"What the WSL has created is an ideological institution of system-supportive propaganda so self-censoring Noam Chomsky would be proud."
Some people don’t like the WSL’s commentary team. Not me. I look forward to the WSL call as much as I do the surfing.
Chris. Rosie. Kaipo. Strider. Ross. The coterie of special guests. Each comp I tune in, turn the speakers up to 11, and wonder what gifts will be bestowed next.
Not because I enjoy listening to it all.
I’m impressed by the discipline. The commitment. The dedication to wringing any semblance of discontent from the dialogue that this team has accomplished.
The ‘wall of positive noise’ does the WSL a disservice. Walls can be scaled. Walls can be torn down. What the team at Santa Monica have created is an ideological institution of system-supportive propaganda so unwavering, so self-censoring, so unthinking, Noam Chomsky himself would be proud.
They’ve elevated toxic positivity to an art. And I can’t help but admire it.
What is toxic positivity? In psychological circles, it’s known as a dysfunctional approach to emotional management that happens when people do not fully acknowledge negative emotions. “A pressure to stay upbeat no matter how dire one’s circumstance is.”
Consider it. WSL commentators exist in a world of the eternal present. In the booth there is no past. No future. The world outside does not even exist unless it is of some explicit reference to the approved reading of the events unfolding in front of them.
But most importantly, there’s no bad vibes.
These conditions in front of us right now are the best they could possibly be. Nobody is underperforming. Every competitor is in with a chance. Combo’d by 18 points with a minute left and an empty horizon?
‘If anyone can do it, <insert surfer here> can.’
There’s no losers. Literally. Post-heat interviews are only ever granted to winners.
(What are we missing from the insight, emotion, energy of the vanquished?)
Then there’s the women. The women? The women are making history. They’re amazing. We’re smashing the glass ceiling. Creating equality for all. And they will be running today.
Wait a minute. No they won’t. In fact, we’ve never heard of them. What women?
Or the loss of Turpel from the booth. Potter before him. Zero discussion. A void of information. They might be back next competition. But they might not. For all we know they were both taken for a helicopter ride at the Sosa ranch.
Not a word will be uttered. Because no wrong has ever been committed by the WSL or anybody involved with it, nor could any such wrong ever possibly be committed in the future.
This is the constant assurance being screamed at us. The manufactured consent. The team are like lackeys of some totalitarian dictator that refuses to admit the possibility of defeat. Stalin’s generals reading from Pravda as the eastern front collapses.
Everything Is Fine.
Now I don’t level any of this criticism directly at the commentary team. Individually they all do a good job, for the most part. They’re professional. Dedicated. Absolute sweethearts to boot.
It’s obvious somebody behind the scenes setting the agenda. A player pulling the shots. Chomsky would suggest it’s the corporate ownership, or the advertisers, or some other shady player in the ruling class. He’s probably close. I’d suggest a mild mannered, chest-waxed Oklahoman with a skewed appetite to risk.
Whoever it is, they’re letting themselves – and the team – down.
The incessant positivity is condescending at best. Self-defeating at worse. Anybody with half a surfing brain can tell when Filipe’s having a melt. To try and sugar coat it is offensive to both he and the audience.
Same goes with the scheduling hiccups re: integrating women into the format. I think pay equality is fantastic and know that this approach will pay off in the long run. The WSL should be commended for it. But it won’t always be pretty. This is the start of a long process. Not everybody will be comfortable with it 100% of the time. It’ll take a while to start working. It might need to change on the run. Why do we have to pretend otherwise?
I know this is old ground being re-hashed, but based on the first look at this year’s effort things are getting worse.
The WSL is painting itself further into a corner. Something’s gotta give.
The solution? Simple, as I see it. First, inject an old hand into the booth. Somebody from outside the surf world. A straight shooter that can ask the simple questions for the non-surfing audience, and call out some of the many inexplicable nuances of competitive surfing. Like the old English bloke they paired with Barton at the Olympics. That guy was mint.
Then, give the likes of Ross, Pete Mel, Stace Galbraith and booth guests like Slater or Mick Fanning permission to speak freely. Call out bad judging, bad surfing and bad officiating. Ask the difficult questions. It’s all part of the game. Punters don’t demand perfection. But they do demand transparency.
Finally, don’t be afraid to stick the mic in front of somebody who’s just lost a heat. Ask them what happened. What did they do wrong. How are they going to fix it for next time. How did it all Make Them Feel?
Ultimately athletes are inspiring. Other-worldly. The gods manifest in man and woman. They’re why we tune in. And why we will continue to tune in. But it’s their follies that truly connect us. We want to share their highs and their lows. We want to see their sacrifice, their anguish, their pain.
By denying us that, we’re being denied our very own humanity. Or something.
The big question now is: will the WSL listen?