Building a Better Bloke

Slow man

Posted in Entertainment, Philosophy, Sport by Sam de Brito on October 19, 2009

By Craig Lennox

I am a cyclist, and I love watching cycling.

Whether I mention this in passing or during a deep discussion on the merits of various sports, it regularly draws funny looks, comments regarding a penchant for Lycra shorts and suggestions that I may also enjoy watching paint dry.

Justifying being a cyclist and enjoying the lycra shorts whilst contending with wind, rain, hills and traffic is generally easy enough. It’s great for building fitness, you can exercise while actually going somewhere (and admire the outside world rather than sweaty people and walls), and it’s a way to get around without destroying the planet.

But explaining to someone why I enjoy watching men and women doing the same on TV is always a challenge …

Objectively a cycle race is simply people riding bicycles, attempting to travel from point A to point B in the shortest time. The most popular form of cycle racing is when people do this on roads in Europe, usually France.

Putting forward to a non-believer that the most appealing and interesting aspect of the sport is its tactical element, with teams containing a range of riders, fulfilling specialist roles at specific times throughout a race rarely changes people’s opinions.

Neither will suggesting that cyclists are the fittest athletes on the planet, with no others competing for three to six hours a day, every day, for three weeks, using their own energy alone to carry them over mountain ranges and across countries.

Is it that taste in sport, like any, is personal, influenced by upbringing, family and friends?

Or is there more to it?

Do tastes in sport reflect tastes in television, film, music and food?

The popularity of television dramas like CSI, NCIS and Grey’s Anatomy illustrates the popularity of snappy story-telling, with a simple story arc and a different theme each episode.

Variety and familiarity keeps fans coming back, while also allowing for the enjoyment of casual viewers or those joining in mid-series.

This is in contrast with the popularity of a drama like The Wire, which is relegated to pay-TV or ABC 2.

Although popular in the television underground, and seemingly gaining more fans through word of mouth and DVD releases, The Wire will never reach the level of popularity Grey’s or CSI enjoy.

The reasons for this have been well covered in the media, with one article at smh.com.au describing it as “dense and complex, brutally realistic but rich in symbolism, The Wire demands – and rewards – a level of engagement other shows don’t.”

It is a common sentiment, with fans I know quick to agree.

I now find myself nearing the end of the show’s second season, and admit to being well and truly on the bandwagon.

But talking about the show with some colleagues and friends I have found similar challenges to discussing my enjoyment of televised cycling.

Convincing someone to begin investing their time in a sixty-hour story is tough. Descriptions like “complicated” and “slow-moving” are nearly always turn-offs. You can say that the rewards will come, but you will find few takers.

So does the popularity of CSI over The Wire mirror the popularity of rugby league over the Tour de France? Possibly. There are similarities between the two.

Small things matter. The murder of a low-level drug dealer in The Wire can result in the demise of a drug-lord’s empire. An unknown rider attacking alone for a stage win can divide the peloton and affect the outcome of the Tour three weeks later.

The tactical rolls of the dice by leaders determine successes. Stringer Bell calling for a murder or changing the name of the product can completely turn around his business (heroin supply and distribution).

The manager of Carlos Sastre’s team in the 2008 Tour banked on him attacking on a single climb to win the yellow jersey. The race was won in a forty-minute period of a three-week race.

So what’s my point?

I’m a fan of the slower things. I still enjoy “fast-paced”, “action-packed” and “fuck yeah!” at times, but I think there are greater rewards to be had when one has to invest some time and thought.

I don’t want to turn on the news one morning and find out who has won Le Tour. I want to watch the entire three weeks. I want to wonder as I watch the action on the third day if the tour is being won in front of me. I want to look back on the race in its entirety and reminisce on the moments that mattered.

I want to pay close attention to the first scene of the first episode of the first season of The Wire because it may make the difference when I eventually watch episode ten of season five.

I’d rather settle into two and a half hours of Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James… than an hour and a bit in Ocean’s Something. The same goes for the two and a half hours of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or Inglourious Basterds.

I think Brad Pitt is on to something.

I’m happy if people enjoy the faster and simpler things in life, and I’m happy to join in; eighty minutes of State of Origin league can be magic, and I’ll admit to thoroughly enjoying giant robots fucking shit up in Transformers.

But I also think people should open up to taking a little time, and putting a little thought into their entertainment. There are rewards to be had, appreciated and remembered.

So how long should tomorrow’s morning ride be?

An hour is usually enough, but who knows what I might get out for three.

Craig Lennox is a physiotherapist working in the public health system, and therefore may not have a job tomorrow. He currently resides in Dubbo, NSW.

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13 Responses

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  1. Troose said, on October 19, 2009 at 10:04 am

    May I throw a female slant at this, since I don’t watch cycling. It would be the difference of taking the time to order a classic Hermes hand stitched leather handbag as opposed to running into Fossil and grabbing a machine stitched leather handbag off the shelf. Both enjoyable. Some people can’t be bothered understanding the differences, or that there is benefits to savoring the process of intricate details that turns out a quality product. But anyone who holds and inspects the Hermes will be sold on the quality and can’t go back to the inferior.

    I think this was a brilliant piece. Thanks Craig.

    • Dick said, on October 19, 2009 at 8:15 pm

      No. And no, it is not like ordering a handbag. It is like *doing* something which requires prolonged effort in order to achieve a greater reward. But thanks for stopping by.

      • Troose said, on October 19, 2009 at 8:53 pm

        Like *enjoying* a television show?

      • Troose said, on October 19, 2009 at 8:56 pm

        ps: the waiting time for a Hermes handstiched handbag is well over a 1.5 years. I call that prolonged patience to receive a greater handbag.

      • Richard said, on October 19, 2009 at 10:23 pm

        “Hermes is the Messenger of the gods in Greek mythology as well as a guide to the Underworld. An Olympian god, he is also the patron of boundaries and of the travelers who cross them, of shepherds and cowherds, of thieves and road travelers, of orators and wit, of literature and poets, of athletics, of weights and measures, of invention, of general commerce, and of the cunning of thieves and liars.”(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermes)

        – less about handbags, please. More about Gods of Cunning and Invention. And Boundary crossing. And, errr…. shepherds.

  2. Kenny said, on October 19, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Well said Craig. The more you invest in something, the bigger the reward. Short-gains never feel as good for as long as a hard-earned win.

    As junior lawyer, I have found that the biggest and greatest lesson is to take the time to make sure things are done right. A thoughtless, pressured compromise in a contract negotiation, may be a million-dollar sticking point when performing/disputing the contract. Similarly, an indelicatly-worded letter or well-timed offer may be the difference between the other side settling the case or going for blood.

    Considering most politicians have legal training, you would hope that politicians could see the value in making a hard decision now for a big benefit later. Unfortunately, political point-scoring seems to be the only game being played now.

    Again, good post and well-written.

  3. The Weatherman said, on October 19, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    I’ve come to enjoy watching the TDF over the years – great scenery, and racing that combines strength, skill and thinking. I don’t always understand the whys and wherefores, but thanks to comentators such as Phil Ligget, I get a good appreciation.

    Same way I’ve grown to love test cricket. Couldn’t stand it as a kid, having been raised on the ‘abriged version of the game’ as one well known commentaror refers to one day cricket, but the investment in watching a 5 day game is truly worth it.

    One jurno got a bit carried away over the weekend citing Tiger Woods as the best sportsman ever. I think lance Armstrong would be well ahead of Tiger.

  4. rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr said, on October 19, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    loved this craig
    people have been conditioned to short quick bursts of entertainment/information where they dont have to apply any thinking!
    we can see this everywhere and especially on the internet which is why a lot of people from newer generations find it difficult to read a book…

  5. Richard said, on October 19, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    A lot of people have always found it difficult to read a book. Don’t beat up on the kids. In fact most kids are much more capable than most adults of becoming completely engrossed in something “dense and complex, brutally realistic but rich in symbolism” (for one thing It sounds like a description of most of the good computer games I’ve played in the last 20 years) Kids are certainly capable of pouring vast amounts of time, single-mindedly, into projects which baffle those around them.

    When I was a kid I got into the cycle-racing for a couple of seasons (not that this particularly baffled anyone). It was one of many passing fads, but one that absorbed me completely while I was in it. I had a feather-light shiny racing-bike and went out riding every single day. When the Tour-de-France was on, it was all I thought about. I would track the progress of the teams and riders nightly, staying up late to watch the stage replayed. You’re absolutely right, of course, about how exciting it can be – some of the finishes and the decisive moves, and the crashes of course, were spectacular. All the more spectacular, as you say, when you’ve sat and watched and waited all that time. A sprint is great, but a sprint at the end of a marathon can be heart-in-your-mouth exciting. I suppose it’s the equivalent of Tantric sex.

    After a while other fads caught my attention, my racer went away in the garage and I turned to flashier, faster paced sports, like cricket and lawn-bowls, for a more immediate thrill. Part of the problem, of course, is that sometimes you invest your time in these things and it just doesn’t pay off. Sometimes it’s predictable, or nothing much happens at all. *That’s* why some people like quick things – because if they are shit, at least they’re not shit for long.

    I’m very wary now about anything that’s likely to demand a lot of my time. I actually watched an episode of The Wire the other day and I thought it was pretty good. Thanks for the recommendation. It might be worth the effort. But boy am I glad I never got sucked into “Lost”. And even though lots of my friends raved about 24, I’m still happier that I got an extra day of my own life instead of buying into Keifer’s delusions of gradeur. Even if I did only spend it watching MTV.

  6. Tim said, on October 19, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    I was a bit annoyed that I missed most of the TDF this year due to not having SBS2, was good to watch the last few years. My parents went over to France one year and road their bikes on the tour course during the race (not in the tour, before it) and had a good time.

  7. Rob said, on October 20, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Think most of the good points have already been said in the comments above, but wanted to highligh one particular point about watching cycling. For me, the real difference is in the commentators. As much as I like watching the race, the difference to listening to Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin (hope I’ve spelt their names correctly) compared to just another plodder is stark. The two of them are so knowledgable about the riders, the tactics, the course and just cycling in general, and you can literally hear the passion in their voices as they talk. They make watching two guys cycling along a flat, straight road entertaining, and I don’t know if I would’ve grown to love the sport as much as I do now if not for them. Certainly any other time I’ve watched when they haven’t been commentating – as in the SBS coverage this year in the early parts of the stage – I haven’t enjoyed it anywhere near as much.

  8. AMR said, on November 9, 2009 at 4:47 am

    Well written.
    Will we get the pleasure of another thought provoking piece???

  9. Mike said, on November 18, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    I love Cricket test matches for the exact reason…

    teams that do the hard yards in Day 1,2,3 are the ones who are ready to seizethe chances that come through on Day 4 and 5…

    those who haven’t done the hard yards just want day 4 and 5 to get over and roll over a die…

    its most fascinating when you 2 teams that have done the hard yards on Day 1,2 & 3 and seizing their chances on Day 4 & 5.. that is heaven… the 2001 Ind-Aus test seies comes to mind there, the last 2 ashes in England and the 2007 Ind tour of oz..


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