January 20, 2024

The Pride Round

Pride clearly means strength and unity.

Pick Your Pride

Last night my son and I attended the Pride Round. Which Pride Round? Well pick any sport these days. Pick every sport! Pride Rounds in 2024 are like belly-buttons – everybody’s got one.

But as it happened, I booked tickets to Australia’s National Basketball League to watch the Perth Wildcats playing a home game against the Brisbane Bullets. I booked that a month or so ago. And when the tickets came, it said it was the Pride round on January 19th. Well, whatever, we were there for the game, not the ideology. Bring it on!

Now a bit of history. Basketball boomed in Australia in the 1980s, and apart from a couple of stutters in the noughties, has maintained its popularity, indeed increased it. It’s safer than Australian Rules Football, and more compact in terms of playing and watching in terms of time in these harried and hurried decades.

Which brings me to the players of that earlier era in Perth basketball. The driving forces, Cal Bruton (son CJ also played for the Wildcats); James Crawford, Kendall “Tiny” Pinder, whose son Keanu played a starring role in last night’s game (Kendall himself was a mixed bag – a great player, but a terrible repeat sex offender who ended up in prison); the Ellis Brothers, local lads who led the sport in its infancy along with their family; Eric Watterson, Ricky Grace, Trevor Torrance.

All vestiges of a glorious past. Not much heard about them these days.

Except for Trevor Torrance. At Pride Round at least. There he was on the big box screen over-hanging the court, with a pre-recorded interview. Looking all of nearly sixty years of age (surely not? How old does that make me?!): hip, urban and urbane, bald now instead of that head of great hair, still good looking and now proudly out. It is Pride Round after all, and what better way to celebrate it than to bring out the old star who was in the closet the whole time?

Well perhaps he was in the closet in his own mind. I, for one, always assumed that “TT” as he is affectionately known, was gay. Never assumed otherwise even in his playing days in the blokey, Aussie world of the 1980s. A tough world indeed for a young, gay man. Why would he let anyone know?

TT was different to the average Aussie sports star of the day. George Michael blond tips, a slight “affect”, and a pair of shorts that looked like extras from the first Wham music video. Seemed fairly obvious to me that he was gay. But the locker room banter would have been interesting for him, to put it mildly.

And now there he is, all these years later, when celebrating Pride is less of an afterthought and more of an instruction, explaining how we should all be ourselves.

Share Our Pride?

And it is an instruction. When my son and I had made our way through the stadium with our over-priced by super tasty burger and chips, to our seats, there was this cardboard banner on each seat:

We instruct you to share our pride.

That’s right. Once you hear the sound of the horn, lyre, harp, zither, you are all to fall down and….

Well you get the picture. As we sat down and picked up our “ticket to pride” we realised that we were going to be instructed to show how much we were invested in the Pride Round by giving it a right royal wave. To demonstrate much we felt the oneness with the likes of Trevor Torrance, and the LGBTQI community.

Indeed the announcers, with music blaring and skimpy-shorted cheer squad girls, all gyring and gimbling in the wabe, constantly drummed up the need for us all to feel safe about who we were, how to be ourselves, and to have no fear about expressing our gender, sexuality, selves, identities and religions. No, skip that last one, it didn’t rate a mention.

Well at least not from what I could hear. You go to a big sporting event indoors these days and it’s a wall of sound that would have made Phil Spector weep with joy, or fire a gun or something. It’s cacophonous. It’s hyped up. And even in fairly sedate Perth, where fans don’t really get into it like, say, the way English soccer terraces do, it was full on for two hours.

So there we are, waiting for the moment to be instructed during the end of the first quarter. Waiting for the Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego moment to be the last person not waving our placards (my son looked a little uncertain about it all in the lead up!) in order to show that we are indeed Stronger As One, united around our commitment to allow people to sleep with whoever they wish, consent being the only line in the sand, or to identify with whatever gender they wished.

Cos that would make us stronger. And to celebrate that would make us…oner… or some such.

And what happened as the bright young thing with the stadium microphone called out “Three, two, one!”?

Well not much actually. Not much at all. A bit of waving and hooting by about a third of the crowd in a sort of laconic, late summer Perth crowd style, while the rest of the people got on with scrolling their phones, sorting out their kids, waving themselves cooler with the fans they had constructed from the rainbow signs, or supping on the fourth beer of the evening.

It was damp, in a kind of squibby way. And then the game was back on before we knew it. And then the noise picked up – unenforced. and enthusiastic – again. Several more references were made to the Pride Round, but it seemed rather half-hearted, and if not for the colours, it may have passed us by.

It kinda felt like we’d reached peak Pride. It kinda felt that people were a bit over being compelled and instructed about it. Perhaps someone out to tell the HR department of Ernst and Young that fact. Or the Education Department for that matter.

For to be frank, the only “oneness” exhibited in the stadium was the oneness for a Wildcats win. Which duly came. The only fiery furnace that I could sense was the mockery, boos and chanting that accompanied every move by the Brisbane Bullets. There were plenty of people dressed in the red of the home team (home fans being known as “The Red Army”, to which all I can say is I’m thankful that the Wildcats’ home strip is not brown.)

And then the game finished. And as if by reverse magic, the oneness drained away, as the music stopped. and we were all ejected in an obscenely quick and easy manner out on the late night, humid Perth street again. All in the most orderly fashion. We missed one train, but never mind, another came along a few minutes later, and we found ourselves heading back to the station just outside the city where I had parked the car.

As Instructed

And it struck me – despite the fun time I’d had, – that a modern day gathered even in the Western world is “as instructed”. We buy our tickets online and put them on our phones and they contain our train passes. The signs on the way to the stadium tell us what size our bag can be on the way in. We line up dutifully. Efficiently.

The modern sports stadium is designed for efficiency. Efficiency of movement: The flow and architecture gets you in and out quickly. Efficiency of ablutions: It’s a long way from the stairwells-as urinals we had in UK football, a rancid, yellow Niagara flowing down the steps at halftime as the cold and too many beers took their toll.

And culinary efficiency: We line up for better, but more expensive burgers – and even sushi!. There are even eight types of alcohol and a friendly woman with a bottle opener to flip the pull-ring on the can for you as she passes it along (no bottles allowed here – someone might get glassed – accidentally of course.

And I watched as some young boy dropped his ice cream all over the concourse, and within minutes two robots that looked incredibly human whirred along and cleaned it up. Well two human stadium staff came by with mops and buckets, but give it a couple of years. All incredibly efficient. All following the instructions.

Everything is efficient. Everything is as instructed. Nothing is left to chance. Hence the signs on our seats. Do this, do that, shout this, affirm the right people, off you go.

And we duly did. Or some of us did. The Pride Round is about as safe, efficient and instructable as anything else these days in our safe, efficient and highly instructed world.

There’s no longer anything transgressive about it, or even something for us to take collective pride in, in order to be “stronger as one” – whatever that means in our increasingly fractured and fractious culture.

Pride can no more build the unity in Australia needs than the much beleaguered and belaboured Voice and recognition for First Nations people in Australia could. The unity horse had long since bolted by the time that came around. Only those living in the Canberra bubble thought otherwise. Sadly, in respects to this latter issue, we missed an opportunity, and now it feels like we’ve settled into a quiet cynicism.

I took some 70-odd flights last year across Australia, and every time – every time – the plane landed in another state, the homage to the First Nations people to whose land we have just returned is made: “We pay our respects to…”

And it’s read out over the speaker system with all the zeal and intensity reserved for the exit row instructions I was given on all 70-odd of those flights. Which is to say, exactly, none. And at roughly the same speed.

The “as instructed” respect is read in such a suffocating and enervated manner that I half expect the oxygen masks to drop from the ceiling as the finish.

Passengers no more pause to pay their respects to the former, than I pause to consider the implications of the latter, and the miniscule possibility that I’m going to successfully yank off that 15kg exit door when this thin-skinned metal bird is simultaneously sinking and burning.

For some people reading these thoughts around Pride and the Voice, it will make you angry. For others of you reading this it will fill you with relief. Either way, it’s not a value judgement, merely an observation about what is.

We no longer have a coherent narrative to unite us, apart from the 80, or 90, or 120 minutes of game time on a Thursday through Sunday night. Sport, which historically drew us together in this pagan land, will continue to do so, even if it contains less gristle and feels more blended, than in the past.

And as I said, even that unity dissipates pretty quickly as efficiency kicks in and delivers us back to our front doors within our hour of the final whistle, all safe, fed, warm and ready for bed. And in the meantime, to tick all of the boxes – we will do as we are instructed. Or at best we will. The rest of us will just doom-scroll our way through the quarter time break, so to speak.

Unity cannot be instructed into existence. Oneness cannot be efficiently garnered. Stronger can’t be sloganed into reality. We need something bigger and outside of ourselves to bring unity, oneness and strength. The blind alleys of the progressive agenda, – or for that matter, the reactionary agenda of hard-right extremism – will ultimately fail us. I wonder where we will look next? I’ve got an idea about that.

Oh, incidentally, after all that, great game! That’s was the point of the evening, after all, wasn’t it?

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Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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