Reviewing Charlie – Part 1: Earthbound Stars

September 26, 2013

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Receiving individual awards in the context of team sports can be uncomfortable, just ask Gary Ablett, this year’s Brownlow Medalist. Although he’s an out-and-out star, undoubtedly the best player of the last fiver years, he always talks about the team, not himself. This isn’t a case of individual humility; it is a required response to cultural norms.

The Levelling Construct, a dominant theme in The Lab’s research on Australianness, posits that we elevate underdogs and cut down tall poppies, levelling the field. This is not to say that, as a culture, we don’t permit success - we do, but the successful individual must remain on a common level. This tension, admitting to success without appearing arrogant, is on display at the Brownlow; a gala event at Crown Palladium that celebrates the AFL’s best and fairest player in front of 1,500 guests.  

There are a number of ways in which Brownlow fancies can remain on the common level; humour, self-depreciation, or the footballer’s favourite,  clichés. Platitudes are the linguistic codes AFL players use to alleviate this tension. For example, in the lead up to the award Gary Ablett down played his chances; “I’m just looking forward to enjoying the night, and going in with no expectations” ( Given that Campbell Brown, the red carpet roving reporter, reached into Gary’s breast pocket and extracted his typed acceptance speech, this is impossible to believe. However we forgive Gary, because he’s on the common level. If he had have said: “I’m a sure thing” with a straight face, we wouldn’t be so forgiving. Then, in Gary’s acceptance speech, he all but genuflected to Joel Selwood, the second place getter: “Joel deserves to be here [on the stage, receiving the medal] as much as I do” (  

Of course, we all recognize these clichés - we see through them, we ridicule them - yet we require them as part of the social contract. It’s part and parcel of Australia’s unique conception of egalitarianism.