Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bodo's Orientalism

Peter Bodo who writes for TENNIS magazine and has an online column for them as well wrote, in this month's issue, about the mistake the WTA has made moving the year-end championships to Doha, Qatar.
It was pretty easy to see that the move was about money--the money the organizers in Doha will put up for the tournament and the marketing plans of sponsors like Sony. The WTA says it is about bringing tennis to a larger market.
Bodo writes that fans will not travel to Doha like they travel to the Grand Slams. True, but even when the year-end championships were elsewhere they did not get that much attention. I recall that when it was in L.A. there were many open seats. Admittedly Doha does not seem to be in a tennis-friendly region of the world but in November even tennis-friendly cities may not turn out for the championships. For most people, tennis ends after the US Open. Even I have trouble keeping up with autumn tennis. Part of it is lack of coverage but some of it is also my own schedule and interests.
So though I agree, overall, with Bodo, that the move to Doha is not a great one for women's tennis, I have a big problem with one of the last rationales he gives.
"I also don't see how this move is going to advance the cause of equality for women," he writes. Well, I don't remember anyone ever putting forth the idea that it would. But it gets worse: "Somehow, it's hard to see hordes of Middle Eastern women ripping off their burkas and veils in order to get dressed in whatever cocktail-waitress costume Maria Sharapova will be wearing. Come to think of it, Sharapova and her crew might get stoned if the wrong crowd gets a mind to protest this incursion into its way of life."
Wow--how many stereotypes can Bodo employ in just two sentences? Let's see: 1) all Middle Eastern women wear burkas and/or veils and thus they are all oppressed; 2) Middle Eastern women travel in packs (hordes) suggesting that all Middle Eastern women, regardless of religion--and yes there is more than one religion practiced in the Middle East--are members of harems; 3) that stoning is a ubiquitous punishment meted out whenever a "Middle Eastern" woman dares show any skin; 4) Middle Easterners, in the form of the "wrong group" are fanatically opposed to anything "Western."
And of course there is the obvious belief underlying all this rhetoric: that Middle Easterners"--I don't know how we got from the people in Doha to an entire geographical region--are a homogeneous group. Same religion, same politics, same philosophies, same practices, etc.
I would try to make some lemonade out of the lemons Bodo has provided by saying that maybe the tournament's move to Doha will provide a teaching moment; show those unfamiliar with the "Middle East" that it is not a place of stone-throwing, anti-American fanatics. But that would require coverage more enlightened than the stuff that has contributed to the misviews held by Bodo and others.


Diane said...

Bodo is an all-around bigot who defends (and his fans defend it too) his "colorful" language as being "real" and an antidote to "political correctness." This is what people do now when they want to deliver mass stereotyping of women, dark-skinned people, etc. They groan and tell their critics to "stop being politically correct."

Bodo has been taken to task on several occasions for his language (including his use of the word "Oriental," by the way). I once politely called him on his belitting of violence toward women, and he responded by belittling me. He thrives on creating controversy with this type of rhetoric.

tim said...

The very term 'political correctness' has no meaning. It is pretty much just the rock behind which some hide as they hurl racist, sexist, and idiotic tirades.