The Ice Girls Debate: Counterpoint Edition




BCB wrote a piece discussing the launch of the Oilers ice girls earlier in the week in response to many reactions around the Oiler Blogging community. BCB discussed the notion of who is responsible and how we must collectively take on this responsibility for the decision of bringing the cheerleaders into the Oilers fold. This is a really excellent question but we must also address our own accountability for perpetuating the problematic heteronormativity present in all professional sports. The argument therefore should not only be who is responsible for making this happen but also how did we let it get this far?

Last week I happened to travel to Toronto to watch the baby Oilers get crushed by the baby Leafs with several prominent members of this very community. Not surprisingly, similar discussions were had while we had our Oiler Diaspora blogger summit, prompted by the presence of the Marlies Girls. The Marlies girls were out in full force during the Marlies/Barons game and we were constantly "treated" to girls on the ice, poorly skating, dancing and jumping around during tv time outs. There were also cheerleaders in the stands who would make their rounds and do their thing between extended breaks in the game. We were sitting in the corner and the cheerleaders were often in our field of view for long periods of time. To be fair, the main point of discussion was if these girls were in fact of age and whether or not it is pervy to be watching them due to this questionable age issue, but after a while it stopped being funny. Ok, Tyler Dellow never stops being funny, but eventually we got to talking about the Oilers' decision to have ice girls.

I am of the opinion that they don't bring anything to the game and actually do serve to be something of an unwanted distraction to even the most uninvolved fan. I don't think they really need to be there, but that is neither my point, nor the camp I wish to ally myself with. Does it bother me from a place of solidarity with feminist movements however? Yes, it does, but only to a certain extent. There is a degree of exploitative spectacle associated with this concept, as the expectation of these women is that they dress and perform in a hypersexualized manner, while the target audience is clearly men who are drunk on overpriced domestic swill-beer who like ogling at pretty young things. This is the obvious reading of the cheerleader scenario, one that my initial reaction was in line with. I don't support the decision of bringing in the ice girls for that very reason, as I am ideologically opposed to hypersexualized women used as objects of desire within the framework of public spectacle. I think ethically that it is uncool, and also distracts me from the purpose of the game, which is glorified masculine violence and the commodification of people for the sake of my entertainment. Then again, I suppose I should be ideologically be opposed to the NHL itself if I am to be running on the same ethical principles as my ideological opposition to the ice girls. So, if ideologically I am opposed to the exploitation of the women, why am I not equally opposed to professional hockey? Or all professional sports for that matter? I don't know. I am a stupid hypocrite it seems. This is one of the questions that seems absent from the debate. If we are critiquing notions of gender and heternormativity in relation to the cheerleaders, why are we not using the same inspired ideas of gender norms and gender roles in relation to the players. It's not something that often comes up in hockey discussions, as gender roles and sexuality have long remained taboo in the sports world. These sorts of issues still remain largely absent in media accounts of the game as well, though this is beginning to change.

There is also another side to the equation, one that isn't simply for or against it, but rather what cheerleading is as a sport itself. For many years I was very close friends with a girl whose whole life was about cheerleading. She was captain of the U of A cheer team, a coach for two different teams of Jr. Highschool students, and worked really hard at it. Concurrently she was working on an engineering degree, and despite her beauty, she definitely was more brains than breasts. Yet she was passionate about her sport, went to great lengths to go to tournaments and compete, and she looked at it from a more liberatory perspective informed by her own interpretation of feminist thoughts. She felt that cheer was moving away from being all about men watching her to all about women having incredible control over their own bodies, the athleticism required to participate in cheerleading, and how great she felt being able to teach that kind of thing to her students in middle school, breaking down some of the heteronormative notions of gender, sex and sexuality to girls at a very vulnerable age to fall victims to this problematic system.

So what is the point of my argument? I am not entirely sure, but I know that something about this ice girls situation has gotten my attention and made me return to my only avenue available to express this displeasure. Is there an easy answer to this debate? No. Do I think the Oilers need ice girls? No, I really don't. However, I don't want to moralize over whether or not cheerleading is either good or bad or whether or not the Oilers and Pat Laforge are sexist douchebags for bringing ice girls to Canada and breaking with tradition. Sport and attitudes in sport are constantly evolving and context is key to this evolution. As gender and sexual norms shift, so too will our collective perceptions of these norms. We are all doing gender in all of our every day actions, we just need to be more aware of how we are doing it. This is where the concept of the 'relational self' BCB introduced becomes all the more important.

Go Oilers

SWS

The Debate about Cheerleaders: Why you and me are responsible.

(Editorial Note: The author does like attractive females. Actually according to his personal experience and research, he also finds that Feminist also like attractive females—and not just the lesbians. This blog post is not about the relative value of attractive females, or about what is socially considered attractive, or about Feminists.)

You know what has been bothering me: the Oilers’ stupid decision to have cheerleaders in Rexall Place. I can remember watching the ’06 playoff run with my little brother, and both of us making fun of the Hurricanes for having cheerleaders. It went something like this:

Me: “Stupid Americans, don’t they know anything about the history and tradition of hockey.”

The voice of reason: “No, it just in places like Carolina. They have zero hockey market down south and try every gimmick to get asses in the seats.”

Me: “But for the love of the little baby jesus, I am not watching football. That woman cannot even skate.”

The voice of reason: “Have another beer, the second period is about to start.”

What is worse, than the Oilers actually having cheerleaders, is the discussion about having cheerleaders. It seems that any discussion about the Oilers having cheerleaders is simplified (and polarized) into two discrete camps: those that think cheerleaders are good idea, who are categorized as the rational everyday fan; and those that think cheerleaders are a bad idea, who are caricatured as crazy Feminists. No one is talking about why the Oilers need cheerleaders, what they would add to experience of the game, and how they are part of the grand tradition of the game. To paraphrase the Dude: “Pat Laforge treats objects like women, man!” And I do not like this about my favorite team.

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Feminist scholarship has always held my attention, because I think that they have some really interesting thoughts about society. One of my personal favorite ideas of theirs is what is called the ‘relational self’. That the self is actually constructed by others rather the being an a priori; rather then thinking of a self as a self contained body that interacts with the world, the self is a product of these interactions or, more specifically, the self is a point of the intersections of these interactions. It is a concept that actually challenges the idea of the self-reliant man, the rugged individualist, and the solipsist atomist understanding of the self. For more information about this topic I would suggest the books Feminists Rethink the Self & Relational Autonomy: Feminist Perspectives on Autonomy, Agency, and the Social Self. They are a much better read then me, and vastly better informed.

Why do I bring this idea up? Because if the self is not an a priori ontological category then we have to rethink the relationship between this ontological subject and responsibility; in other words, if the self is constructed out of its interactions with others, then those others have some role to play in the responsibility of that self. Other thinkers have suggested this as well (including the Platformist Anarchists who talked about the idea of collective responsibility early as 1926: “The areas of revolutionary life, social and political, are above all profoundly collective by nature. Social revolutionary activity in these areas cannot be based on the personal responsibility of individual militants . . . the entire Union will be responsible for the political and revolutionary activity of each member; in the same way, each member will be responsible for the political and revolutionary activity of the Union as a whole”), but we should return to Feminist thought for the purpose of this blog post.

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Well, what does this have to do with the Oilers? If we take the idea of the relational self seriously, then it is hard to judge the responsibility of any individual player or management in isolation. The excellent work of assigning errors to the players (which Staples does, and this is not an attack on his work which I find extremely interesting) is problematic because it does not adequately explain who is responsible for that error. For example, Strudwick is the culprit of many, many errors but just because he gives the puck away (again) in the defensive zone does not account for the error of the forwards that did not get the puck deep on the last rush up the ice, who is on the ice with him, etc… Actually since hockey is a team sport, it is hard to even identify who made the mistake (the actual body committing the error) and, even if we could identify that body, how the interactions (and non-interactions) actually lead to that error. I know it seems illogical for a Horcoff, who is sitting on the bench, to be responsible for a Strudwick error but his lack of interaction (the fact SMac or Cogliano is on the ice) is equally part of the interactions that make up the self that is Strudwick, as is Studwicks decision or Cogliano’s play. I know it is hard to get your head around because it runs counter to the ideas we have hold about selves, bodies, and responsibilities.

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Well, going back to the topic of this blog post: cheerleaders. It is not just Pat Laforge that is responsible for the stupid decision to have cheerleaders in Rexall Place. Even more it is not his interactions with the entire Oiler brass that creates his self and should be held collectively responsible. It is more then that, it is the entire league for even allowing cheerleaders to become part of the ‘traditions’. Here is looking at you Bettman: man do I hate that man.

Even more, it is you and me that are responsible. Even if we dislike the idea. Our interactions, and non-interactions, allow Pat Laforge to create a self that allows him to make decisions for all of us. Maybe to a lesser degree then K-Lowe, Katz, the Dallas Stars, and Bettman, but still we are responsible.

Sorry about the rant, it is just pissing me off.

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OK E, fair enough.

I imagine or conceptualize a relational self as a point of intersections between human interactions structured by norms. They constitute the self materially as through bodies & sensory experience, as well as through the daily life interactions with others. The self is constructed, both physically and mentally, through the care of others. Physically these interactions would included a mother or father providing food and shelter (some would include love) for a child; your friends hospitality when you travel to the city they live; people holding the door for you (out of a variety of reasons), etc . . . Mentally these interactions would included learning from others or working out problems as a group—whether in school, on the job, with your family, or strangers; providing emotional support in various circumstances; etc . . .

By norms I mean accepted patterns of behaviour, regardless if they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ forms. These patterns of behaviour, or practices, always have a social form of power behind them. That contraction and transgression of norms carries a consequence: whether this is social exclusion (and its existing forms of institutional control), or other forms of discrimination. This gets into a discussion of ‘abnorms’ but I really rather talk about norms. I think what is a norm can be extremely fluid or fairly static, but they are always slightly changing. It is these patterns of norms that structure the material interactions of the self.

Here is story about norms I what to have about sports. I went with my two brothers and my dad to an Eskimos game. My older brother doesn’t know anything about sports and pretends he does. My little brother and I don’t stand up during the national anthem: me because my political beliefs and my brother for being pissed at the gov’t treatment of his, his ex-wifes, my parents unions (plus of the treatment of Canada’s poor, etc…) and he is normally in a bad mood and today he has encouragement. We end up sitting on the edge no drinking section about 15 rows up from the field on the 5-yard line or so. That was my fault, I did not double check to make sure I could enjoy beer and watch the game: it was raining, but I had coffee with Jameson, cream, and maple syrup in mine and my father’s bag. During the first quarter, after being pissed because we disrespected the country and being cheered up by the coffee, while watching the game he said something very relevant: “Can you get these cheerleaders out of the way, I am trying to watch the quarter back!” My brother and I turn to the field to see Ricky Ray pinned in his own end, and a line of cheerleaders doing scissor kicks in the air between us and the play. We all end up laughing, especially my father—and I am sure there was some yelling at the cheerleaders. Then we discussed why we thought they still had cheerleaders. These are the norms I want to associate with sports.

I know most people reading this might not consider all of these normal interactions with people around them on a regular basis. But they are structured by the norms of family, masculinity, and fraternity. We interaction with each other and these interactions part of the structure (rhizome or network, if you will but I don’t) that allow us to construct, or be constructed, as ourselves. A hockey club of the Oilers is a symbol of a norm that helps make up my identity, and now that symbol is associated with a variation of the norm I disagree with.

Case Study: The Oiler Fan as a Melancholic


This is Rainer Maria, and I maybe in love with Caitlhin De Marrais, the bassist and vocalist for the band. Till today, I had never seen a picture of her but I have been in love with her voice for the last few weeks. To bad the bad is no longer together, cause it means I cannot mourn my loss of not seeing them properly. It is this topic of desire and loss that will occupy the pixels of this blog today.

on the inside

of you and I

burning out our true desires

with spit and fire

What is ‘desire’? More importantly to us today, is what is my ‘desire’ in relation to the Oilers? That is what this blog is going to be about: the true desires of you and I and how the Oilers set them on fire.

My homeboy, Hegel, defines desire in terms of negation and of subjectivity: “Desire has reserved to itself the pure negating of the object and thereby its unalloyed feeling of the self. But that is the reason why this satisfaction is itself only a fleeting one, for it lacks the side of objectivity and permanence.” (Phenomenology of the Spirit. § 195). So desire is only concerned with negating (or later on in this article eating) the object or the other; rather that desire is felt by the subject but only towards the object of that subject and never in relation to the self reflexivity (that the subject of desire is always a subject in-itself or for-another, a conscious subject, but never a subject for-itself, a self-conscious subject).

So in relation to hockey, I have a desire that relates only to my object the Oilers. It seeks to negate the Oilers for my own pleasure: I do not mean that I want to destroy the Oilers but consume them (take them into myself for my pleasure). I am conscious of this orientation towards the Oilers as they are my object—what defines my desire is my relation to the Other/Oilers—but my desires themselves are never the object of my desires as self-conscious subject—my desire cannot be in relation to myself/as a fan. Does this make sense? Well, no. Lets try again: My desire in relationship to the Oilers is a desire for the Oilers (to do well, to have a member of the Holy Trinity win the Calder, etc…) but not a desire about myself (I desire to be at a victorious game seven in the Stanley cup final, the desire to brag to my friends who are Maple Laughs Fans, etc…).

The trouble with attempting to understand my desires in this way is that they do not match up with how I think and feel about the Oilers. I want the Oilers to win, but not for their own right or just my pleasure of watching them in second season—even if this is the over whelming reason why I watch the Oilers—also I wonder when Katz is going to find a GM that wants to win and be in the playoffs, that is when I will think he is alright as it stands no I still want the EIG back (EIG has six playoff appearance in nine years while Katz zero playoff appearances in two years, hence EIG is a better ownership group for me as a fan). Ok, back to the point: as much as I want to use the Oilers as an object for my pleasure, I also gain just as much pleasure when I direct my desire back towards myself, i.e. when I mercilessly mock a Toronto fan cause his team is worse then mine.

This leaves us without a way to explain our desires in relationship to the Oilers: fuck you Hegel, you failed me again. So we have to look at other thinkers to understand desire. Dr. Freud seems like a good place to start: I do not buy the argument that all his ideas are wrong, commonly preached by the psychological community, because they have not yet developed a structural understanding of drives/desires, but only needs. Seriously I am off on a lot of tangents today! We are not going to look at Freud’s understanding of drives (specifically the pleasure, or lust, principle & the death, or unlust, drive) because I really don’t understand them well enough. Instead we are going to explore how we, as subjects or hockey fans, deal with the destruction of the object of desire.


everything expires

tonight there’s no denying

even you and I will die,

so why are we hesitating?


Freud says we deal with the lose—whether this is death, rejection, etc…—of our object of desire in two ways: Mourning or Melancholia. In this long quotation Freud describes the processes of melancholia and morning: “An object-choice, an attachment of the libido to a particular person, had at one time existed; then, owing to a real slight or disappointment coming from this loved person, the object-relationship was shattered. The result was not the normal one of withdrawal of the libido from this object and a displacement of it on to a new one [or the process of morning], but something different, for whose coming-about various conditions seem to be necessary . . . But the free libido was not displaced on to another object; it was withdrawn into the ego. There, however, it was not employed in any unspecified way, but serves to establish an identification of the ego with the abandoned object . . . In this way an object-loss was transformed into an ego-loss and the conflict between ego and the loved person into a cleavage between the critical activity of the ego and the ego as altered by identification” (‘Mourning and Melancholia’. The Freud Reader. P. 586). In other words, instead of consuming the object-choice and finding a new object to love as in mourning, the melancholic is choking on the object-choice unable to give it up and hence identifying that status of choking with the status of being themselves.

Now what does this have to do with the Oilers and my desires for them? I am going to argue that the Oiler fan is still a Melancholic and has never gone through the process of mourning. I also trace this back to what I have called the “Event of Being an Oilers’ Fan” or the end of dynasty period and the when the Moose lifted the Cup over the Oilers’ jersey the last time. Fans did not withdraw their libido attachment to the Dynasty and displaced it on to another team or the ‘new’ Oilers. Rather they withdrew their libido attachment into themselves and began to identify with the Dynasty. The disaster of the nineties was not understood as an object-loss, but instead was directly felt as the loss of the ego itself. We could no longer participate in the critical activity of being the Oilers’ fan, instead we suffered as the Dynasty would in the same position, since ourselves as ego was identified directly as the Dynasty. We where caught choking on the both the rising price of beer at Rexall Place as well as not being able to healthly mourn the loss of the greatness of the Oilers. This explains why the Oilers’ fans ‘abandoned’ their season tickets, and why the OilDiaspora is so touchy about our team (it is not the Oilers that other fans are mocking, but us the fans ourselves).

But everything does expire, just look at the milk in your fridge, so why wouldn’t the melancholia of being an Oilers’ fan expire too. Jordan Eberle’s goal two nights ago, reminded me that everything does die: that the Dynasty did die over 15 years and I am still attempting to mourn them, but I am doing a poor job. Instead of being stuck in the melancholia that we have suffered through for many years, it is time to stop identifying with the Oilers (which may reduce my pleasure I get from laughing at Toronto fans, but that is a price I am willing to pay). The next questions is: why are we hesitating?