Watching our sunburnt land filtered through another nation's perspective is always a little disconcerting – especially when that nation is the United States of America. Remember "Bart vs. Australia", that iconic sixth-season episode of The Simpsons that either confirmed or satirised the USA’s warped view of our homeland? Every time I catch the episode my mind ping-pongs between two impressions: astute and piercing or misguided and belittling. Knowing The Simpsons, it’s probably some inextricable combination of the two.
In any case, last year, SBS VICELAND’S Rivals visited our glorious shores to cover a mid-year clash between AFL’s historic rivals: the Collingwood Magpies and the Carlton Blues. The resulting half-hour of docutainment is fascinating for a number of reasons. And, as with "Bart vs. Australia", I can’t tell if it is giving us props or having a go. Once again, probably some inextricable combination of the two.
Apparently, we love AFL because of our nation’s criminal record
In the episode’s cold open, VICE’s Selema Masekela introduces the Australian Football League as not only the game that defines our nation (sorry every player and fan of every other significant Australian sporting code), but also the one that confirms our legacy of rampant criminality.
I can’t figure any other way to do the opening justice than to quote it directly: “If Australia was a country founded for criminals, it’s only fitting that a sport as violent and chaotic as this is one place where Aussies today come together."
An American playing AFL looks like an alien
A small wedge of the episode focuses on Mason Cox, the former Oklahoma State University basketball player who answered a scouting call from down under and subsequently became a Collingwood Pie. The Texan string bean might be able to claim the most distinctly confused accent in Aussie rules, but VICELAND insists he “looks like he’s from another planet – that’s how much bigger he is than everyone else on the field”.
Aussie rules is the most violent ball sport of all the ball sports
A common misconception among internationals and confirmed by ex-pats is that Aussie rules is viewed as one of the most – if not the most – violent team sport on the planet, easily eclipsing the NHL and NFL.
VICELAND’s exploration does nothing to deny that expectation – amplifying the potential for injury as if every player breaks a bone in every match. While of course, tackling without helmets or pads is going to lead to a few war wounds, the truth of the matter is AFL players are more acrobatic and prodigiously fit, and less starving to give each other concussions.
All AFL supporters are raging eccentrics
While I understand VICELAND’s decision to pluck the most entertaining members from the AFL crowd to represent the fan base, a bit more variety from along of the spectrum would have been nice.
Jeff “Joffa” Corfe was a natural choice, considering his unofficial position as leader of the Collingwood cheer squad for over 15 years, not to mention his famed gold-sequined jacket that comes out during winning fourth quarters. Similarly, spending a bit of time with Magpie-obsessed human canvas Justin Witcombe makes sense, if only because of the (spoken of, but thankfully not shown) tattoo of a magpie that graces the length of his penis.
Watch the Aussie rules episode of Rivals via SBS On Demand: