is that if a school sets the standards too high it won’t get enough students to pay the bills. That reminds me of what an an old schoolfriend, now an academic in Australia, once said: Australian academic standards have been falling since 1985. I don’t know if that is true but I am consistently surprised at the number of graduates I encounter who seem to possess very mediocre cognitive skills. I often run rings around them and I have no degree.

    The problem with so much sport is precisely that we turn it into a big competition. I played various competitive sports at school but I enjoyed cricket and touch football in the backyard just as much. Even better, was the rough and tumble basketball games I used to supervise for a youth group. That was fun until the parents started complaining … .

  12. Posted August 16, 2008 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    In the spirit that John likes to play the game, the idea of the Masters program was to take the emphasis off full-on competition and onto fitness, skills and fun (in no particular order). It was supposed to supplement the existing competitive sports programs, not to replace them.

  13. John Hasenkam
    Posted August 17, 2008 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    Art has a huge economic plus over sport. Artists can create works that can be sold. For myself though, the great feature of Art is as mentioned above: its capacity to make a great many people think about the world they live in and how they live in that world. Academics and intellectuals reach a very narrow audience, art, if the artistic community climbs out of its ivory tower and realises the importance of Art as a means of communication and insight, can reach a much wider audience.

  14. jc
    Posted August 17, 2008 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    SL:

    I don’t like the way Australia treats its clever people – something I’ve made clear repeatedly over the years

    SL, you’re not associating this moron as some sort of clever person, are you? The guy is a screaming moron.

    There are clever art critics by the way. And Australian too… and even lefty. This bow tied idiot seems to want to look the part, but he’s hardly clever or if he is it’s certainly not visible on this stage.

    Look, I’m pretty liberal with most things, but hawking pics of his naked daughter makes him look more like a pimp than anything else.

  15. jc
    Posted August 17, 2008 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    …important and urgent questions should be discussed, such as global warming; but the clamorous distraction of sport assures even the brainiest people that they too can enjoy the mind of an idiot …

    Oh, yea, let’s give up footy so global warming issues can be discussed at the MCG on Saturday afternoons. Or let’s give up sport so we have enough time to take pics of naked 10 year old girls and call it art while pocketing the money.

    I hate organized sport myself, but this twerp makes me wanna go watch footy so I am not associated with him.

  16. Posted August 18, 2008 at 3:36 am | Permalink

    Thing is, I suspect he is pretty bright, even if this piece is moronic. Being a clever nerd at an Australian high school bends people into very weird shapes – something I know from personal experience – and I was pretty decent sport-wise. If you’re not remotely athletic, it must be even worse.

  17. Posted August 18, 2008 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    As a dilletante (but keen) sports watcher, and a less dilletante but equally keen arts watcher, I get pretty tired of this sport/art dichotomy. The same way I get tired of the “elitist” vs popular art dichotomy. Life is just more interesting than these divisions suggest. I like watching Roger Federer for reasons that sometimes get pretty close to why I like watching a great actor. I enjoy soccer for its grace and beauty, I am glued to Le Tour every year because of its epic narrative drama and because I like watching people go past what a normal human can do. Like reading Dostoevsky or Joyce, frinstance.

    But enough of that. I defended Bill Henson to the hilt. And I read Robert Nelson’s comments, and I thought they were spectacularly stupid (his original reviews on Henson’s work, oddly enough, are kind of similar to the PM’s – go figure). I revised my initial thoughts about the opportunism of that photograph on the front of Art Monthly after reading some of the essays inside, which were thoughtful; but Nelson’s just defending the role of art as social decoration for the upwardly inclined. Bleah.

  18. Posted August 18, 2008 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your insight, Alison – interesting to hear from one of the genuine art critics (as jc says). It hadn’t occurred to me, but I think you’re spot on about Nelson using art as ‘social decoration for the upwardly inclined’ (great line btw). That must get really old after a while.

  19. Posted August 18, 2008 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    I agree. The characterization of sports lovers as brainless is part of the game by which artists and writers et al are written off as weirdos or poofs or whatever. The United States, amongst other places of course, has a tradition of intellectual sports writing for example. Are Hunter S Thompson or Paul Auster, to cite two off the top of my head, indulging themselves in temporary brainlessness?

    I don’t like the whole shouting crowd aspect of sport (or politics). A lot of people find it cathartic*. Live, let live, Diff’rent strokes etc.

    *Cept when watching the World Cup. 🙂

  20. Posted August 18, 2008 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    Adrien, I’ve updated my post but you may not have seen it – Alison’s written a great piece expanding on that point in response to this post over at her place.

  21. Nanu
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    This thread has been at the back of my mind for a few days now, in an annoying way and I just couldn’t put my finger on it. While not necessarily on topic, I think that at least in my life I always like to give even the biggest ‘ponce’ a fair go. I put myself in the middle of the road where brain & brawn are concerned and I’m ‘Jack’ of both in some ways…I have more than enough to get me by.

    The point….hmmm?

    The brainy want to be thought of at least, somewhat brawny & vice versa. I’ve known [like most] a good number of both. The self-esteem of either is subject to significant impact in the opposing field of achievement to reach a life balance. In my experience failure to do so brings about a degree of depression/socialisation that is often misunderstood as sad/eccentric. The outstanding rugger player needs to be thought of as more that just that, much like the intellect needs to be thought of as capable of a kick. Joe average never needs to address such an imbalance. Here lies the critic’s problem, be he an athlete or academic, his own failure in achieving balance drives his critique.

  22. Nanu
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

    I should add ..why so skeptic?!? 🙂

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