We were on the same busy train yesterday and I feel that I wronged you. I’m sorry. I was being insensitive. The train was busy, and there wasn’t much room for you to house your little bag, and so, per the symptoms of your condition, you placed your wee friend on one of the few seats available. But I was selfish. I wanted to read my book, so I approached what I honestly thought was an unspoken-for chair so that I could indulge my pastime.
When I arrived and spotted that the seat already had an owner, I didn’t veer away as any decent person would have done out of respect for your disorder. Instead, I asked with my annoyingly nonchalant voice, “Can I sit here?”
You looked at me as though I’d shot your friend with bag-piercing bullets. How dared I? With the sulk of an innocent child told not to pull his sister’s hair, you rescued your pet from my invasion, and pulled him close to you. I should have known then that you were afflicted with a painful case of etiquette impairment and left you to suffer with your malady in peace. But no, with the compassion of a fruit fly, I sat myself down in your friend’s chair and read my book.
Please forgive me. And please ask Mr. Bag for my forgiveness, too. You both deserve better.
During the 2014 Winter Olympics, I noticed a tendency of Canadian commentators to describe Canadian athletes of a humble disposition as “typically Canadian.” This annoys me for two reasons:
(1) It seems to me that we Canadians have helped ourselves to this favourable designation by virtue of how American media (movies, TVs, journalists) tend to refer to us. The official cartoon analysis of Canadians by Americans is that we are humble, polite, and reserved (which delights me as a Canadian because I value those traits); however, while I’m pleased for our country to be complimented by our neighbours in this fashion, I think it’s strange for us to assume its accuracy, given that it’s just one country’s subjective and generalized assessment of traits they have witnessed through binoculars.
Similarly, while I have no trouble with Americans teasing Canadians for our allegedly frequent use of the term “eh,” I am distraught when Canadians join in with “Oh Canada, eh?” t-shirts meant to entertain Americans by climbing aboard this joke as though we, too, have noticed our “eh”ing predilection. In fact, I don’t think it’s something we often do or notice about ourselves, so why do we act as though this American observation of some of us is our defining idiosyncrasy? To my ear, when we try to impress Americans by making the same joke about ourselves that they would provide, we look as though we have no understanding of ourselves beyond the limited perceptions of our big sibling.
(2) More importantly, I loathe the Canadian pundits’ description of Canadian athletes who are polite and humble as “typically Canadian” because it is conceited for us to describe ourselves by such terms. In fact, I notice that the Canadian pundit description of Canadian athletes as examples of typical Canadian humility has become a stepping stone for the same athletes to identify themselves by these complimentary terms, which, in turn, undermines the accuracy of the humble designation. A truly humble person, after all, would not boast that they are humble (as I’ve recently learned from Uriah Heep in my reading of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield).
Similarly, I was miffed one day as I listened to CBC’s Definitely Not The Opera host Sook-Yin Lee discuss a feminist argument that one reason women in general don’t make as much money as men is because they are too humble and don’t put themselves forward (for promotions and raises) as much as men do. The uber successful and assertive Lee instantly helped herself to the benefits of the generalization as though it were a universality that by definition included herself. While officially she teased herself (and other women) for the being too modest for their own good, she seemed in fact to be delighted to cast herself in the role of the humble person who would have achieved more if she hadn’t been so soft spoken about her own accomplishments all the time. She had landed in the best of all worlds: she was able to give herself credit for humility while simultaneously boasting about it; and she did so without a tinge of irony in her voice.
This bragging about humility worries me because as the self-celebration movement continues to dominate Canadian schools (where students are assured of their awesomeness regardless of achievement), I fear that Canadians’ reputed modesty will increasingly become a designation in name only.
After Canada’s impressive 2014 Winter Olympic medal collection, Sportsnet offered up a video essay by one of their pundits, Arash Madani, who indicated that the equally prolific Canadian work done at the 2010 Vancouver games had “changed us” (apparently, by his reverent voice when noting it, for the better). While serenaded by uplifting music, he proclaimed that we now felt okay about going beyond our “typical Canadian” humility and “beating our chests a little” when our athletes climbed a podium. I think that Madani might be confusing the cheering for athletes with boasting about them (which isn’t necessarily the same thing); however, the fact that he, and other pundits, are complimenting Canadian fans for being more cocky worries me. While Canadian pundits seem to take pride in Canadian humility, they also apparently take pride in Canadians taking pride (in our athletes). We can’t lose. We either get to celebrate ourselves for being modest, or celebrate ourselves for learning to appreciate ourselves more.
In short, I wonder how long the perception of Canadian humility (that we seem to enjoy) will continue if we do not nurture it with behaviours to match.
EPILOGUE: If you’re skeptical of my complaint that there is a trend within Canadian media to boast about Canadian humility and manners while simultaneously celebrating Canadians for building their self-esteem, keep an eye out for a Canadian coffee commercial with the following script:
FEMALE VOICE A: Welcome to Canada.
MALE VOICE A: Canadians are so nice.
FEMALE VOICE B: So polite.
CANADIAN GEESE: Sorry… sorry… sorry… sorry… sorry… sorry… sor–
FEMALE VOICE C (above an image of Canadian citizenship ceremony): So welcoming.
MALE VOICE B: We’re definitely not confrontational.
MALE VOICE C: But we don’t let anyone push us around.
MALE VOICE D:[If] You throw the first punch…
MALE VOICE E: We will drop the gloves. Oh yeah.
FEMALE VOICE D: I’d say we’re brave.
KIDS VOICE A: We’re confident with who we are.
MALE VOICE F: We’re unapologetic.
FEMALE VOICE E: Unless we’ve done something wrong, then we will apologize.
KID VOICE B: Canada rules!
MALE VOICE G: We grind it out.
MALE VOICE H: We go for it!
WOMAN IN CAR (driving under overpass with “Go Canada banner”): Awesome!
MALE VOICE I: We totally rock this nation.
FEMALE VOICE F: In Canada, we love what we love.
MALE VOICE J: And we don’t care who agrees, or disagrees.
MALE VOICE K: Especially when it comes to coffee.
MALE VOICE L: We like ours…
CUSTOMER A: Good…
CUSTOMER B: Honest…
CUSTOMER C: And simple.
CUSTOMER D: Thank you very much.
FEMALE VOICE G: This is our Canada.
MALE VOICE M: And this… this is our coffee.
TITLE CARD: Our Canada. Tim Hortons Logo. Our coffee.
In sixty seconds, Mr. Hortons manages to mix equal parts boasting about our gentle nature with bragging about our other (alleged) good qualities. I couldn’t have satirized the state of media affairs better, myself. I realize that Canadians shouldn’t necessarily be responsible for how an advertiser depicts our collective state of mind, but generally, I think, advertisers are attempting to tell us what they’re confident we want to hear about ourselves. I hope they’re wrong: I hope we’re no so easily manipulated by our egos.
BONUS FUTURE EPILOGUE: Looking through the SethBlogs time portal, I see that my teasing of the Canadian media (and perhaps individual Canadians) for boasting about our humility will one day in 2020 yield an interview (humbly) promoting my book on narcissism.
In the interest of full disclosure—and Seth-promotion—the spirt of this rant, and other works of Sethiquette, is now available in my book, How to Cure Yourself of Narcissism.
Okay, I admit this one is mostly a pet peeve, and I feel bad even bringing it up, as some of my favourite people indulge, but it’s time I took a side: I believe it is silly to write without capital letters.
(1) THE FORMAL CASE
Personally, whenever I read an email message expunged of capital letters, the message seems to me to be encumbered by laziness (unless the communication came via a phone that lacks easy capitalization). The writer does not seem to feel that I, as a reader, deserve the expense of effort they would have needed to utilize their SHIFT key.
But who am I to judge? If my fellow email corresponders choose to type without grammar, spell check, or capital letters, that is their right. Perhaps they enjoy letting the letters fall where they may without the confines of “correctness.” And maybe in particular social communication circles, going uncapitalized is simply the preference of the group because it is perceived as easygoing.
Nevertheless, I think it is worth noting that, in certain cases, following some rules of language can be a way of showing our correspondents that we respect them—kind of like not accentuating a burp during a dinner party. And so the more formal, and the less we know someone, the more I think such belches of grammar and spelling can stand out.
I have recently witnessed job applications in which candidates omitted capital letters from their cover letters. Baffle me! Can they really expect a professional agency to take them seriously if they don’t take themselves seriously enough to apply the occasional SHIFT key to our initial interaction? Should the employer also expect a high five instead of a handshake during the interview?
(2) THE PET PEEVE CASE
Now—just for fun—I’m going to try to make the case against a capital-free existence even in personal correspondence. In my humble suspicion, capital letters have a useful function in our language: I think they help to alert the reader to natural punctuation breaks in our paragraphs, and so make our writing easier to digest on the first pass.
I’m in favour of using original styles to communicate material, and so I wouldn’t make this argument if I could see a single benefit to excluding capital letters.
As far as I can tell, there are four possible arguments for a expunging the SHIFT key from one’s typing vocabulary:
Perhaps non-capitalizers think that the SHIFT key is far too labour-intensive given its modest gains. As you wish: if the shift-free genuinely believe that pressing an extra button once or twice a sentence is a significant waste of time and calories, then I support their decision. However, I do request that they check their data. When I’m at my keyboard, one finger hits the SHIFT key while the others keep on typing, so I don’t actually find shifting takes any extra time, nor in fact, many extra calories (indeed, my shifting finger does not seem any more buff than my non-shifting fingers).
It seems some have cut capitals from their emails because of the text-messaging boom. When one is typing on one’s small phone, capital letters are often more difficult to employ, and so, I think, much more acceptable to exclude. As a result, given the popularity of non-CAPS-texting, capital letters may seem passé to some even when they’re easy to apply. Moreover, because people are used to going capital-free in text messages, they may argue that it’s simpler to maintain that habit in emailing as well.
My argument here would be that text messaging is a form of communication shorthand. Since each letter costs a lot more energy to type on a phone, it’s all about finding the simplest message to get your point across. “c u b4 the show,” for instance, gets “See you before the show” done on a smaller budget. That makes sense to me.
Similarly, in the past, Morse Code left many words out so as to send only the most pertinent information; this does not mean, though, that when famous sea captains wrote tell-all books about their experiences, they wrote in simplified beeps of language. No, it was merely the Morse medium that gave them that exemption. The definitive convenience within one does not have to undermine quality of the other.
Probably the most common explanation for removing capitals from one’s writing is that of personality. Anti-capital snobs believe that they have a unique flavour of being that is illustrated by their lack of oversized letters. I do not intend such a shiftless existence any harm, but I must ask the practitioners of this theory if they are aware that many people have used the very same “unique” same small-lettered technique before them.
(Indeed, I understand that the now expired poet, e.e. cummings, was one of the first to go capital-free. Most commonly, he de-capitalized his poetry and sometimes signed his name sans capitals. Some speculate, however, that he offered the latter as a gesture of humility as opposed to a recommendation for others to do the same.)
Not that things worth doing have to be unique or original (good manners, for instance), but, if one’s reason for excommunicating the capital letter is because they think it illuminates an originality of personality, I must suggest that it does not.
A friend of mine has explained that she uses the no-capital system because she likes the look of it. Fair enough. The only thing I can say to her is that most of the time one’s written words are meant for other people to read, so might it not be worth considering whether they enjoy such diminutive lettering, too?
Moreover, given that written language is generally meant for communication, does she not worry at all that she might be giving up clarity for the sake of looks? Or is going capital-free the ultimate victory of fashion over substance?
(3) THE COUNTER CASE
For those who would like to take me down via an appeal to hypocrisy, I freely acknowledge that I have probably made at least one grammatical error somewhere in this message. However, please note that I have specifically tried to avoid such mistakes. In contrast when one goes capital-free, one is choosing to resist.
On CBC radio’s Q with Jian Ghomeshi, I find that the host’s brand of cheerful, introspective inquisition usually succeeds in bringing out the non-pretentious side of his guests; however, in a recent Q leading up to the London Olympics, Jian interviewed the billboard brandal, Scottish poet, Robert Montgomery, who fought through the host’s friendliness and managed an impressive level of condescension.
Montgomery’s “brandalism” project—that of superimposing his poetry, along with other art, over billboards (including recent Olympic advertising)—is interesting; as he says, cities decorated on all sides by commercial imagery could be exhausting to the psyches of the inhabitants, and so many city dwellers may prefer a quiet poetry break. Nevertheless, I was intrigued to hear how the poet would tackle the notion that the places on which he places his wares have already been paid for by law-abiding citizens. Montgomery’s personal preference for his ideas over corporate products sounds lovely in theory, but what gives him the right to overrule the message of the legal tenants of the space?
I mean the question sincerely. As anyone who’s ever taken a philosophy of law course knows, Martin Luther King Jr. argued—while he was in jail—that some laws are in such violation of human dignity that they should not be considered valid. That’s compelling to me, so I was ready to be persuaded that Montgomery’s brandalism is confronting an oppression that the corporations have no right to inflict upon us.
Yet, instead of making any attempt to suggest the intrinsic immorality of the original billboards, Ghomeshi’s guest simply explained that most people seem to enjoy the respite from the noise of commercialism. Is that really all the argument that’s required to overrule the law?That people would prefer it? I’m sure most people would also rather go without parking tickets, so should we tear them up if we get them?
Presumably the proceeds from billboards go to the city (or at least the economy), which can then pay for infrastructure for the citizens. I’m happy to hear an argument that the billboards are nevertheless immoral and so must be fought, but Montgomery’s follow-up defence that he is providing his fellow humans with a kind of therapy is wholly insufficient, and incredibly paternalistic. Despite his poetic pedigree, I’m not convinced that he’s necessarily equipped to provide such collective psychological treatment.
All of this I would have forgiven were it not for his hubris-riddled anecdote in which he described being caught in the act of brandalism by a police officer, who, happily enough, said he enjoyed the poetry and told our hero to carry on.
“Not all police officers are stupid,” the poet concluded.
So, along with providing therapy, Montgomery’s poetry has the ability to test the intelligence of its readers? If you “get it,” you’re smart; if not, sorry, you’re not too bright.
(Moreover, whether or not the officer was smart, since when are individual members of the police supposed to ignore the law because they happen to like the sentiments expressed by the criminal?)
I am more than happy to be persuaded that brandalism is a worthwhile enterprise, but I think Q should consider bringing on a defender who can see far enough past their own ego to be capable of taking on the genuine question at stake here: when is it okay to forsake the law for what you perceive to be the greater good?
It has come to my attention that Lebron James—star of the NBA and SethBlogs some months ago—has, on his second try, won the championship he coveted when he left Cleveland to start an all-star team in Miami. Many people, including SethBlogs, disliked Lebron’s communication style during the defection. Please note, however, that most of his critics nevertheless acknowledged that Mr. James was still probably the best player in the league, and that his new team—however he found his way to it—was likely going to dominate the sport.
I was thus surprised, on viewing the telecast leading up to James clinching his glory, that the legendary basketball star, Magic Johnson, merrily anticipated that, if James won the title, everyone would forget about his controversial behaviours in the past.
“Everyone will love him,” Magic said with a grin.
“But,” I yelled at my TV, “we never doubted that he would win! Our annyoance with Lebron was never with his basketball skills!”
Nevertheless, upon winning the championship, Mr. James was brought onto the talk show, The View, whereupon one of the hosts asked him what he had to say to his accusers now.
“Well,” he beamed, “I think I’ll let [my NBA championship trophy] do my talking for me.”
And the audience laughed with delight as though no one could ever criticize the star again.
So let me see if I understand this. If it’s true that Mr. James behaved badly, then it was only contemptible so long as he wasn’t a champion. But, upon achieving victory, his behaviour off the court is no longer contestable?
PROSECUTOR: Mr. Cheatem, is it true that you falsely represented your company’s holdings?
CHEATEM: Yes, I did, but in my defence, that made my company millions of dollars, and I was named Broker of the Year in my office.
PROSECUTOR: Why didn’t you say before that your scheme was so successful?! I would never knowingly insult the behaviour of someone who won! Congratulations. I move for a dismissal of all charges.
I’m not saying that James is as bad as a fraud artist. In fact, the star was uncharacteristically gracious when he received the big trophy. I don’t even blame him for his silly answer to the soft question he received from The View people; it was too easy a slam dunk answer for him to pass up. But I do hope there is resistance among his critics to the notion that winning absolves someone of wrongdoings related to their character.
(Unless James wins again next year: in that case, what more do we want from him, people?! ;))
In the interest of full disclosure—and Seth-promotion—the spirt of this rant, and other works of Sethiquette, is now available in my book, How to Cure Yourself of Narcissism.
SETHITOR’S NOTE: Apparently, at the time of this post, SethBlogs used the term “social networking” to refer specifically to social media participation. This seems wrong to SethBlogs now (April 2021), as it seems to current SethBlogs that “social networking” could refer to non-digital socializing, too, but I don’t recall if the apparent error was a SethBlogs-original, or if he was copying consensus. As such I’ll leave the odd phrasing in because it may be capturing an intriguing moment in our linguistic history.
On the radio stations I listen to (CKNW and CBC), there have been several interviews recently featuring pundits decrying the anti-social nature of my home metro city of Vancouver. Apparently, we metro Vancouverites aren’t very friendly, or at least it’s difficult to make friends here, and many people are feeling disconnected. In each such discussion, callers to the radio shows have boasted of their methods of increasing interactions with their neighbours.
In one case, a man was so fed up with his friends’ anti-social tendencies that he was now standing up to them.
“They want me to text them instead of at least talking to me on the phone,” he complained to the soothing verbal nods of the radio pundits.
So he’s started a program in which he bakes cookies, and then takes himself on a mission to visit with his friends at their homes.
“About 50% of them didn’t like that I’d arrived unannounced,” he said, “so no cookies for them.”
From there, he explained that his goal was to give his friends a break from whatever project they were working on: who, after all, didn’t have 15 minutes to talk face to face and maybe share a cup of tea?
This cookie ferry was lauded by the radio pundits as someone who was showing merry creativity in his efforts to truly reconnect with his world.
On a rival radio station, meanwhile, a man called in to say that he, too, is an advocate of increased social interaction and so he tries to talk to people on the bus even though—he acknowledged sadly—in nine times out of ten he is rebuffed. In this case, the radio pundits were upset that the social hero had been so mistreated by snobby bus travelers, and they claimed to hope he would maintain his good spirits in pursuit of his good fight.
Such negative results proved, it seemed, that Vancouver was indeed an unfriendly city where making friends is a daunting pursuit. And apparently it’s getting worse! The highest percentage of people who find friendship-making a challenge are in the young demographic of 25-34 year-olds. This was especially sad to the pundits since, after all, within such youth there should be the greatest promise and opportunity.
But, just a for moment, might we consider the possibility that 25-34 year olds perceive difficulty in making friends because they no longer have the free-friendship-making services of school, and they haven’t yet learned how to acquire friends in other places? Or maybe this particular crop of 25-34 year-olds, compared with previous generations, has been nurtured into assuming that they deserve a large collection of friends at all times.
“And this,” one pundit remarked, “in spite of social networking.”
The implication of course being that social networking is a false form of human connection; indeed, the pundit now had proof that social networkers were ultimately dissatisfied in spite of their lofty technical connections. The pundit did not consider any other alternative such as, say, perhaps social networkers in that age group are spoiled by the ease of virtual interactions and so they mistakenly assume that it will be equally easy out in the face-to-face world, too.
Perhaps our city would benefit from greater social engagement than we have, and maybe social networking is hindering more than it’s helping. But if we’re not willing to scientifically interpret the evidence beyond simply taking as gospel a particular group’s self-assessment that they’re lonely, then we really have no way of knowing.
There seems to be an unassailable agreement amongst social interaction pundits that face-to-face meeting with human beings is always better than any other form of communication. Why? Have they never been to a gathering where the conversation is stilted, boring, or overpowered by a narcissist? Do they never wish they were home reading a book, or even watching TV? Moreover, some people are introverts, which I understand means that, unlike extroverts, they are not energized by socializing, so maybe they require less in-person visiting than those who love to be around people. Perhaps, for some people, social media allows them to engage while still possessing an immediate escape route.
And what about the benefits of engagement provided by digital communication? Each of these unholy media, from phoning, to texting, to emailing, to tweeting has the power to set up plans to meet more efficiently than traditional communication. Imagine how cumbersome it would be to set up a friendly flash mob without the internet.
Ultimately, I think new forms of communication give us more choice. Maybe today, as the pundits complained, we don’t know our next-door neighbours as well as we used to, but at the same time, instead of acquiring friendships merely based on proximity, we can now interact with people with whom we have something particularly in common, even if they live on another continent. Yes, perhaps these options are too many and are costing us interactions that would be good for us. I, too, find it often rude and disruptive, for instance, when people are habitually on their texter while officially visiting with someone in person. And maybe some people are addicted to their iBerry to the point that they are harming themselves without being aware of it.
But we need more evidence for the inferiority of modern communication as a whole beyond simply that it is not face to face. Not everyone wants to interact directly with other people all the time. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re unfriendly. When I’m on the bus, I like to read or listen to my radio. I’ve met many strangers who have decided that I would be better off talking to them. And rarely in such cases have I found the conversations to be fulfilling. Perhaps that’s because I was enjoying my book or radio program, but it may also be because getting to know someone for the first time is stilted business, and so, if we’re not destined to be great friends, we’re doing the hardest part of socializing without the payoff.
I find that people on the bus are generally pretty friendly if someone is lost or falls down. We look out for each other if there is a need, but beyond that, maybe we’ve decided as a group that we’ll focus our socializing on people with whom we have a relationship, while using our solo bus trips as free time to catch up on the book we’ve been wanting to read or cell phone game we never get to play.
The truth is it’s not hard to make friends if you’re willing to go to places where stranger-interactions are an assumed part of the activity. Sports, clubs, conferences, volunteer endeavours, and weddings are all fertile contexts for friendship-making. So, instead of imposing oneself on the nearest stranger who already had plans for their transit time, why not go to places where people have chosen to engage with new people?
And, once people are friends, I applaud those who make the effort to create opportunities to interact, but the the idea that one’s friends should always be ready for a fifteen-minute cup of tea is the most fascist notion in the history of friendship. Dearest cookie-socializer, are there no times when you don’t want to socialize? Maybe you were just getting ready to take a shower after a long bike ride, or were planning to watch a movie with your spouse after a hard day at work; how would you like it if your friends arrived on your door step just then, informing you that it was time to socialize?
And let’s be honest: it’s not going to be a “fifteen minute” morsel of time: it’ll be at least an hour before you’ll be allowed to get back to what you had planned for yourself. Perhaps YOU, cookie man, would love such an imposition of impromptu interaction, but can you comprehend the possibility that some people may have chosen their own solitude or company just then? What gives you the authority to overrule your friends’ plans with your personal preference to be in their presence at that moment? Next time, just phone (or tweet) ahead to see if they’re up for a visit, and nobody has to get hurt.
Perhaps, as the pundits argue, the world would be a better place if we were to visit with each other more often, but those who hold that position would, I submit, have more success in achieving this goal if they were to persuade those of us less inclined by making the socializing inviting instead of obligatory. If we choose it, we will stay.
Since typing the above, I forwarded it to The Simi Sara Show on CKNW (whereon some of the SethBlog villains of this piece were originally given their day on radio). As a result, to my delight and nervousness, I was invited onto The Simi Sara show to defend my “anti-social position” (see the below video, “The Simi Sara Show Part 1”). And below that (“The Simi Sara Show Part 2”) is the audience’s reaction to my radical views. Apparently, according to the popular consensus, there is no middle ground between always being social, and being an unfriendly jerk.
As we gather around our televisions to witness the Vancouver Canucks vs. the Boston Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, we will hear—with increasing frequency—about the beauty and honour that the referees could bestow on the game if only they would “let the players play!” I couldn’t agree nor disagree more.
By “letting them play,” Canada’s leading alpha human and CBC commentator, Don Cherry—amongst many other hockey aggression protectors—means that the NHL referees should, as much as possible, keep their whistles out of the games and not call so many penalties. To his way of thinking, such red tape disrupts the players’ ability to decide the contests via their own grit and determination.
Cherry apparently sees hockey as a test of heart and aggression, so that—when one player “illegally” fouls another in the joyful pursuit of that great good—the referee should most of the time ignore the infraction so as not to stunt the beauty of the battle.
After all, if a player crosses a line in the rules while seeking his gritty dream, and we punish him for it with a sanction that could hurt his team, then we will force the player to pull back his heart-felt play to avoid further reducing his team’s chances. To the hockey-is-war fan, such restrictions are obscene: the referees’ egos, they claim, are ruining game!
But what about the skill of the game? Some of us come to hockey broadcasts because—along with impressive physical confrontations—we love exquisite stick handling demonstrations and deft passing plays, but every time a grunt athlete illegally obstructs one of our athletic Einsteins, he limits the skill players’ ability to play their game.
Since the early 1990s, when Gretzky and Lemieux roamed the rinks and the goals flowed like Cherry wine, NHL scoring has reduced significantly. In fact, by 2005, the game had become a little dull to many viewers, which provoked the NHL to set up a competition committee to investigate ways to allow the skill players more room to demonstrate their talent.
For instance, one of the many resulting rules is that players in the defensive zone can no longer throw the puck over the sideline glass to stop the play: if they do so—intentionally or not—they will leave their team shorthanded for two minutes. Don Cherry is a leading critic of this rule.
“The players don’t mean to do it,” he has ranted many times.
Instead, he argues, such players are simply trying to get the puck out of danger by banking it high off the side wall, but sometimes they accidentally shoot it too high, and so it goes out of play.
This argument implies, first of all, that the players would never purposely throw the puck out of the play because it would be unsporting. Has Cherry met the NHL mentality?
This is a league made of goalies who are applauded if they can “accidentally” knock their own nets off their moorings so as to stop the play if they think they’re about to be scored on. (“Nice veteran move,” commentators will then cheer, as though winning is an intrinsic good regardless of the rules broken to achieve it). Indeed, in a sport that salutes the motto, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying,” of course players would intentionally throw the puck out of play in order to save a goal! They’d tackle their opponent every time they touched the puck if they thought they could get away with it.
Second, now that the league penalizes playing for knocking the puck out of play while on defence, Cherry’s surely right that they’re not doing in on purpose (anymore), but that doesn’t make it an unworthy interjection of rules. Instead, we now have a situation where such players either don’t have sufficient skill to get the puck away from danger without sending it out of play, or the offensive team is doing such an excellent job of pressuring them, that they don’t have time to make a stronger play. Sounds good to me. I don’t see a problem with penalizing a player for unintentionally going out of bounds in their failed attempt to complete a high-risk play. Similarly, I’m sure tennis players don’t mean to hit the net: and yet, when they do, the judge will not let them play through the error because they intended a better shot. Walking the tight rope between a high-skill play and a penalized one requires great skill at great risk. If you don’t have it in you to complete, then don’t try for it.
(In Cherry’s version of the hockey universe, players who lack the skill to keep the puck in play would be rewarded with a reprieve from danger that the higher-skilled players would not receive, and thus sometimes ironically would acquire better results for lesser execution.)
The NHL rules are not perfect (personally, I would like more skill-protecting regulations in place), but the league has improved conditions in recent years for skill players. Whereas previously a defensive player could often get away with holding onto an offensive player’s stick, there is now a specific penalty called “holding the stick” that has, to my hockey eye, reduced the ridiculous behaviour.
(Can you imagine a baseball catcher, upon realizing his opponent is about to have a good swing at a home run, simply reaching out and holding the offensive weapon?) To the Cherry crowd, such penalty calls are petty:
“C’mon, just let them play!”
Well, what about the high-skill player who’s trying to create some offence? What’s wrong with letting him play by penalizing those who use illegal methods to stop him?
Officially, the NHL tells us that referees are told that—if they see a penalty—they are supposed to call it regardless of the effect it will have on the game, but, as these playoff games become increasingly significant, the on-ice umpires cannot escape the pressure to stay out of deciding the outcomes of the matches. Thus, when games go into overtime, infractions that would have been called in the early part of the game, seem to be called less often.
This hands-off approach pleases the Cherry-minded who will accuse those refs, who don’t follow the unofficial “Let them play” rule, of tampering with the players’ ability to decide the game for themselves. Their argument implies that gritty—by-any-means-necessary—players are more worthy of determining the results than skill players. But why not give skill a chance, too? Why not let those who possess such talent be unencumbered by the rule-evading specialists?
If we call the penalties according to the line that the league has determined fairly balances skill and grit, then players can by all means decide the outcome within those limits. And let the skill players play.
“Plenty of room for temporary Canuck fans on the bandwagon. You’re not obligated to watch the whole marathon to cheer on the final sprint!”
I couldn’t agree with me more! As my Vancouver Canucks attempt to exorcise their Chicago Blackhawks‘ demons tonight, some longtime Van Can fans will bristle and even insult those short-term cheerleaders who only come out for big games. I do not understand this resentment. Hockey is entertainment, and so, as far as I’m concerned, you’re welcome to take part in as much or as little of it as you like.
(Admittedly, I can be caught teasing those newbies who try to sound like hockey pundits and make hockey proclamations that are beyond their comprehension level, but that’s a whole other snobbery.)
Similarly, I don’t resent those of us who only watch Olympic sports every four years. It may be tough on those athletes that they don’t get daily cheering, but, sorry: this is entertainment. I’ll watch when I find it entertaining, and I happen to only find cross country skiing to be intriguing when Olympic medals are on the line.
I may also watch a movie sequel without “supporting” the original, or view Harry Potter without reading the book. I don’t have a problem with me doing that, and neither should Canuck loyalists resent occasional supporters. Not only are they not hurting anybody in the process, but their fresh enthusiasm adds excitement to the hockey battle for the rest of us. In fact, it seems to me if they were there all year long, the playoffs wouldn’t be nearly as fun.
However! If the Canucks lose tonight, I will have to aim my disappointment somewhere, and so I’ll have no choice but to join in the mocking of those clamouring for the bandwagon exit.
In reward for you reading (or at least glancing) to the end of this post, I offer you in the video below the result of the game in blog post.
Spoiler Alert: I likely wouln’t be sharing it if it didn’t go our Canuckly way.
In the interest of full disclosure—and Seth-promotion—the spirt of this rant, and other works of Sethiquette, is now available in my book, How to Cure Yourself of Narcissism.
WARNING: This is one of those classic commentaries that I promised in my CAPTAIN’S BLOG: it comes to you from many months ago, and so isn’t exactly “archaic” as my brother would say, but it is slightly beyond timeliness. However, as 2011 begins its quest, I thought it would be a good time to offer this analysis of one the biggest events of last year. As always, therefore, please read it with a grain of imagining you were living in the former time in which it was written.
FIFA, with its World Cup (of Football), presides over the world’s most popular game and name for a sport. Far behind the dominant leader, there is Rugby Football, Australian Rules Football, Gaelic Football, American “Gridiron” Football, Canadian Football, and (will you accept?) Foosball, who each believe themselves entitled to the name because, you see, it was their common ancestor’s moniker before them. Yes, like a Homo Sapien to a Homo Neanderthalensis (who still roam the earth on over-loud motorbikes), all those sports descend from a common game.
The original, untamed sport allowed hands as well as feet to manipulate the ball. (Indeed, because the sport was not always foot-centric, some suspect that the term “football” derived not from the use of the feet against the ball, but instead from the medium of feet by which its peasant participants moved about the pitch, in contrast with the horse-bound aristocrats competing at polo.)
That first, not-fully-defined game was eventually organized in England, where a dispute over whether hands should be kept active in the contest branched it into two offspring: those who wanted to focus on the feet created “association” football (whose name was adapted to “soccer” from, yes, the “soc” in “association”), while those who wanted to keep their hands in play invented “rugby” football (which then begat gridiron football such as the CFL and NFL in North America).
Each of these games succeeded, but, like its metaphorical counterpart, the homo sapiens, association/soccer football was the most prolific—probably for the same peasant accessibility reason that (may have) put the “foot” in “football.” Rich and poor could play without many resources: a ball will do—goalposts are a bonus. It is now contested fervently on six of seven Earth-bound continents (although there are rumours out there, which I’ve recently started, that the scientists on Antarctica occasionally put up some frozen goalposts and compete for penguin meat).
In spite of its mudblood beginnings, association football seems to believe that its popularity implies superiority and so chortles at the efforts of its cousin games. North American football is often teased, for instance, for its constant stoppages in play—apparently in ugly contrast with the “beautiful game” in which players glide around the pitch for 90 minutes with only one stop of its watch.
But, maybe, precisely because it’s so popular, association football needs help. Sports that don’t have a six-continent following have had to evolve to compete. In contrast, soccer has no peer to fear and so perhaps lacks the incentive to aim to be better. Instead, it languishes in its dominant position without questioning itself.
Therefore, I humbly offer my services in this area. (I realize it’s presumptuous to question the behaviours of a game that dwarfs my own favourite—hockey, which is perfect, thanks for asking—but I’m willing to do it anyway for the sake of being so very helpful.) After observing FIFA’s World Cup, 2010 edition, I have three tiny little blasphemous suggestions:
(1) Let’s begin with football’s amalgamation with the sport of diving. Within the present rules of soccer, there appears to be the following guideline: “A foul occurs when (A) a player is struck by an opponent via kicking or pushing, or (B) a player is almost struck, and gives a wonderful, acrobatic demonstration of how he would have fallen if indeed he had been violated.”
(Consider the following Youtube compilation.)
Soccer players are not the only athletes who attempt to convince referees that they’ve been fouled when they haven’t (my Canucks’ leading jerk, Alex Burrows, can attest to that), but they are the most prolific and profound in their efforts. With comprehensive pseudo-agony, their faces writhe as their bodies fly and flail across the pitch after being nearly tripped. Much of the time the referee realizes that players who are genuinely damaged would be too distracted by their pain to try to highlight it, but sometimes the performance of the diver convinces the judge that a crime was committed and the corresponding sanctions must then be enforced.
(See the following delightful video to imagine how teams might train their players to dive.)
(Or this full instructiongal guide to the football sport of diving.)
In the non-sports world, we call that fraud. The only difference between a forger selling a fake painting and a football player selling a fake foul is that an unearned penalty kick in a World Cup match is much more valuable.
Yet association players are rarely convicted for this crime. They are free to jump up from what appeared to be an amputated leg’s worth of pain and continue sprinting around the field until their next performance.
It is not so beautiful to witness, but, as long as simulating injuries is part of the skill-set that can help a team win, players will continue to develop their tumbling routines. So unless FIFA, in fact, believes that one’s flare for the dramatic should be amongst the aptitudes that influence the result of a football contest, they must make the punishment for the crime outweigh the possible gains.
Currently, if a FIFA referee is convinced he’s seen a fake, he’s authorized to apply one of his yellow warning cards (the second of which will eject the player from the game). Unfortunately, first-view assessment of diving is very subjective and so it is not often called: I suggest, then, that FIFA supplement these occasional yellow cards by spending a few minutes, after each match, at the replay screen, and then disciplining any conclusive evidence of fraud with a 10-game ban from international competition.
This is just a wonderful starter idea. I leave it to Mr. and Mrs. FIFA to work out the details. So long as the penalties are sufficiently aggressive, few players will invoke them.
(2) Now let’s talk about offside, the omnipresent restriction that says you cannot be ahead of the opposition defence unless the ball is too. It is a rule that has a lovely spirit to it that insists that success in the game be derived from skilfully manoeuvring the ball past the enemy as opposed to running ahead and waiting for a long kick from a comrade. But, to my spoiled-by-hockey-viewing eye, the rule is to too restrictive because it doesn’t allow for a middle ground: no matter how far your team has brought the ball up the field by its wits, you’re still offside if merely your diving cap is beyond the defenders. This limits the options of the attackers and so offers a hefty advantage to defence in a game that is already ever noted for its nil-nil matches. In hockey, conveniently, so long as you manage to stay onside as you pass the blue line of the opposition’s defensive end, then you are allowed to do as you wish with your position until the puck is returned to the other side of the line.
I won’t go so far as to suggest that association football implement a similar brilliance, but I do demand that, if they’re going to have such an oppressive rule, they determine a reliable system for accurately imposing it.
In my awestruck viewing of World Cup 2010, I noted that most goals that were achieved at any speed were, according to my play-by-play guides, “possibly offside.” The only difference I could see with these instances and the many outlawed goals that were charged as offside was that the officials guessed differently. The game happens too quickly to get the close calls correct at a rate much higher than chance, which means that, in these games wherein one goal is usually the decider, luck of the estimate is often the ultimate ruler.
And yet, (3) in contrast with its football cousins, FIFA “the Luddite” does not believe in using non-traditional methods (video replays) to assist in refereeing its matches. Thus, when England took on Germany, and gave in a goal that replay would have instantly determined as offside, and then were later rebuked a goal because the referee didn’t notice it go in, they had no recourse but to take comfort that their sport had not sold out to the evils of objectivity.
(Consider this video of the England’s “non-goal.”)
I’m not proposing that all goals and offsides be subject to the ultimate decision of the replay official (this would slow the game’s beauty down even more than the frustrating rule, itself), but perhaps the officials could ask for assistance on close calls.
And maybe, while they’re looking, they could check on the veracity of the yellow cards (which are given out as “cautions” to players for various infringements of the rules): I wouldn’t normally quibble over something so gentle-sounding as a “caution,” but, in this case, if a footballer receives a total of two yellow tickets anywhere from the first game to the end of the quarter-final (a five game span), he misses the next match. This is a stringent punishment for an action that again may have been misread in the high-paced moment by the referee (whose judgment may have once more been manipulated by one of those famous diving routines designed to create the illusion of a foul where there wasn’t one).
A common response from announcers to mistaken decisions is that, “We have the benefit of replays; the referees don’t” as though it is a tragedy that cannot be helped. And yet, by simply raising its head and allowing a wee bit of sand to pour off, FIFA could permit its officials to make some game-time decisions that surpass even the quality of the casual fan’s assessment from the television sideline.
But, of course, as I’ve stipulated, FIFA has no incentive to consider such alterations. It is unlikely that any of its football-cousins will ever match soccer’s prowess in the hearts and cultures of the world and so, if the sport is satisfied with earthly dominance and the precious traditions that serenaded it there, then it shall remain a beautiful shame. One can only argue in retort that, as with the Earth-shattering homo sapiens, success over one’s rivals is not a perfect predictor of merit. The movie Avatar taught me that. (For that matter, the box office success of Avatar taught me that, too.)
In the interest of full disclosure—and Seth-promotion—the spirt of this rant, and other works of Sethiquette, is now available in my book, How to Cure Yourself of Narcissism.
In sports, when underdogs win unexpectedly, there seems to be an almost unanimous tendency amongst such winners to suddenly deride those who predicted they wouldn’t win.
INTERVIEWER: How does it feel to win?!
UNDERDOG CHAMPION: Yeah, everyone was counting us out. They were all bashing us. Nobody believed in us, but ourselves, and we proved them all wrong!
I find the indignant tone of such remarks to be a wee bit confusing. It’s as though the vindicated athletes think the pundits were maliciously targeting them in a manner akin to someone telling a child they would never amount to anything:
PUNDIT: I predict the Rangers will beat the Blazers 4-2.
BLAZERS’ PLAYER: Oh, great, so you’re saying I’m not good enough to win?! You don’t believe in me just like my parents never believed in me! Thanks a lot.
Surely the players understand that—if predictions are to be made—someone has to be estimated to lose, so their designation as underdog was not necessarily mean-spirited. But maybe I’m missing the point. Perhaps the players simply don’t like being predicted upon at all:
INTERVIEWER: So how does it feel to go into this tournament ranked number one?
HIGH RANKED PLAYER: Actually, I find the whole notion of rankings to be disrespectful: I’m tired of being treated like a piece of meat whose results can be anticipated by non-players. Instead of typecasting us based on past performances, why don’t you just wait and see what happens? Whatever will be, will be!
Strangely, though, such railing against complimentary predictions happens rarely. Instead the players only seem resentful when they’re not picked to win. Actually, that’s not completely true. More accurately: they only object when they’re not picked to win, but end up winning, after all. However, I’ve yet to hear an assault on predictions of losing when they prove accurate:
INTERVIEWER: So, how do you feel about your 5th place finish?
5TH PLACER: Well, let me first point out that everyone predicted I would come in 5th. And I just want to say ‘Screw you!’ to all those people that didn’t believe in me.
INTERVIEWER: So you feel you should have been predicted to fare better?
5TH PLACER: Yeah! It would have been nice if someone would’ve believed in me. I see that all sorts of people believed in Mr. World Record Holder over there. Isn’t that nice for him? So not only does he get the glory of winning, he also gets the pre-event accolades, too. Couldn’t those predictions have been shared out evenly? Or better yet, here’s an idea: why not treat us all like we have an equal chance of winning and not predict at all!?
So, given that the athletes only object when they are inaccurately predicted to perform worse than they do, maybe their objection is not that their results were estimated, but instead that the alleged experts got it wrong. Hmm, but the problem there is that if inaccuracy of prediction is the only issue, wouldn’t the “overdog” players predicted to win complain when they lose?
INTERVIEWER: So how does it feel to lose after being the favourite in this tournament?
OVERDOG LOSER: Well, the truth is I was a little irritated in the first place when we were ranked so highly. Clearly, the so-called experts don’t know what they’re talking about. They said we’d come in first, and did we? No. I just feel really bad for the fans who were given false estimates by the pundits.
So I’m not sure what the solution is to the incrogruity that predictions seem to be okay so long as pundits don’t predict certain teams to lose. When I coached kids’ rollerblade hockey, a four-team tournament was divided into “Gold Medal Winner,” “Gold Medal Runner-up,” “Silver Medal Winner,” and “Silver Medal Runner-up.” Admittedly, one of my ten year old players approached me afterwards, and said:
“Why are we being called ‘Silver Medal Runner-Up’? Didn’t we come in last?”
Despite the youngster’s ability to see through the trophy-based re-framing, perhaps sports prognosticators can learn from such efforts to protect people from ever thinking they’ve lost:
PUNDIT: I believe equally in all four teams in this tournament. They’re all ranked number one in my books! If I had to choose—and it’s basically a coin flip—I would rank the Bears ‘1A,’ the Tornados ‘1B,’ the Lions ‘1C,’ and the Ravens ‘1D.’
RAVENS’ PLAYER: Awesome! We’re ranked number 1!
For delightful illustration of the above, consider below Jim Carrey’s (Academy Award worthy) Lloyd Christmas in one of the greatest (and most underrated) comedies all all time, Dumb & Dumber. In this wonderful scene, Lloyd masterfuly reframes a situation in which first glance might suggest he hadn’t succeeded.
SPOILER ALERT: Don’t view you if you haven’t yet seen this brilliant movie!