Via The Daily Dish, I see that Jason Alexander (known chiefly for Seinfeld, but for me, Dunston Checks In) apologized for calling cricket “gay” on Craig Ferguson’s late-night show. The apology is actually pretty deep and well-thought; I recommend all read it in full. But here’s the cricket part:
Years ago, I was hosting comics in a touring show in Australia and one of the bits I did was talking about their sports versus American sports. I joked about how their rugby football made our football pale by comparison because it is a brutal, no holds barred sport played virtually without any pads, helmets or protection. And then I followed that with a bit about how, by comparison, their other big sport of cricket seemed so delicate and I used the phrase, “ a bit gay”. Well, it was all a laugh in Australia where it was seen as a joke about how little I understood cricket, which in fact is a very, very athletic sport. The routine was received well but, seeing as their isn’t much talk of cricket here in America, it hasn’t come up in years.
Until last week. When Craig mentioned cricket I thought, “oh, goody – I have a comic bit about cricket I can do. Won’t that be entertaining?”. And so I did a chunk of this old routine and again referred to cricket as kind of “gay” – talking about the all white uniforms that never seem to get soiled; the break they take for tea time with a formal tea cart rolled onto the field, etc. I also did an exaggerated demonstration of the rather unusual way they pitch the cricket ball which is very dance-like with a rather unusual and exaggerated arm gesture. Again, the routine seemed to play very well and I thought it had been a good appearance.
Three quick observations: 1) When American media personalities talk about cricket, they usually portray it as a hopelessly complicated upper-class English pursuit. It’s easy to see how ‘effeminate’ and ‘upper-class’ are linked in Alexander’s mind, because gay culture in America is often portrayed that way (think Queer Eye for a Straight Guy, or Tim Gunn on Project Runway). A while back, Esquire magazine did a fashion spread on cricket that highlighted the sweaters and caps and whites. Alas, it’s rare to see cricket the way it is — an extraordinarily diverse game that is increasingly centered among the Indian (rich-middle-class-poor) masses.
2) It’s funny that Alexander mentions the all-whites and the tea-cart on the pitch (which doesn’t actually happen) because he’s referring here to traditions that mostly come from the Victorian era of the game. As this article argues, the Victorians didn’t view cricket as an exercise in joy and self-expression (as “Georgian laxity” allowed); they saw cricket as a way to assert order, morality and a particular notion of masculinity. In other words, the modern game of cricket, which takes many cues from the Victorian era, descends from a period that viewed homosexuality as deeply aberrant; indeed, in India, to say someone “chucks” — that is, to say someone does not bowl with the ‘exaggerated gesture’ Alexander finds so funny — is equivalent to calling him gay. (When I grew up in Bombay in the 1990s, a “chuck” was a deeply offensive word.)
3) I should note that I’ve heard more than a few Indian fans call bad bowlers “gay,” and it’s never been clear to me if they’re using the term the way schoolboys do (i.e., anything pejorative is gay), or if it’s something deeper. In India, there is an almost universal belief that Pakistani bowlers are better because they eat meat and are Muslim and are warriors and are masculine (etc. etc.); my grandmother once told me Javagal Srinath would improve his strike-rate if he dropped his veg diet. And I think we all spent most of the past two decades comparing India’s “masculinity” versus Australia’s: Why can’t we curse and sledge the way they do? Why can’t we bat against the short ball the way they do? Why do we lack the KILLER INSTINCT? It’s not a line of inquiry I’d spend much time on.
Final question: does anyone know any openly gay cricketers?