Finally, a Comical Discussion about Curling

archive3

Valentine’s Day is not an actual red-letter day, but I decided to take a mini-vacation out in Mitaka-shi, eating chocolate cake, watching The Electric Company and various Michael Jackson videos (Have you ever worn a pointy red vinyl outfit to the movies?) — all of this much to the chagrin of my various employers. When I started receving urgent calls from Thailand on my cell phone about axial compressive force-related translations, I knew that my disappearance was a bit poorly-timed.

After learning about the letter C and the sound OW, I remembered that I should be watching the Winter Olympics instead of DVDs. Our options were unfortunately limited to speed skating trial runs or women’s curling. The latter is the butt of one million Olympic jokes, subject to decades of the most obvious, hackneyed, clichéd attacks.

But curling appeals to me, as I am a member of the 微妙族 (bimyouzoku): someone who intentionally likes minor things over major things due to both an undying curiosity and an unconscious need for self-differentiation. There are various degrees of this malady: going to Portugal instead of Spain, liking Isn’t Anything over Loveless, brown eggs over white ones, yellow watermelon over red, imaginary long-term Lyme disease instead of health, becoming the dictator of the Central African Republic and not the dictator of Chad.

So I found myself elated to watch a pre-taped women’s curling match between Russia and Japan. In some ways, curling fully deserves to be the recipient of so much wrath: the procedure, scoring system, and action are generally incomprehensible to the layman, even after watching an entire match. More than a sport, curling is a Newtonian physics experiment on inertia and kinetics taken into the competitive arena. Surely these players are masters at altering the speed and angles of the stone, but I think it is fair to say that the athleticism resembles snooker more than extreme snowboarding.

Cut back to the studio, and the Japanese announcers resort to pre-written comments to explain what the hell just happened (“If this were baseball, you could say that they lost on a last inning grand slam….”). Then they flash to their ever-growing wall of faxes sent in by fans wishing success for the Japanese national team. There are immaculately drawn speed skater portraits, cute letters from kids, dozens of Miki Ando-related materials. Then the camera scans to all two of the curling support faxes. The first one appeared to have been dashed off in under a minute: a rough sketch of a curling stone with the words “curling gambare” in sloppy handwriting. Sadly, the penmanship did not look like it originated from the hands of a child. The other was an asymmetrical line drawing of the team members, suspiciously created with the same marker line thickness.

These pathetic faxes made me feel sorry for the Japanese women’s curling team. Let’s face it: We do not show adequate love to the curling community. We now feel a duty to send our own faxes, especially knowing that they will put just about anything up on that studio wall. Low competition, you say? This is a job for the 微妙族!

Update: On tonight’s broadcast, they featured an authentically adorable fax from a teenage girl with one of the women’s curling team members wearing a curling stone as a hat. The fever is spreading.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
February 16, 2006

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

36 Responses

  1. Carl Says:

    I saw this on TV as well. It was really odd. I never really figured out the rules for the thing. Man, those Russia girls sure yell stuff, don’t they?

  2. DB Says:

    I was just watching some ‘Lympics last night and thinking how in spite of all their valiant imagery, it seems that most of the events are these kind of weird psudeo sports that nobody gives a shit about for the other 3.9 years. And all the athletes are like 17 years old.

  3. Arnaud Says:

    Marxy wrote : “someone who intentionally likes minor things over major things due to both an undying curiosity and an unconscious need for self-differentiation. There are various degrees of this malady: going to Portugal instead of Spain, liking Isn’t Anything over Loveless, brown eggs over white ones, yellow watermelon over red, imaginary long-term Lyme disease instead of health, becoming the dictator of the Central African Republic and not the dictator of Chad.”

    You’re not 微妙族, you’re french!

    Concerning the winter olympics and the Japanese curling team, I guess you never really understand the amount of implied chauvinism in tv broadcast until you watch the olympics on a foreign tv. Seeing the canoe trials on french tv never quite struck me because “we” had a chance for medal (it’s clear that small countries need a specialisation to exist at the olympics level, Japan’s is curling, France’s is canoe and cycling). I watched the last summer olympics in Brazil and fully understood that when all three sport channels switched simultaneously from the 100 meters men finals to some beach volley qualification game.

  4. jnal Says:

    Incidentally, my father, for reasons I can’t quite figure out, took up curling a few years ago, and now curls a few times a week at his curling club (which is like a country club, I guess, except more distinctively Canadian and worse). The prize given to the winning team is often a glazed ham.

  5. marxy Says:

    Nice personal note, JNAL ’01.

    Arnaud: I don’t think Japan is actually a powerhouse curling nation. That would be Canada. They have the pork incentive system working there.

  6. Arnaud Says:

    Sad country.

    But here is a good one: the biathlon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biathlon)

  7. marxy Says:

    The Biathlon has always been the #2 favorite sport to the Bimyozoku.

  8. Arnaud Says:

    I think biathlon would actually be more interesting if it involved shooting moving targets while skiing, instead of the skiing, stopping, shooting loop. Do you think that was what Dick Cheney was practising the other day?

    By the way, not related but in the winter theme, I saw this interesting news yesterday (http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/national/news/20060214i304.htm?from=main3) about an ice-furnished cafe opening this week-end in Nishi Azabu.

  9. nate Says:

    ha! I live about 1km away from where the women’s team practices (where the picture was taken)… and I’ve talked with their coach. I could probably score you an interview with one of the team members after they come back.

    I’ve been forced to teach kids curling at that damned facility three years running. In addition to the mind numbing boredom, it’s also very cold in there. Witness this photo of my kouhai’s foot.

  10. youngjamesy Says:

    ” (it’s clear that small countries need a specialisation to exist at the olympics level, Japan’s is curling, France’s is canoe and cycling). ”

    this is entirely untrue especially with regards to both japan and the winter olympics. Japan’s presentation of curling probably has more do with nationalistic pride than chances of winning (i think they show every sport that japan has any particpants in, which is why, during the summer olympics you can watch hours and hours of judo on tv and why even though the japanese mens figure skaters aren’t espcially great, you still get to see their entire stumbling performances). And specfically with regards to the winter olympics there is no reason that japan needs to specialize in any seemingly minor sport for the winter olympics, this is a country where all the first year high-school students (I think its all of them, but as i live in hokkaido, i can only vouch for my -道 and not the other islands) go on week long ski-trips, and skiing is a mandatory part of the high school gym curriculum. japan, equally, in no way lacks in facilities or cultural support for the majority of winter sports, from skiing to snowboarding, to figureskating and yes even curling.

    and were cycling really france’s speciality one would wonder why they have fared so badly at it in either the olympics or in the world cup/pro tour or the grand tours.

    also, during the salt lake olympics i remember their being quite a buzz and interest about the american curling team, and that olympics was being heralded as a turning point for the sport as it was so popular with the tv viewing audience.

  11. Arnaud Says:

    You’re right, it’s indoor cycling.

  12. nate Says:

    all the elementary schools build a big snow mound for skiing in the winter in Aomori city too. It’s part of PE here.

    Even Thailand has an olympic-directed curling team, they’re just broke, have no good facilities, and aren’t good enough to make the cut at the olympics. They had a team at the “asian winter games” which took place in Aomori a couple years back. That’s why we built the facilities we’ve got, which have enabled japan to put together a team, and have plenty of practice.
    I think the j-womens team might live in one of the athletic dormitories around town.

  13. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    Biathalon is fucking gangster.
    Hitting even a stationary target would be difficult after sprinting 7km, imaging your heart-rate.

    But yes, it would be best if the back of the pack was allowed to pick off the front-runner.

  14. goemon Says:

    How can you think women’s curling is not getting enough attention in Japan when there’s a full-on feature film on the “sport” coming out this weekend?

  15. marxy Says:

    Shazam! I wish that were a well-excuted parody, but Judy and Mary’s “Blue Tears” costs too much money.

    A ragtag group of girls are formed into a well-oiled sports machine by a maverick coach. These wild girls couldn’t possibly beat the three-time Curling Champions from Sapporo High… or could they?

  16. lauren Says:

    The American women’s curling team has been getting extra press coverage this year because it has these cute sisters on it. You know that if they looked ugly they wouldn’t get any attention besides that “What’s up with curling?!” feature everyone does every Olympics.

  17. Chris_B Says:

    While at my company Christmas Party tonight (dont ask) we got to watch this on the big screens at the bar. We dont have any canadians in our team and the sound was turned down so no one understood, but many of me younger male cowerkers thought the j-girls team was cute and the russian women were scary.

  18. youngjamesy Says:

    shit, this is sooooooo the japanese version of mighty ducks that i have been waiting my entire life to see, i am so driving the 5 hours to the nearest movie theater to see it this weekend. this would only be better if the なまらめんこい japanese team hadnt just lost a bunch to knock themselves out of competition.

  19. bingobangoboy Says:

    Curling is badass. Okay, you can argue it’s not a “sport” (I’d think its athleticism is roughly on a par with golf’s) but that’s just semantics (a lot of things aren’t sports). Yeah, I love watching snowboarding, moguls, aerials, etc. too, but it’s sort of like the difference between Tarkovsky & Bruckheimer. Plus, there’s the added benefit that curling commentators seldom scream about how “sick” the last competitor’s action was or how it would be so “epic” if they could “podium.”

    (BTW, thanks for bringing “微妙族” to my attention)

  20. marxy Says:

    Oh just to let you know, I invented the term 微妙族 and if you are reading this entry, you are the first 3000 people to ever see this term in print. Bewarned before using it with coworkers and friends.

  21. Jake Says:

    Do you think you could give an english version of “微妙族” I love the concept, but I am stuck wondering more about the context of the japanese word is. On my screen it’s just three boxes… I know that is part of the point of this site….”If you know, you know..”

  22. Slim Says:

    once upon a time, as a young man, i saw a color newspaper photograph of a european bond-girl-esque biathalete standing on her skies, rifle extended in concentration, and hips cocked out just so. oh, she was to die for! and every four years i await the winter olympics in hopes of catching a glimse of such perfect eroticism again.

    btw, i hope 微妙族 catches on!

  23. Anonymous Says:

    Finally, a manga based on Curling.
    http://www.jive-ltd.co.jp/catalog/orange_delivery/

  24. JB Says:

    BTW, 微妙族 in Portuguese would be “Subtilista” (wich is an actual word), or “Minoritarista” (wich is not, but it’s fun to say)… and for sure a member of the PCPT-MRPP party :)

  25. marxy Says:

    Interesting.

    I’m not sure I know a good English translation. Maybe I can have some help with this. I’m using 微妙 in its recent slang usage to mean “2nd rate, questionable” not really “delicate” or “subtle.”

    Subtilista is great though. Maybe I’ll switch to that. What does it mean in Portuguese.

  26. JB Says:

    Subtilista, is pretty much the conjunction of the adjective ‘subtil’ (subtle; acute; astute; ingenious; delicate, nice, refined.) with the greek origin suffix -ista wich denotes the idea of adept of a political, religious, philosophical or artistical system, or an artist itself (fado singer: fadista; singer: canconetista; football player: fotebolista, etc…)

    I can’t find it on my 1996 dictionary, but i’m sure i heard or read that word before :/ on the other hand Google only returns a handfull of subtilista’s and they are bacillus :/ so i may be wrong.

  27. JB Says:

    hooo! by the way, other suggestions:

    inferiorist; ordinarist; despicabophile; scornarist; indecentophile (mmm… thats me!)
    :)

  28. r. Says:

    功利主義の金言:「花より団子」
    微妙族の金言:「AUよりDwango」

  29. alin Says:

    finaly we seem to agree on something. i spent much of the last 5 or so days watching curling on various-sized screens in various hotels around europe. bimyou indeed. it might have something in common with igo.
    well, you might have invented the term bimyouzoku but i also coined the term bimyoukei about 2-3 years ago.

    the diference of yarikata in mens and womens is also fascinating. i wonder why the keep the sexes segregated even in a sport? like this where there would be no obvious reason for it.

  30. youngjamesy Says:

    oh and just this morning on おはよ日本 during the olympic coverage the news desk was transformed into a mini-curling rink complete with stuffed cute curling figures,

    i wonder if this means there will soon be a curling drama on the tube.

  31. marxy Says:

    I think we are witnessing a rebirth in curling culture. I can always point back to the time when they only had two faxes on that wall. Oh how things have changed!

  32. r. Says:

    yeah, they’ve got plans for some drama called 「カーリング男」and it is supposed to reflect the angst of the louche locale coterie’s fashion dilemma.

  33. marxy Says:

    Based on a true story!

  34. goemon Says:

    I think the 電車男 byline was actually “based on a true love story” which I read as, “based on a story about ‘true love'”, not as, “based on a true story about love”.

  35. r. Says:

    ok, i:m assuming that only david and like two other people on earth “got” my 金言 joke, so obviously it wasn:t worth it.

  36. Carl Says:

    AUよりDwango? Dude, that’s gold.