Family values

by CarlD

Been a long day introducing all three of my introductory World History sections to structure/agency analysis, Rachel isn’t home yet, so I’m vegging out, grazing on bloggery and half-watching the Carolina Hurricanes play the New York Rangers. It’s intermission and the standard star interview with Eric Staal.

Staal has two brothers who also play hockey in the NHL, Marc with the Rangers and Jordan with the Penguins, who the Hurricanes beat recently. The interviewer wants to know why Eric seems to play with special intensity against his brothers’ teams. Eric chuckles and says something about being competitive and not wanting to be beaten by your siblings.

There you have it, the old sibling-rivalry cliché. One of many readymades in a routine sports interview. Hardly worth noticing, so why did I notice it?

Well, I’m also paying some attention to the Australian Open. Among the tournament’s attractions are the Williams sisters, two of the best tennis players in history, and normally it’s a great pleasure to watch them work. Yet I consider it merciful that Venus Williams was upset early, because now they won’t end up playing each other and we won’t have to listen to yet another tiresome rehearsal of how hard that is for them when they love each other so much and feel the pain of each others’ losses so keenly.

One situation, two diametrically opposite clichés: fun to beat siblings, painful to beat siblings. Both presented as if they’re self-evident.

I don’t question the emotional authenticity of either side. The Staals and the Williamses are by all accounts both loving, close-knit families. There’s no easy win for one of these perspectives on a family values basis. Nor am I ethically moved by the Williams sisters’ narrow show of empathy. Like hockey, tennis is a competitive sport; their success in it depends on beating other people’s sisters every day. I imagine the Staals would consider fretting about each others’ delicate feelings a bit insulting. Bring it, dude.

In short, I’m inclined to consider this one of those instances of genuinely arbitrary cultural style, like whether there are one, two or six sexes or whether we can eat cows, dogs and beetle larvae. But there’s more. It’s also worth considering that the two discourses might be gendered, with the Staals performing tough masculinity and the Williamses emotive femininity. Race and class also raise the stakes: the farmboy white guy Staals have no need of categorical solidarity in a working-class white guy sport, whereas the poor, black Williams family have always understood themselves to be embattled outsiders in a rich, white, country club sport. In fact, my impression is that their narrative of family solidarity has faded in direct proportion to their sense of success and acceptance.

Does any of this explain why both family values narratives can be unproblematically presented as self-evident? That’s what fascinates me, and I’m not sure I understand it at all.

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9 Comments to “Family values”

  1. Shopping “as a family” in one of the blogs I sort of follow means shopping in a one-race, one-class environment.

  2. Quite so! To paraphrase Dan quoting Kurt Vonnegut here recently: One blog is not a family; it’s a terribly vulnerable cultural unit. Now those who shop in one blog, when you find it unsatisfactory, what you will be saying to the other actually is, ”You’re not enough people. You’re only one person. I should have hundreds of people around.”

  3. I see a future for competitive shopping though, it would be so much quicker…

  4. That’s sort of the Ebay concept I guess, but something more up close and immediate would be even better. Like a flea market with shoulder pads and a penalty box. Actually, I’ve been to flea markets like that come to think of it.

  5. I’ve try this technique where I glance at the list and say: “Ok, I’ll get these 5 items, while you’re getting these!” But it always ends up me running around the store impressing myself with intricate knowledge of where stuff is only to come back to my co-shopper and find her staring at a tomato or something – no competitive spirit at all…

  6. Well and then there’s the whole comparison-shopping thing where you have to read the labels, deconstruct the ingredients (does the msg undermine the fiber), semiotic analysis of color palette (clean metallic modern vs. warm traditional, e.g.), consider the historical trajectory of pricing, class implications of store brand vs. national brand. It’s really quite the test, do not try this at home….

  7. “competitive shopping”

    Sounds like Friday afternoon at Mahaneh Yehuda Market in Jerusalem…

  8. That last comment should surely secure my bourgeois “affectedness.” In your face, Mikhail.

  9. That’s it Shahar, go all meta on our meta. Competing about the conditions of competition, harrumph.

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