Monday, 30 January 2012

Bloodthirsty, Dumb, or Both?

For the large majority of motorsport fans, masculinity is a defining factor. This (regrettably) male-dominated sport is riddled with references to the good old days, “when men were men” and what have you. Older motor racing fans more often than not lambast modern drivers as Prima Donnas, and call them weak because of their apparent “cushioning”; modern safety standards combined with the impeccable construction of today's racing cars means that Motor racing, while still harbouring an element of danger, is a much safer environment than as recent as 20 years ago. This therefore over-protects drivers and causes them to become weak-minded PR machines as opposed to “real men”, right?

Now, don't get me wrong. I think that today's racing world is dominated by over-sanitisation, politics and inter-driver spats. But the notion that real men raced back in the day because the cars were petrol tanks on wheels and death was around the corner every step of the way is plain stupid.

You've got to realise that modern drivers have it just as hard as they did 50 years ago – just in different areas. We often think that modern racing cars are easy to drive, PlayStation-controlled machines, but this is not the case at all. The standard of competition is much, much higher, and one has to be on the limit for every corner of every lap. There is much less of a margin for error, but when you do get it wrong, the greatest penalty you can expect is a bruised ego, and a broken car. Before at least the 1970s, the limit was not reached anywhere near as much, but once a driver went over it, they were often as good as dead.

It's the simple fact that driver deaths don't happen as much anymore that is the defining factor. It enrages me to think that there are people out there who put down modern drivers simply because of the fact that they are more cocooned. By doing this, people are undermining recent leaps and bounds in safety, and the work many highly talented individuals have done to achieve this. Worse still, with the recent deaths of Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli – two very highly regarded competitors in their respective fields – the notion that Safety Makes People Pussies® has been brought up once again. Consider this comment from a YouTube video about Valentino Rossi's helmet tribute to Marco. By the way, this is unedited:

Anyone that wants to show there repects by putting a banner out, Sticker on the bikes or the helmet Rossi has is fair enough. No more talk of parade laps n that tho. All this attention is just gonna attract the health and safety nutters. Lets keep this one of the few remaining sports that have an element of danger. Look at the freaks in F1. That stopped being a man's sport a long time ago.

...Words fail me.

Okay, this was about MotoGP, which in my opinion is nigh-on impossible to be made any safer than it is. And I would agree that Motorcycle racing is one of the only sports left in which there is an ever-present threat of death. But using Marco's tragic death as a booster for your argument about danger equalling manliness? I am disgusted.

The problem with the human mind – moreover, the human male mind – is that (more often than not) facing danger is equated to bravery. I acknowlege that this attitude was the one more suited to motor racing pre-1980s – the threat of death on track was considered a part of the deal, and there was no escaping it. You would have to have had nerves of steel to drive the old Grand Prix cars at speed in any condition. But even more inescapable is the fact that there is a sensitivity required to grasp what was actually happening – that competitors, many great ones, were dying needlessly when measures could easily be put in place to make sure they lived to fight another day. A well-covered example of this is three-time F1 World Champion Jackie Stewart, who initiated the first real safety measures in F1 after watching his friends get killed on track one by one and nearly dying himself.

And herein lies my main point. What we are dealing with here is clouded judgment. We are dealing with human beings. Human beings who love and are loved by their families, friends and fans. We need to get rid of the rose tinted spectacles and make sure that today's racing drivers continue to do what they do best without their remarkable lives being cut short.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Magazines: You Aggravate Me, Please Go Away

My family has a neighbour who is quite possibly one of the nicest old ladies on the planet. Always coming over for a cup of tea and (in between my long-suffering Mother helping her out with her washing machine) always with something to talk about.

Just today she came over with a bundle of old Woman's Day magazines to give to my mum. A nice gesture, of course... for my mum at least. But unfortunately for me I was bored as hell today and, after our good neighbour left, I decided to poke around in one of them out of desperation.

“I've got nothing to do... I think I'll see if there's anything interesting in this mishmash of photoshopped pictures and ludicrous sensationalist headlines!” Big mistake.

Flipping through the glossy pages and skimming over the less-than-flattering photographs of the British Royal Family, I could quite literally feel my IQ level dropping. I started feeling increasingly more and more stupid every time I turned a page, and less than five pages in, I could take it no more.

I was instantly reminded of memories that I may or may not have repressed: visiting boring people my parents knew, and being forced to read Take 5 and That's Life! out of pure boredom. Saccharine feel-good stories and Cheap Recipes for Families On the Go®, usually accompanied by a picture of the cook, a fake white smile plastered on her face. “Win a Car!” the stock competition proclaimed, with a picture of a pile of money sitting next to a generic Korean hatchback that no-one would buy anyway.
Oh, and there was the matter of the anonymous young woman on the cover. In a nice dress, robotically posed and with another fake smile. But here's what really got me: she had absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the magazine's content. There was nothing relating to her, nothing even acknowledging her existence. She was just... there. For no reason at all. And looking like an android to boot. That pissed me off.

I have since come to the conclusion that I hate women's magazines, quite possibly to a greater extent than modern pop music. And modern mainstream pop music is to me what Luca di Montezemolo is to F1 fans. It makes me breathe fire and grow long claws.

I'm thinking the target audience for these magazines is 30-something stay-at-home housewives who take their children to soccer games, tennis training or piano lessons. Why? Because only these hapless souls may be bored enough, or jaded enough, to find any of the crap in these pages interesting. These women devote all their time to other people, not least their children – which is by all means a noble pursuit – but it also means that they don't have any hobbies. You know, interesting things to do.

I have hobbies. They include, but are not limited to: Playing video games, reading good novels, writing these columns, drawing/painting, and buttering my cheese ignore that last one. As a result of this, I have more pressing things to worry about than whether a socialite couple are engaged or not, or whether a new dress some barbie-doll actress is wearing is in fact disguising a baby bump. I just couldn't give a rat's tail if I tried, which I'm not too keen on doing.

Maybe the market for these magazines stems from the unfortunate fact that some people have an almost perverse interest in the lives of famous people they don't know. It may somehow remind them that the beautiful people they see on TV and on those inane celebrity gossip websites are, in a somewhat twisted way, just like them. They are normal. They are human beings. They possess the ability to have kids and care for them as any responsible adult would. They, shock horror, have to BUY FOOD AND FEED THEMSELVES.

Perhaps it's counselling for the fact that famous people are famous in the first place. By bringing them down to our level, magazine readers console themselves with the deluded notion that their lives might not be that different to those of celebrities.

Because... let's face it, it's in our nature – who wouldn't take being well-known over an anonymous, humdrum suburban existence?