Friday, November 2nd, 2012

How Men Use the Phrase "From the Sidelines"

"From the sidelines" is a sports term. "Cheering from the sidelines" can be a nice phrase. It means "I am rooting you on while watching you play." If we are not clothed in rags and eating from dumpsters on Sunday, we will be cheering on New York Marathon runners from the "sidelines," perhaps as they hop downed power lines along the shore after they cross the Verrazano.

But sometimes the "game" in question is a metaphor. And if you are on the "sidelines," you are necessarily then "not in the game." The above tweet from Esquire contract-man Chris Jones is meant, obviously, to deflect and devalue critique by placing himself "in the game" and others outside of it. Anyone with an objection or a contrary idea is just a "hater" in this construction.

"From the sidelines" is a favorite construction of men, and crops up in the act of mansplaining, though women definitely use it too. (As Lil Kim pointed out: "playa-hatin' from the sideline, get your own shit, why you riding mine?") So people use the phrase to explain that they are the players, and you are the benchwarmer, at most, or maybe just whoever else is on the sidelines—Jack Nicholson, I guess? Or some groupie. Someone ignored, while the important people slam some dunks.

This can seem particularly off-putting, this statement of position and status, because often these assertions come from people that don't even register in your own life. Lots of us aren't in each others' "games." That's how life works. But most of us aren't self-centered enough to think in these terms, and certainly we wouldn't think to assert this status so as to put others down.

That's right. Don't get mad. Get $$$$$$. (Who doesn't love $$$$$$? Just… so why are you telling us about it?) That's a besieged point of view, a solipsistic and unrealistic kind of martyrdom.

Here are two pretty remarkable recent examples, where men stepped up to tell women who were making statements on Twitter that they were, in one case, "tweeting from the sidelines," and in the other, "bitching from the sidelines."

11 Comments / Post A Comment

Dave Bry (#422)

This is great. One of the interesting things about Chris Jones' original statement is that it comes from a journalist. Many people would—many people DO—assail the entire field of journalism as taking place "from the sidelines." That's actually where journalists SHOULD reside, in fact! That's where journalists have CHOSEN to reside, on the sidelines, from an observer's standpoint, reporting on what they see other people doing "in the game." The fact that some journalists like to view journalism itself as a "game" to be playing or not is kind of funny. (And also legitimate, from a certain perspective. Any endeavor can be viewed in these terms. I just agree with Choire that it's not so often healthy or helpful.) I defend the journalist's seat on the sidelines; I defend the value of reporting from a distance, a distance that's often essential to get a good viewpoint from which to report. But there are lots of people—how often have we heard it?, from politicians, artists, athletes, whoever, who do not support it. And in fact regularly turn Jones' own phrasing against him and everyone else who does his job. Chris Jones is in fact a SPORTS WRITER, right? This is too hilarious to write anymore about.

NinetyNine (#98)

Not getting out the popcorn until Scocca weighs in. Crosses fingers.

Brian Hurley (#235,000)

Right on. I like Choire the linguist.

Chris Jones irritates me as much as the next guy (provided the next guy is Tom Scocca) but I think maybe we're misinterpreting his comment. My guess is he's including himself as being "on the sidelines" — he just doesn't snark, he probably elucidates or something. Still smug as hell though.

LondonLee (#922)

My main takeaway from this was that Chris Spoke is an arsehole.

theheckle (#621)

All you players can keep playing, but some of my favorite moments have come from snarking from the sidelines. There is nothing like finding a quiet moment at a hockey game to yell, "Who ate all the pies!," at the opposing team's goaltender.

Sure, if I could PLAY hockey I guess my life would be better. But skates.

tomme (#4,473)

@theheckle It's not an official baseball game unless I've yelled "C'MON BLUE!" twelve times over the course of the first six innings.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

Yeah, if there is one thing we need more of, it's snarking at the sidelines. From the sidelines of the sidelines, apparently.

Ham Snadwich (#11,842)

Teddy Roosevelt felt similarly about "the haters".

As a psychological defense against criticism, characterizing everyone who disagrees with you as "haters" works. Otherwise, it's just a rhetorical device designed to derail – someone railing against haters probably isn't interested in a longer discussion about how business doesn't exist in a vacuum and that there are ethical implications to price-gouging after a disaster, for example. But there are trolls and they are, indeed, gonna troll. I guess this is an ad hominem that pretty much dead ends any possible conversation.

On the plus side, pretty good douchebag detector!

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