Strai(gh)tened Times: Pornography
During the recent disappearance from the internet of SpeedwayPlus due to what turned out to be maintenance, for a short while I had worried we'd lost for good one of the genuine little jewels of our virtual world. Even worse was the terrible thought that SpeedwayPlus had actually relocated to some grim corner of cyberspace and was living under a new assumed name - SpeedwayMinus, perhaps - where the vibrancy and positive potential of the digital era had been undermined and rolled-back by a much darker force - the Negative Slide Agency (NSA), let's say - leaving the development of speedway's big picture once again left to be derived from a template of inverted colour and where everyone appears to be turning right at the end of each strai(gh)t. Phew! Welcome back SpeedwayPlus, you would have been sorely missed while residing in such a dark darkroom.
So, in celebration of the continued presence on our flat-screens of SpeedwayPlus, I took some of what liberty remains to type-up a trifle something that I hope may give pause, blow up rather than pop a few balloons and, just for as long as the party lasts, even give readers a naughty little laugh - or perhaps not, as the case may be. That will no doubt depend on the toxicity of the bile contained within the...out with it, out...the Pornography Appendix!
Yes, as with any appendix suspected of being infused with an unhealthy level of poison, out this simply has to come!
So hold that party, the jelly and ice cream will just have to wait. First, I'm afraid it's to the operating theatre. That there won't be complications can't be guaranteed...
Strai(gh)tened Times: Pornography
Having followed this season's speedway coverage on British Eurosport, I note that while the start-girls' costumes are being supplied with less material their brollies have now been dispensed with altogether. Well, that's all right then - vive les prix grands!
But I just can't help thinking that this is still the...well (to continue the French), Grand Prix - the Speedway Championship of the World, no less. Brollies or no, how on earth is the start-girls' presence so close to the tapes before each race conducive to allowing the riders the chance to fully assess track conditions from start-line to first bend?
Forgive my ignorance, but somehow over the years I've been given to understand that the race to the first bend is really quite important in the grand scheme of all things speedway. And the lead-up to a start is probably the most tense period of all for the riders: a real test of concentration and character. But the frivolous, no, insidious show that is now a fixed feature right under the riders' noses before tapes-up almost seems designed to test their professionalism and concentration to the point of utter mockery and disrespect (and I don't blame the girls, by the way).
So here's an idea...
Why not introduce semi-naked penalty-girls who wiggle around either side of the goal posts during sudden-death World Cup football shoot-outs? That would provide for a comparable test of concentration and character, would it not? A big difference in that scenario, of course, is there'd be little risk of the 'one on the spot' getting physically maimed should concentration slip just that little too far.
In the political realm, why not introduce 'exotic' mace dancing at Westminster right in the middle of prime minister's questions? Instead of simply dreaming about fiddling, such a show would at least call to attention the more somnolent members of the House while compelling them to scrutinise more closely the compromising acts being carried-out down on that low-down floor. Quite what effect this would have on debates concerning the Equality Act, well, given the past form of those "Buller, Buller, Buller" boys, that would be no one's need to guess!
Or how about televised all male go-go dancing up on the conference table during election strategy meetings at Ukip? Now that's something I'd actually go out and buy a TV for. Talk about a "swivel-eyed" focus group, an in-out referendum absolutely guaranteed!
Do you get the bad joke here? There's more to come. Read on (please follow the links as you go)...
On a serious (oh yes) and somewhat personal note, it would seem fair to suppose that if my own wildest fantasy in life had ever been close to coming true and I found myself sat upon a veritable rocket surveying that scene up the Speedway Grand Prix World Championship strip prior to destiny's most crucial minute-and-a-bit (yup, that long!), trying to figure out where the slick and the dirt both ended and began beyond those legs akimbo, quite frankly, rather than maintaining the composed determination required for a glorious, shall we say, dénouement (ooh la la, French again!), instead I fear I'd be furiously frothing at the mouth as I wondered how I could possibly grab the ultimate prize that lay just out of reach while faced with such a track-based distraction. More fool me, eh? Priorities, it would appear, have changed!
But you know, I think I can still see a crack in the logic of having those start- girls...
Clearly, we are now being asked to accept that the 'extracurricular activities' at the start-line are at least as important as the preparatory needs of the riders in those crucial few moments before each race. And if this is indeed the case, are we supposed to accept further that 90,000 speedway fans flocked to the Wembley World Final in 1981 to lasciviously ogle the theatrical, powder blue-suited and, as some have remarked, rather camp floorshow of Aussie start-marshall Paul Johnson? 1
Hmm, depending on any prejudices you may hold associated with your orientation, before answering I'd think about all of this very carefully, if I were you.
Of course, we can all fully appreciate the beauty inherent to the human form - we are only human, after all. To western eyes, at least, the idealised versions of that beauty, both male and female, can be traced all the way back to those so-called heathens of ancient Greece. Over time these things do evolve, however, some might even say enhanced!
Nevertheless, it is obvious that the start-girls are now carefully chosen to fit a long-since-cast cultural mould, but no need to go all the way back to antiquity to recognise it - 1953 and the first issue of Playboy magazine is quite far enough. On some level the girls are likely to feel quite gratified about that, at least financially, and who wouldn't feel gratified right back, eh boys? Well, I wonder?
Needless to say those are rhetorical questions. I don't wonder at all. If anyone reading this should seek answers of their own, the Twitter blog EverydaySexism might be a good place to start. Then perhaps it would be an idea to watch this Gail Dines presentation and ask yourself: just what is the problem here?
But enough of these tricky questions already, must cut to a rather long chase...
I realise this may be a sensitive subject given current uncertainties over future TV contracts, and it is clearly the case that people generally approve of television screening as it stands. Certainly, Eurosport's coverage of speedway's competitive drama, the racing, interviews and commentaries without doubt make for first-class TV. Credit where credit is due. But the start-girl aspect of the Grand Prix spectacle is also presenting the great sport of speedway as what ought to be considered an embarrassingly sexist aberration. Re-view any Grand Prix from 2013 and I challenge you to argue convincingly to the contrary.
However, far from an aberration, instead speedway continues to be subjected to the same debasingly sexist marketing ploys as seen with other motorcycle sports, but even more so here considering the opportunities afforded by the multiple-start format of a speedway meeting.
True, in the past a reigning Miss World, Mary Stavin, and a Page 3 model, Samantha Fox, both of whose celebrity status was rooted in the 'glamour' industry, have played roles in speedway promotion. But on each occasion, Wembley 1978 and Hackney 1985 respectively, the speedway arena afforded both women, on the surface at least, a level of dignity in keeping with the setting and, not least, their humanity - further to which point I can only add one question:
In this hour of our greatest need of truly stylish media representation, wherefore art thou Elsie Tanner?
Well, quite. The (Pat) Phoenix may well have risen - high enough, in fact, for some kind of coronation - yet the rest of us remain; left behind in a 'bent' world where it's clear enough that "the times, they are a changin'," though any near-sighted 'dillun' could have told you that! The question is: are the times a changin' with the "hope you can believe in" for the better? We probably shouldn't ask a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to answer that one, thanks all the same!
Anyhow, despite that little transatlantic digression I do hope all of this chimes further with issues raised regarding sexism in society in the corresponding, perhaps too cautiously circumspect main body of writing published last winter on SpeedwayPlus, of which this second piece serves as the painfully enlarged appendix - delayed/once removed.
Now, to be more forthright and to put it somewhat bluntly, for everyone's sake, sooner rather than later all this misogynistic, testosterone-fuelled, twisted 'b*****ks' (if you'll excuse the, er...'French') really must stop. It's becoming something that's hurting more and more and will surely only get worse unless this world's maladjusted baggage of machismo is finally unraveled and revealed for what it is: an over-valued manhood of ugly bearing, increasingly devoid of much in the way of welcome content.
Of course, as well as the 'entertainment' we get offered as part of a sporting experience, all forms of sexism are inextricably linked to the many obscenities perpetrated in this world due to gender-based inequality and oppression (domestic violence, rape, acid attacks, bullets to the head, 'honour' killings etc., etc.) and if from all that, chaps, you don't get The Chills then I would respectfully suggest something in your basic humanity is lacking. While you shouldn't always look for answers in a song, goodness knows what the Women Of The World might make of it all...
Ah, now then, do we dare dream of a unified, empathetic international womanhood joining together as one with the world's progressive men and ultimately halting and reversing the big one - ever-increasing economic/class inequality? Nice idea, eh, and probably no danger. Dream on!
Yet economic/class inequality is the thing which more than anything else, I would suggest, fosters a whole range of nasty isms: sexism (of course), racism, sectarianism, militarism, neo-imperialism and, to cap it all, fascism, which neatly takes us right back to Greece (and elsewhere), where a bleak, black-shirted Dawn, re-booted from the post-Crash 1930s is currently threatening to darken contemporary European...er, post-crash skies once again. How lovely! How so very much we've progressed!
The unspoken buzzwords in the economic/class play-ground may well be "divide" and "rule," but grown-ups who refuse to blindly follow the prejudices prescribed by the spoilt few know that we are all, at core, the same: same needs and with the same claim to fundamental human rights and social justice, and while this will come as a shock to many, many people worldwide, that even includes women.
It is widely understood that an evidently over-optimistic and ever so slightly deluded, though at times surprisingly reasoned and reasonably decent person, at one time or another decreed: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!"
Well, that sounds like pre-eminently fair do's in my book and I'd hope everyone reading this would agree, all raving masochists aside.
However, so many people (mainly men, it has to be said) and their gilded patriarchal institutions continue to be guilty of not living by that golden rule, and, laughably enough, it is all too often through 'high-minded' religiosity that the licence to offend against it is so malodorously granted.
Well, if only for their own sakes, the transgressors, whether religious or not, perhaps just need to be given a little time, though here I'm afraid I must refer you back to the words of one of the truly great Glaswegians, the late Ivor Cutler, who in his own inimitable style sang for the record: "Men have had their shot, And look at where we've got!" Jesus wept!
But I now digress far into the clouds, a space I'm sure no one here would want to have to contemplate. Far too radioactive! Far too...awkward!
Apologies. Back to the speedway...
If by some miracle the sexism could be removed from this particular SGP scene, or even if it were to be deemed just fine and dandy, an outrageous offence would still exist for good sporting reasons as already explained. Again, why on earth should we think dancing girls are an appropriate feature at the start-line before a speedway race?
Often excused in such crass terms as 'selling the product,' social commentators now speak of the media-driven hypersexualisation of culture and the phenomenon really does seem to have been effective in draining us, especially men, of all our critical faculties (not to mention harming a GP rider's chances of adequately preparing for the start), and it's just not cricket!
Still, if scantily clad, gyrating start-girls are what the majority has accepted and now demand (which I doubt), including the riders, well, fine: I, for one, can live with it, personally committed as I am to the 'ultimate slide.' However, there will be many people (the actual majority, I would say) who will always choose to cast their eyes and spend their money elsewhere on something a little more edifying and certainly less degrading to women and to sport.
Just one example: to watch a match that took place over four days between Yorkshire and Durham, this August along with thousands of others me and my partner entered the Scarborough Cricket Ground and guess which scene no one there witnessed beyond any kind of boundary though still remained hugely entertained throughout? That's right, I believe you may have got it!
"Cricket, lovely cricket," as my mother used to sing in the purest of West Yorkshire tones. With a little help from two corrective lenses she saw cricket in 20/20. She never saw 20/20 cricket in India. It's probably just as well. Need I say more?
"But motorsports appeal to a different audience than (English) cricket," you may claim. Well, I would say: possibly so, to an extent. But to simply lump together a speedway crowd with your typical 'petrol-head' scene would be to reveal a basic misunderstanding or to wilfully ignore the social history and culture of this 'renewably-fueled' sport of ours.
The addiction to speedway is predicated on exposure to a wholly different smoke, one that has had an intoxicating effect and been enjoyed down the years by men and women, girls and boys of all ages alike, and long may such a tradition continue. The relevant buzzword? Inclusion.
Conversely, to now cater for the tastes of a narrowly defined life-form that can't quite raise itself above the low walls of the Zoo may well satisfy some deep-seated reptilian instinct, but, like that which keeps the monkey in each of us sustained while locked in the cage of our own inadequately evolved imaginations, to allow the cultural legacy of a misrepresented, poison-toothed viper dictate our everyday values is, quite simply, Nuts!
So, all that said, in my now somewhat discomfited mind the only thing I can think to say in deference to what appears to be a pre-heat fait accompli (yes, that marvellous French language again, and why not? Why not indeed!), is this:
Mes femmes/hommes! Je m'abats avant un intérêt personnel 'tout-connaissance' mais penalisant et j'accord les points maximum ces postérieurs parfait de notre 'Belle Vue' précieuse!
Or, in an attempt at clarification that I would hope all interested parties are able to translate and spell-out much better than I:
People! I prostrate myself before a penalising, 'all-knowing' self-interest and award maximum points to those perfectly formed aces of our dear 'Belle Vue!' 2
In a not too dissimilar way to this ancient former speedway rider, perhaps you are now left scarred low on the right side with the withered capacity to ingest needless cellulose completely removed? To you, and even to all those still predisposed to suffer a bout of acute appendicitis, you are cordially invited to haste ye back to the Plus party. Please come. It would be to your own delight. After all, you should recall from those long forgotten halcyon days that the jelly and ice cream was always worth its weight.
But while on the subject of those wobbly, chilly, yet ever so sweet desserts, one last thought - a thought which in its own way is as insidious and divisive as everyday sexism...
Please spare a thought for a people who, 3,000 miles away, are really very close to us and have a speedway tradition all of their own, though in the main individualistically programmed: our American cousins.
Their jelly is an awful jam.
I do not know for sure whether Americans have proper jelly at all, or, if they do, how it would be known. A friendly young man from the US has recently informed me they have something called jello, which I must admit does sound impossibly cute and absolutely yummy. Yet I imagine an evangelical oilman from Kansas has already told me that what Americans really crave at their parties is a 100% fruit-substitute chemical concoction that goes by the name of jeluminum, but my head, discomfited though it is, tells me it would be unwise to listen to a single word he has to say.
If worse comes to worst, I suppose the self-appointed leaders of this inequitable world of ours will just have to make do with ice cream alone.
PS: Hooot! Would that be another two-minute warning? And why would it be accompanied by such a...Hooot?
1 If by chance any should read this, it is my sincere hope that the family and friends of the late Paul Johnson are not upset or offended by my referring to his 1981 World Final appearance for the purpose of illustrating an important point of principle. Back in the day, crowds were captivated by Paul's unique start-line performances and his was indeed a colourful and memorable speedway life. My belated sympathies to all those left bereaved by his recent passing.
2 The British speedway team with arguably the greatest tradition of all (the club of clubs!) has not been referred to, nor has criticism been implied, during this SpeedwayPlus submission.
This article was first published on 24th November 2013
"Great article! I am just so sick and tired of the sexism that is in speedway and almost all motorsport. How are we going to get women into the sport if we give them the impression that they are only objects of male desire? I watch a lot of speedway with my girlfriend but she hates watching the GP's and The SEC, it makes her just so sad and that's probably what a lot of women feel. It's just horrible the way it is right now."
" I would think that the riders would not even notice the start line girls when racing, noticing the girls Before the meeting... yes.....and after the meeting ....oh yes."
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