Displays of happiness are vulgar

Calm yourselves, dears, it’s not the end of the world. Or maybe it is.

The other day Diego Simeone, Atletico Madrid manager, celebrated his team’s victory by grabbing his testicles, suggesting, ever so subtly, that it takes cojones to win a football match.

(Just think how embarrassed a Mr C.O. Jones would feel filling in a hotel register in Spain.)

An outcry ensued, but Mr Simeone defended himself by saying: “It came from the heart.”

Now there’s a man whose heart is in the right place, I thought and left it at that. But then I decided that my mixture of scorn and envy at the sight of any wild celebrations merits another look.

Alas, sadness and grief come to me more easily than joy and elation, but I’m capable of feeling happiness, even more so of feeling pleasure.

Yet never in my long life have I been even remotely tempted to express my emotions in the manner one observes so often these days.

Football managers jumping up in the air like demented kangaroos and running along the sidelines like cheetahs on meth when their team scores a goal.

Game show victors screaming, hopping and trying to snog everything that moves.

Mature lottery winners impersonating little children just told they’re going to Disneyland, and yes they can bring Teddy along.

All those people make me feel somehow envious and deprived. My seven decades on Earth haven’t delivered a single moment producing such a eudemonic display even in private, never mind in public.

Yet I’ve loved and been loved, I’ve understood a few things I always wanted to understand, and I’ve even had a measure of financial success, admittedly not denominated in a footballer’s millions, but as much as I’ve ever wanted.

However, my broad grin is all that the world has been treated to, not that the world ever gave a damn one way or the other. Not a yard of space was ever covered at a sprinter’s pace, not a particle of air was punched, not a single screaming decibel shattered a single glass.

There’s a distinct possibility this is another one of the things that are wrong with me. I may be emotionally repressed, congenitally dejected or even clinically depressed – this though people who know me often say I’m always upbeat (people who really know me don’t say that, to be fair).

Then again, I’m sufficiently egotistic to think that there’s something wrong not with me, but with Simeone et al. And, by extension, a lot wrong with the ethos that encourages such tasteless behaviour.

So bugger self-recriminations for a game of soldiers. Let’s revert to one of my perennial leitmotifs: the unspeakable vulgarity of modernity.

Very recent modernity, I may add. Since we’re on the subject of football, just look at the fans in old newsreels. Whenever the camera cuts to the stands, one sees well-dressed people, cheering for their team joyously and enthusiastically but with noble restraint.

There’s no soundtrack, but one gets the impression those suited and booted gentlemen (few women attended matches in those days), most of them working class, could express their happiness or chagrin in words other than those that at the time appeared only in unabridged dictionaries.

Most of them had fought in the war, others had lived through the Blitz. One would think they’d react strongly to every morsel of joy life threw their way – and so they did. But they didn’t impersonate cats on speed.

The footballers, most of whom would have travelled to the stadium on public transport, did celebrate their goals, but they neither turned cartwheels nor screamed scowling obscenities at the camera, à la Wayne Rooney.

Neither were they encouraged by senior members of the royal family to let it all hang out, as Prince William did a couple of weeks ago. (http://www.alexanderboot.com/prince-william-let-it-all-hang-out/).

Something must have happened in the intervening decades to make public hysteria an acceptable, evn desirable, response to success, to turn grown-up men and women into hyperactive children badly in need of six of the best.

One can think of only two reasons for their displays. Either they genuinely can’t contain their joy within decent limits, or they could do so, but don’t lest they might violate the unspoken etiquette of their time.

In the first case, they waste the advantage of being mature humans – and the benefit of millennia’s worth of civilisation.

The ability to control one’s emotions, neither wailing when distressed nor screaming when elated, is what separates adults from infants. Erasing this dividing line testifies to a general infantilisation of feeling and, inevitably, thought.

Moreover, a useful definition of civilisation is a process whereby people are brought up not always to do things that come naturally. If that process no longer operates, the civilisation is defunct.

The world must be run by grownups. Golding’s Lord of the Flies provides a vivid dystopic allegory of youngsters taking over: it’s children’s time, and there are no rules. People infantile of heart and mind are capable of worse things than overzealous celebrations – they’re capable of anything.

Yet the second possibility, that those frenetic celebrants simply adhere to Zeitgeist, is even worse. When perversion is the norm, when dignity becomes antiquated, and self-restraint is seen as a mental disorder, we know it’s the end of the world.

For vulgar conduct as a social sine qua non is never a single child. Its siblings are vulgar thought, vulgar emotions and – ultimately – vulgar, and therefore suicidal, society.

Anyway, well-done, Diego, for beating Juventus. Let’s make the next celebration a bit less testicular, shall we?

2 thoughts on “Displays of happiness are vulgar”

  1. “Football managers jumping up in the air like demented kangaroos and running along the sidelines like cheetahs on meth when their team scores a goal.”

    The American football player scoring a touchdown and then spiking the ball, doing a dance, high-five everybody.

    The American basketball player slam dunks the basketball and then hangs from the rim of the basket simian like.

    The confident player in the aftermath of victory just smiles. “Of course I am happy but I knew this was going to happen so it not a surprise to me.”

  2. It’s not just the displays of happiness that are vulgar, it is also the opposite emotion. The tennis world has seen so much more of it since John McEnroe was allowed to put on his side show. The only reason he didn’t break as many rackets as Marcos Baghdatis is that those sturdy old rackets would have bounced back and hit his face.

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