Sunday, July 5, 2009

Federer is lucky he’s not a calypsonian

There is a curious practice in the Caribbean that could not possibly exist in the US. Or anywhere else for that matter. Whenever a calypsonian becomes the inevitable favorite to win a contest, people start calling for him to step down.

Dominance of any kind is considered unfair. The thinking is that all calypso singers should have an equal chance of winning a contest, and when someone becomes the inevitable winner, the playing field is no longer perceived as level. So when performers like the Mighty Sparrow or David Rudder came to ascendance, at some point folks started grumbling for them to step down. So powerful is this cultural expectation that they both did.

Officially, dominant performers have every right to enter any contest they chose. But unofficially it is understood that they had better not because audiences would be most unhappy. And so, usually at the point at which their dominance peaks, they start being pressured to give others a chance. Or to paraphrase John McEnroe during his post-match interview of Federer, they start feeling that it is time to throw the other guy a bone.

This tendency has persisted in the world of calypso. Dominant performers are encouraged to find other lucrative ways of earning an income. In fact, it is assumed that they should have no difficulty filling concert halls and putting out CDs. But competing for money is not a welcome option.

Of course from time to time one encounters a performer who refuses to play by these cultural rules. Iwer George and the Mighty Chalkdust (Chalkie) are two performers who have dared to continue to compete despite loud grumblings asking them to disappear. It takes guts to go against the cultural mores. You have to admire the thickness of their skin.

This is what I thought about at two different moments in the aftermath of Federer’s history-making performance today. The second time I had these thoughts was when McEnroe made the comment that I already referenced above. The first time was when Federer was being interviewed by the BBC and seemed to be trying his best to be empathetic towards his opponent.

Federer recalled his own tears at past painful losses and offered encouraging words to Roddick. In response, Roddick let out his inner churl and shouted to Federer something to the extent that that was easy for Federer to say because he already had five previous wins.

As is said in the Caribbean, it was a low class moment. But I understood the level of pain behind it and the momentary resentment that inspired it. I also understood that this is part of the thinking behind the rejection of dominance in the world of calypso. Everyone likes a winner, but when that winner starts becoming predictable, inevitable, then there emerges a cultural consensus that it is time to step down and stop causing other competitors unnecessary pain.

So I was shocked when McEnroe made that comment to Federer today, asking him jokingly to throw Andy a bone next year. It was such a Trini moment. And I thought, wow, even though he's dressed like one, that Federer is damn lucky he’s not a calypsonian yes.


happygeek said...

A fine finish by Federer! I'm thrilled for him!

Karen said...

OMG, when I saw punani, I said to myself only someone from the Caribbean (read Jamaica) could have said that word. Did not realise that you were from the Caribbean (like myself, I am from Jamaica, the land of reggae - LOL). What was even more telling was when Sue Barker asked him about allowing Andy to win at the USO if they meet in the final, and Roger actually agreeing to it. I dont know how I feel about this match really. On the one hand as a Fed fan I am happy for him, but I was rooting for Andy to win this one. I thought that he had worked long and hard for it and deserved it, but Roger was like a dog with a bone, he refused to lie down. I was simultaneously watching the match on NBC while checking the live scores. Of course the live scores showed the winner before NBC and my heart literally stopped beating for a nano-second. I felt Andy's pain. I have asked the question on several message boards as to what was the appropriate statement for Roger to make in these circumstances, i.e. I know how you feel. What could he say? The only terms of reference he had was the fact that he fought long and hard last year and lost. He fought long and hard this year and lost. This time around he was fighting long and hard and he was darned if he was going to lose this one as well. All I can say to Andy is better luck next time. Your time will indeed come.

tennischick said...

I have Caribbean roots, yes.

Andy had every chance to win this match. From the minute he lost that second set tiebreak, he handed the win to Federer. Sure he delayed it a bit, but that's when the loss started IMO.

meeks said...

when john mcenroe made that comment, i had to cringe. i am happy you blogged about it. because i really thought it was in quite poor taste, just like the treatment of calypsonians... screw Andy Roddick, Federer won fair and square and if he continues to do so people need to just get better at the game than him.