Gideon Haigh and the Fake Geek Girls
Russell Degnan

Cultural activities, be they sport, music, movies or geek-heavy activities always have their high priests and their gate-keepers. Over the last several months, the gate-keepers of the geek community world have been called out for the rampant sexism inherent in the notion of a "fake geek girl"; the notion that girls aren't geeks, and the ones who claim to be are merely pretending for the benefits of male attention. Even though this specific phenomenon is not the subject of this post, it is worth pausing here for albinwonderland to explain how massively offensive the claims are:

There are several factors a play here:
1) The problematic relationship geek culture has with women, their representation in that culture and continually questioned place as participants of that culture. Again, this is somewhat peripheral to this post, but cricket should take note. As this excellent podcast on female fandom notes quizzing and enforcement of acceptable ways to be "a fan" is equally intimidating for female fans of sport. And the representation of women cricketers is pretty bad.

2) The notional control fans have over the culture. A sub-culture that defines itself in opposition to the mainstream, ends up resenting new entrants as it becomes more popular. This is not an issue without foundations either; popularity entails an increase in the cost of access whether that is gentrification of suburbs or EPL football. Money can likewise homogenise the culture and shift towards the preferences of new entrants. Or in cricket's case, price national cricket boards out of the market for their own players.

3) The rejection or promotion of certain methods of fandom, based on the preferences of the gate-keeper(s), by acts of microaggression "that communicate 'hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults' toward people who aren't members of the ingroup". In geekdom this entails the labeling of "real" and "fake" fans according to their mode of engagement. In cricket, it does too, which is where we get to the guts of this post.

Gideon Haigh hates the BBL. He denies this, but it is somewhat undermined by stating "I hate the BBL" about 12 hours earlier. He is of course allowed to hate the BBL. I find one-day cricket nearly unwatchable, although I did go to a very good WNCL game last week. But he has hated T20 cricket for years, never missing an opportunity to scoff at it in any forum he has had a chance too. Jonathan Howcroft made a perfectly valid point that Haigh (and other writers) are out of step with a lot of the cricket being played this summer. Disliking the BBL means disliking a very significant chunk of the season. Aggregate Melbourne domestic T20 crowds will, for the first time, surpass that of the Boxing Day test match; despite being stuck on Foxtel, the total tv audience is larger as well. And cricket writers are not covering it in any detail: as I write the final game of the regular season, one which will decide the finals is tonight, and the relevant article is the twelth story on The Age. Similarly, Haigh's response comes across as objection for the sake of objection, in that he acknowledges that mainstream writers[1] are both focused elsewhere and critical of the BBL, while seeking to downplay the impact of his negativity by stating (correctly) that a diverse range of shills, reporters and online sources are available for fans.

There is however a significant difference between a journalist criticising the BBL based on facts and research[2], and demeaning the competition, and by extension its fans at every juncture with acts of microaggession and outright hostility.

Haigh's ridiculous claim that a pair of serial aggressors with records of drug-cheating and gambling associations have either the wherewithal or self-control to stage an altercation on CA's behalf is based not on reason but the conceit that anyone - player or fan - might care for a franchise or its matches. Hence the Renegades-Stars match "representing two made-up teams" was "crap" even though few in the crowd left early, a respectable score was posted, and only late in the chase was it apparent that the Stars bowling had failed to take the wickets it required; or that the winner-take-all Strikers-Scorchers match "ever had much" interest[4] when clearly anyone interested in the make-up of the finals would take heed; likewise, Haigh will condescend to say that watching Ponting is "cool", Malinga and Muralitharan "thrilling" and Warne "fun" but not acknowledge the existence of team support.

Because the franchises are invented, the players cannot possibly care; even if players in any other sport regularly move teams one day and kiss the badge the next when the fans cheer. Nor can fans, even though those of OKC Thunder are feted as he best in the league only three years after creation, Melbourne Heart fans show plenty of passion for their club and against their cross-town rivals in their second year; and finally, many people at the ground were exhibiting fan-like behaviour whether buying the shirt, painting their face, or cheering their team. Haigh's hatred blinds him to the many reasons Renegades fans might have for not supporting the Stars (Warne, Eddie and the extra marketing shill for a start) or for supporting their own (at least this season, but I liked Afridi). The fact that derby crowds are higher is prima facie evidence that people are following specific teams, not just attending an exhibition where the participants don't matter.

The implied subtext is that there are right ways to consume cricket, and wrong ones. That test cricket is "real" cricket[5] while the marketing that drives the BBL makes it "fake" cricket; and by extension, any fans of it either fake or deluded. Merely pretending to like cricket for the social cachet that comes from hanging around an ageing, mostly white male crowd mixed of elitist nerds and true bogans.

Cricket is a much broader church than that. Few, very few, people get to play test cricket, millions play at clubs, indoors, on driveways, in parks and on beaches. All of these are cricket, because they all combine the fundamental contest between bat and ball that makes cricket the game it is. And thus to paraphrase albinwonderland:

"There is no such thing as fake cricket fans. There are only fans who are at different varying levels of falling in love with cricket. We all started somewhere."

[1] Curiously Haigh doesn't seem to think he is mainstream, as his regular column is pay-walled - even though a 5-year-old can break it in about 10 seconds - and his other media spots include a featured blog, a semi-regular tv spot and a guest podcast on the world's largest cricket site.
[2] There is a perfectly sound business case for the BBL, but despite being from that background Haigh appears completely ignorant of it in his complaints about quality. Stars drive league attendances, as does some level of competitive balance (though less than imagined). Journalists who travel to every game can rightly complain about too much cricket, but fans who see a team full of stars a couple of times per year are not served well by international cricket.[3] A steady flow of individual stars surrounded by lesser team-mates throughout the season generates much more revenue, and many more opportunities to watch and be engaged with a team. The economic literature on this is quite clear. There is a reason cricket has the smallest aggregate attendance and smallest professional base of any major Australian sport despite being both national and immensely popular. The international economic model suits tv stations and monopsony employers working within an international cartel. Similarly, CA would be mad to depend on overseas tv rights and the whims of the BCCI beyond the next decade. Shifting revenue to an under-developed local market is common sense.
[3] A number of authors make the claim that T20 is cannibalising international cricket, built as it was on the test match. This is a perverse reading of history given that the 1880s were full of complaints that the tours were cannibalising first club, and then first class cricket. Far from building cricket, test cricket is a parasite in economic terms, one that eventually made its host dependent on it to survive.
[4] The other curiosity in that post is the utter failure of mathematics and logic, claiming that 50% of participating teams making the play-offs is too many, even though that is (or was) the norm in AFL, NRL, NHL and the NBA, to name a few relative successes; and that teams should win more than 62.5% of games to make said play-offs, even though Tasmania won only 5 (drew 2) of 10 Shield games last season. Binomial distributions are awesome, and informative in the middle and on the margin, as is the basic addition required to realise there is at best 1 new player per team, once overseas and pensionable but very servicable players are taken into account.
[5] As argued before, this attitude will eventually lead to "real" cricket resembling "real" tennis. Elitism is bad people.

Idle Summers 12th January, 2013 04:24:40   [#]