THE THICK WHITE LINE – The Problem With Miss Perry

cricketrope (1280x567)

What do an embarrassing Channel Nine interview and some grubby internet comments say about the chances of women playing cricket on our TVs?

“Those who witnessed the mildly controversial Cricket Show interview with Perry and her teammate Meg Lanning in December past will have been reminded of just how rigidly TV tells its story, and may have been forced to acknowledge that TV cricket, as a narrative, is squarely a boy’s perspective.”

By Nicholas Turner

There’s a couple of great photos in circulation of Australian Women’s cricket player Ellyse Perry wearing the baggy green. The photos are really close-up, and in both shots Perry is pinching the brim of her cap, and she’s smiling, and her nose is smothered with zinc and her lips are sprinkled with the cracked shards of white where more zinc used to be. In one of the photos, Perry is still a teenager, a fraction puffier, and wearing a retainer whose thin metal wire dissects her already-pretty-straight-looking teeth horizontally. In the other, taken just a month ago, she’s that little bit less a kid.

There is something about these images that’s oddly moving. One part of it, naturally, is that Perry has the kind of face that is so uncontroversial, wholesome and downright healthy that it’s hard to imagine someone not warming to it right away. It’s the kind of face you’d put on the Surf Life-Saving tin on a fundraising day. The other part is the fact that she’s wearing one of this country’s most recognisable and rare uniform items with a stirring look of both joy and content.

That she is a girl, in these images, wearing that uniform, is neither novel nor oxymoronic. Indeed, her apparent, unashamed ‘pleasure’ in the baggy green (read: an unguarded sense of the fortune of being good and lucky enough to wear it) is something many might consider an example, especially on occasion when members of our national male team succumb to what seems like all-too-frequent entitlement and prima donnaism that may or may not be a bi-product of being incredibly famous and playing for lots of money from a young age.

Indeed, in these photographs Ellyse Perry’s rise to cricketing stardom seems not only easy to fathom but also both compelling and potentially revelatory. But as we all know, photography is not the principal media of cricket. Television tells us how cricket is.

Those who witnessed the mildly controversial Cricket Show interview with Perry and her teammate Meg Lanning in December past will have been reminded of just how rigidly TV tells its story, and may have been forced to acknowledge that TV cricket, as a narrative, is squarely a boy’s perspective. Much of the tut-tutting from the print media opinion-makers and the cheap seats at home decried sexism on the part of the interviewers. Which, inside or out of cricket, was pretty damn obvious. Indeed, subjecting two professional female athletes to the kind of condescending interview usually reserved for the ones they do at half-time of AFL games with the 5-years-old kids from the Auskick program, is pure crock. And, if you permit that this contributes to the broader cultural struggle, indeed this was a tiny but telling polyp on the sinuous tract to/of equality.

More significantly and more definitively, however, the interview testified to just how difficult equal treatment of women will be for this particular televised product. For cricket on the TV. In other words, the ceiling that really matters here is not so much glass as it is these days LCD and highly pixelated.

TV cricket is quite literally a boy’s story. And an elite, closed fraternity of boys at that. We watch a crop of young men through the commentary of men who used to be them. The cameras themselves – the actual eyes of the game – remind us endlessly of our point of view. Females have traditionally received only two types of substantial attention by cricket’s TV lens; one, in the form of the wives and girlfriends (WAGS) of the national team, predominantly good-lookers, all heavy make-up and wrap-around sunglasses gabbling outside the corporate boxes of the MCG, sometimes holding babies, occasionally interviewed on how hard or else wonderful it is to live with a professional cricketer, and; two, the healthily endowed young blondes of the cricketing crowd, the pursuit of gratuitous close-ups of which Channel 9’s telescopically endowed cameramen consider to be the side-show to any slow day of test cricket. Tasty, time-filling treats for the real cricket fan’s wandering eye. Apparently.

Whether chicken or egg, it’s an attitude that is reflected in the cricket audience. Cricket fans bemoan anything that threatens the blokeishness (which, tellingly, is near-synonymously referred to as the relateability) of modern players. We’re sceptical of even the slightest perceived androgyny – sometimes going by the name ‘metrosexuality’ – in players the like of Michael Clarke. Sentimentally preferred are the unselfconsciously portly Boon, the salt-of-the-earth Hussey, the hairy-forearmed Ponting. It’s probably worth remembering at this point that Mitchell Johnson began his career on the fringes of national team selection with a tongue and labret piercing. And today, as a staple and the veritable poster-child of Australian cricket’s resurgent ‘spirit’ of merciless, confrontational, manly competitiveness, he has replaced both silver appendages with a rugged handlebar moustache.

That’s part of what this ‘gentleman’s game’ thing is all about.

TV’s version of cricket is indeed a narrative, and almost all narratives offer definitions of virtue. Dignity, bravery, ruthlessness, stoicism, intelligence, selflessness, honesty; these are the things to which the cameras and commentary point as both the hallmarks of a good cricketer and a good man. We are shown, too, what women are in this particular world; eye-catchers, mothers, loyal support crews. The sport itself, at least the televised, professional side of it, has been so codified and regulated, so programmed in terms of what is meaningful and valuable, that watching it on TV (for a man at least) is the ultimate lazy indulgence, a truly idle exercise; it requires next to nothing in the way of critical thinking. And so, logically, it seems that nothing truly new or upsetting could possibly happen here. It is in this context that the notion of a girl in Australian sport’s coronial cap is less offensive than it is a kind of parody, which is surely the less permeable attitude.

Indeed, Miss Perry in the baggy green, all zero make-up and hinted freckles and sagging blonde locks and utterly non-suggestive expression, is a square peg in the round hole of TV’s telling of cricket. One can hardly be surprised that as her value as a cricketer has been forced onto the public through non-TV means (namely, with the ‘Everybody is so busy watching men’s cricket…’ meme, and its infamous stream of comments), those unable to shake the value-system of TV cricket have deflected Perry’s aspirations as a matter of sheer principle, reducing her (in that particular case) to the base order of internet fodder. And the basest thing that any screen-separated viewer can say about Ellyse Perry is that she’s a healthy young woman that by all reasonable assessment has the biological setup to bear children, etc.

So indeed, for anyone who’d taken so much as a few moments to think about the whole psychological planet of TV cricket coverage, six minutes of prime, unscripted air-time with The Michaels – the excitably ditzy Slater, the dicky pseudo-controversialist Vaughn – and two attractive, young female ‘parodists’ of the sport and mindset that has defined the lives and fed the children of those two TV approved and sanctioned narrators, would have seemed like a slow, gruesome train-wreck from way off. That we only had to watch Slater continually refer to Perry and Lanning as ‘lady cricketers’ (like a croquet-dabbling sewing circle from the 1920s), condescendingly encourage these consummate professionals on their ‘improving skills,’ refer endlessly back to the recent success of the men’s team and inquire as to how the ‘ladies’ might attempt to emulate it, laugh-off the mere possibility of female competitive spirit by making the universal ‘catfight’ gesture at its suggestion, and without so much as a palatable segue throw to footage of both girls in bathing suits, was probably a merciful result from an sexual politics point of view, all reasonable possibilities duly considered.

THE THICK WHITE LINE is Match Day Burger’s occasional amblings on the ‘big, bad leagues’ – which is to say, professional sport. If you enjoy what we do here at MDB, please become a ‘follower’.