The Symbolic Dissemination of a High Mark

 

by Phil Dimitriadis

Symbolism and rhetoric find their place in football discourse through the power of language and the images it projects.

For example, the sometimes gravity defying elements of a ‘high mark’ have been theatrically rhetoricised over the years from ‘great mark’ to ‘a screamer’ to ‘a ripper’ to ‘a hanger’ to ‘mark of the century’ to ‘mark of the millennium’ to ‘that will be on CNN’. What do these terms say about the language of footy through the media today?

One can argue that there is a symbolic desire for recognition and demonstrative assertion that Australian Rules can be a forum for feats of supernatural ability. Culminating in Bruce McAvaney’s ‘CNN’ comment after Gary Moorecroft’s mark in 2001, which included the ‘mark of the millennium’ reference, one can see that there is a need to not only celebrate the feat as a unique feature of an Australian game, but to market the image overseas as a symbol of cultural hegemony represented through sport.  The word ‘image’ is a critical determiner here because better marks may have been taken pre-television, but they could only rely on eyewitnesses, radio or newspaper coverage to mythologise the event.

Mythologizing the obscure can be a rhetorically effective tool of seduction in the sense that it can stir the imagination of the listener. Yet, it can hardly compare with the theatricality of the moving image and the hyperbolic rhetoric of the commentary that crystallizes the apparently sublime ephemera of the moment. The media works as an agency of exchange here. The myth is modernized through television and is magnified by the language of the commentary to seduce those who engage with it. It is, however, only symbolic exchange as the viewer is still a spectator and not the protagonist. They did not take the mark physically, but they can be made to feel like they played a part in the ‘magic’ of the game and its metaphors by simply tuning in and then talking about it with family, friends and colleagues.

Australian Rules can be an alluring spectacle for many Australians that it can be manipulated to consolidate and hyperrealise myth by giving it a sense of history. A time and place convoluted with language and imagery as its signature.

The mythic language of the high mark could be based on the Aristotelian idea of rhetorical discourse. The genres of ‘display’ and ‘emotion’ are used to engender an almost supernatural and hagiographic quality to the moment and the event it subsequently becomes. If one looks back through television archives of the greatest marks ever taken one realises that the expressions of most commentators carry little articulation other than spontaneous emotional outbursts like; ‘Oooohhhh! What a Mark!’ This is an aspect of commentary that appears spontaneous and not preformed or adhering to a scripted ‘game plan’. However, it could never be totally spontaneous because the myth of the ‘speckie’ is never far from the consciousness of commentators. It is an expression of ephemeral, naïve, and yet seductive emotion. In the instances where some words follow like Mike Williamson’s fabled ‘Ooohhh Jesaulenko you beauty!’ in the 1970 Grand Final, the phrase takes on a life of its own and transfers its locus from ‘emotion’ to ‘display’, eventually becoming a cultural symbol. Aristotle speaks of ‘amplification’ as a seemingly natural expression that ties in with praise. He writes:

“In common forms of speech argument is most expedient in epideictic speaking (for the audience take the actions as agreed, so that it only remains to add greatness and nobility to them).”

 (In Lawson-Tancred, 1991, p.110).

This can be linked with the notion of speaking a common language and appreciating culturally agreed ideals of admirable exploits or qualities. The Jesaulenko mark has been replayed countless times and has also inspired commercials for Carlton and United Breweries and Toyota. The Toyota ad saw Jezza suspended from a crane reliving the moment to match Toyota’s catchphrase of ‘Oh what a feeling, Toyota!’ Toyota’s marketing department pounced on the value of marrying their catchphrase with an image and phrase that has become a celebrated part of Australian Rules’ cultural psyche.

Jesaulenko’s mark has metamorphosed from an extraordinary acrobatic feat that personifies courage, grace and athleticism to a celebratory connection to commercial success through the consumption of Carlton Draught beer and ownership of the latest Toyota model car. The ad strengthens the idea that Australian men in particular, like to talk about sport and cars while having a beer. This is highly stereotypical, but if the advertisements were taken at face value, they could be seen as perpetuating an existing celebrated reality to which Australians should aspire.

Advertisers now look at sport as a culturally influential symbolic discourse. It excites many people and the sometimes tenuous relationship with the image can cause the event to be associated with the product. Therefore, phrases like ‘taking a screamer’ or ‘mark of the century’ amplify the deeds of sportspeople and synchronise these deeds with advertising, media pop culture, fictional literature, poetry and historical research.

Does this destroy the ephemeral majesty of the great mark or miraculous goal? It would appear so because an act of dissemination has taken place. This is where the image and its accompanied language have recoded the sporting moment into an ambiguous metaphorical realm. Some commentators refer to particularly skilful and exciting footy matches as ‘great advertisements for the game’. This may be true on occasions, but it is more likely that sublime football moments are now more prone to become ‘great ideas for advertisements’.

The commercial codification of football phrases and images is but a trace of the allegory that drives the language in the game. Does language influence thought in the sense that its structure channels our mental experience of the world? Does this mean that ‘90% of the game is played above the shoulders’ for spectators as well?  I feel that this manipulation cheapens some of the greatest moments in our game. What do other Knackers think?

About Phillip Dimitriadis

Carer/Teacher/Writer. Author of Fandemic: Travels in Footy Mythology. World view influenced by Johnny Cash, Krishnamurti, Larry David, Toni Morrison and Billy Picken.

Comments

  1. Phil – very interesting. I hope I’m on the right path here, but isn’t this a chicken and egg argument rather than (what I think you’re suggesting) a simple matter of assuming that commercial codification is cheapening the moment?

    For example, does the language come from the commercialisation, or does the commercialisation simply exploit and feed off the language?

    The most fascinating question is “Does language influence thought in the sense that its structure channels our mental experience of the world?”

    My view would be yes. The evidence is everywhere. For example, every Friday night game is “huge” or a “blockbuster”. The spectator therefore watches it differently to a game that is not commercialised as such.

    The coomercialisation of our game took a turn for the worst when the Crows club song suggested they were the “Camry Crows”. What a disgrace.

    I think this means we agree? I’m coinfused.

  2. Rick Kane says

    If I can enter the realm of confusion, I would like to add a couple of points. First, Thanks Phil. I love reading your pieces because they immediately spark me intellectually, emotionally and argumentatively.

    I think you perceptively hit on an idea re footy’s intrinsic value but then almost as quickly answer your own rhetorical questioning in generalisations.

    The mark in footy is as definitive an image of the game’s beauty as is the quarter back’s pass in Gridiron or a header from a corner shot in Association Football. The mediation of the act that follows can do multiple things but it can’t /won’t destroy the original. The authentic will always compete with the replicated, and as you know too well, the replicated can sometime be better than the original. Hendrix’s version of All Along The Watchtower, for example. However, the high/great mark has connations that no amount of replication or mediation can destroy.

    Another point you argue is that advertisements of the feat can diminish the value of the original accomplishment. You use the Toyota ad as example. I imagine you are aware that the concept for that ad was appropriated from a UK soccer program that actually played out great historical moments in soccer using the actual players. There is probably more value exploring why great moments are appropriated or how such an idea is then crafted into an advertisement.

    Put another way, no, I don’t think our game is cheapened by how it is exploited. I could reference Barthes or Foucoult to suggest that individually we are making meaning regardless of the powerful influences trying to make meaning for us. Ultimately, I think there is meaning inherent in the great mark that transcends the simplified codification an advertiser might want to reduce it to.

    Cheers

    Of course people have ‘forgotten’ Jessa’s mark like they’ve forgotten Coleman and will forget Bradman. That doesn’t make the mark any less remarkable or, when somebody does see it, lessen the reaction they have to it. We took our kids to see some Buster Keaton movies. They had no supports to ‘read’ silent movies but they recognised his imagination and laughed in the same places an audience watching Keaton in the early 1920s would. But they also saw things and understood things that I couldn’t.

    Advertisers (whoever and whatever they are) have no more control of the language and meaning of footy than anybody else. You would be, I’m guessing, a post-structuralist. If so, would you consider that we are all reworking the meaning of the great mark through our own set of contexts.

  3. John Butler says

    Gents

    I reckon my rhetorical may take a tumble at the first discourse, and I’m more likely to take a bath than a Barthe, but I’ll wade in anyway.

    Commercial interests have been co-opting anything of worth they discover since we began to organise our societies on material lines. They do so with varying degrees of success.

    Does this cheapen the original? Maybe it removes the purity of the act a little, depending on the nature and extent of its exploitation, but it needs some truly heavy duty treatment to damage its essential nature.

    Jezza’s mark is still special to those who experienced it at the time. It is a (ahem) marker of a time and place.

    To the many more who have subsequently seen it on TV, it becomes part of the visual wallpaper of the game. How they receive it will vary according to context and time.

    Any half smart company knows there’s a fine line to be trodden. Some aren’t that smart.

    As for ‘channelling our mental experience of the world’, many try, few succeed.

    Good food for thought Phil.

  4. John Kingsmill says

    Quote: “Does this mean that ‘90% of the game is played above the shoulders’ for spectators as well?”

    Apart from the occasional pitch invasion, I think you’d have to say that spectators play 100% of the game ‘above the shoulders’. Some of us twitch every now and again while we are sitting in our seats but that doesn’t count. Crowd noise can affect a game, but that’s above the shoulders.

  5. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Dips, your example of ‘blockbusters’ and every second game being a ‘season defining game’ or ‘season shaping game is a case in point. Maybe I’m just suffering from media fatigue!

    Rick, I take your point about adapting, but I still reckon that saturation replays from the ‘television era’ onwards have diminished the meaning of great moments.

    The music analogy is redundant for me because music is performed within the same medium. However, I can no longer listen to ‘Good Vibrations’ without thinking of idiots singing into hair dryers or “It Must Be Love”without thinking about baby turds!

    I do answer my question in a way, but I’m finding that I cannot find any enthusiasm for any kind of footy program anymore. There is no meaning in them for me. Perhaps I’ve studied footy too closely over the last 7 years and have lost my naivety or sense of play regarding the media’s relationship to the game. Ultimately, we choose how language and imagery affects us, but seeing an image or hearing a soundbite that has been played over and over gets tiring, a bit like listening to favourite music until you get bored of it.

    JB, your 1911 series is great because we don’t have replays and audio from that period. Therefore, the fan is encouraged to use their imagination which makes the experience much more interactive. I’d love to watch the resurrection of Christ, but if it were replayed ad nauseum, I’d get sick of it.

    John, point taken about twitching, but watching AFL has become much more of a sedentary experience. A kick before the game, at half-time, after the game, standing , swaying, drinking, smoking out in the fresh open air. That is how my synapses resonate with footy. We used to be much more aware of our physical senses in relation to the game compared to now. In the end you’re right, 99.9% is played purely above the shoulders…except for the twitching.

  6. Stainless says

    Phil

    As others have remarked, the media and commercial interests are so bound up in footy that there’s no way we can untangle them. There’s always the risk that the essential quality and mystique of the game can be cheapened through over-exposure or tacky advertising, but art imitating life needn’t always be that way.

    For example, I think the Toyota campaign is actually a gently humorous embellishment of the legendary incidents it commemorates, the parading of the ageing, infirm stars of yesteryear giving a whimsical flavour of “sic transit gloria mundi”. Even these mythical heroes grow old and frail, but nothing can undo their past deeds of greatness.

    All that said, I think if we’re talking in terms of Platonic absolutes, the best “speccy” I’ve witnessed is a mark taken by Daniel Harford in the goalsquare at Balwyn Park about 3 years ago, against the spectacular backdrop of a distant Mt Macedon. It lingers only as a memory, undistorted by photos, video, commentary or advertising. But does that make it better than “Jesaulenko you beauty” or Gary Moorcroft on CNN? Who’s to say?

    A final point that dawned on me as I read your piece that reverses the metamorphosis of football action into commercial construct – life imitating art, if you will. One of the emerging stars at Richmond, Dustin Martin, is unfortunately developing a distorted profile from commentators harping on about his “don’t argue” move – referring of course to the slogan from the Hutton’s Footy Franks ad. It would be a sad thing in my view if such an outstanding player’s reputation is based around this one small element of his play, simply because commentators latch onto a convenient commercial tag, rather than do what they’re paid to do – use their own power of language to describe the full spectrum of the play they’re witnessing.

    It certainly more thought provoking than endless analysis about the rights and wrongs of the advantage rule!

  7. I guess it is the indelibility of the HD images we see that may betray the myths, or their progeny. Does Kierkegaard have something to say on this matter? Maybe.

    just as God created man and woman, he likewise called into being the hero and the poet or orator. The latter cannot perform the deeds of the hero—he can only admire and love him and rejoice in him. And yet he also is happy and not less so; for the hero is, as it were, his better self with which he has fallen in love, and he is glad he is not himself the hero, so that his love can express itself in admiration.
    The poet is the genius of memory, and does nothing but recall what has been done, can do nothing but admire what has been done. He adds nothing of his own, but he is Jealous of what has been entrusted to him. He obeys the choice of his own heart; but once he has found what he has been seeking, he visits every man’s door with his song and with his speech, so that all may admire the hero as he does, and be proud of the hero as he is. This is his achievement, his humble work, this is his faithful service in the house of the hero. If thus, faithful to his love, he battles day and night against the guile of oblivion which wishes to lure the hero from him, then has he accomplished his task, then is he gathered to his hero who loves him as faithfully; for the poet is as it were the hero’s better self, unsubstantial, to be sure, like a mere memory, but also transfigured as is a memory. Therefore shall no one be forgotten who has done great deeds; and even if there be delay, even if the cloud of misunderstanding obscure the hero from our vision, still his lover will come some time; and the more time has passed, the more faithfully will he cleave to him.

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