Ok, I’ve mentioned the positives of Lynn Barber’s interview.
Now, on to the negatives!
The tone of the piece is a real problem. In fact, given the subject matter of the piece, I have to address the tone first, before I can address the content of the piece.
She begins the article by saying, “If anyone else tells me what a lovely lad Rafael Nadal is, I shall scream.” This is confrontational. In the very next paragraph, she switches to condescension, by calling the readers “kiddos.” Then, two thirds of the way through the article, she calls the reading “oh best beloved.” When I read that line, I felt so mad, not at the way she was treating Rafa, but at the way she was treating me, the reader! First, she threatens me, then she patronizes me, and then she tries to cozy up to me? The gall!
She also spends a large amount of time in her piece whining, which is simply grating. She whines about “traipsing round the boiling Foro Italico stadium, surviving on bottled water, watching his boring match, waiting for his press conference, then hanging about with mobs of screaming fans waiting for him to emerge from the players’ entrance.” (She’s a regular Woodward or Bernstein, this one.) She does this in an attempt to curry sympathy from the reader, but it backfires. First of all, sinking to his level does not make her look like a mature, level headed journalist, willing to sacrifice in order to get to the truth. Second of all, what point does she really try to make with this anecdote? That her life is as bad as his? That he has no excuse for being mean to her? I don’t know, honestly, but it definitely backfires and just makes her look childish and petty.
As rude as she is to the reader, she is much worse to his “minders,” or the men that Rafa calls his “team.” She calls them “big-bellied habitués of the hospitality tent who don’t seem to have anything much to do except talk on their mobiles,” and “the sort of sleazeball who dropped [his] old friends and family the minute [he] moved up in the world.” She may very well be right in her assessment of the members of Rafa (or any tennis player’s) team, but what does she hope to accomplish by these insults? By going back to this confrontational, bitter tone, she further alienates the reader. (I remember hearing a writer say that Bernard Shaw used to flatter his audience, and tried to make them feel intelligent.)
Lynn Barber’s main contention is that athletes are now almost entirely controlled by their PR department, and that they have to live within the tight confines of their PR image. She aruges that Rafa is being controlled by his PR team, who keep him in a straight jacket. In her imagining, Rafa would love to give controversial, shocking details (he’s just dying to tell her all sorts of personal dirt!) to interviewers, but his mean PR team won’t allow him to do so.
But is this really an accurate portrayal of Rafa? As Arienna Lee pointed out in her reaction to Lynn Barber’s article, Rafa calls out Lynn Barber for her hypocricy. While she grills him about The Girlfriend, he turns the question back and her and asks her if she really cares about his relationship. She has to admit, “No,” she doesn’t. Arienna Lee points out, and rightly so, that Rafa himself , not his PR team, is keeping his cards close to his chest, and witholding information from her.
I’ve read enough articles and press conferences with Rafa to discern that Rafa does not like journalists. He complained to Benito that they always ask him the same questions, and he’s called them out for this at times. Recently, at this year’s French Open, an interviewer asked him about the crowds at Paris. He motioned towards the interviewers and said, “You really love this topic.” At one point, a journalist asked him how Rafa would handle a situation if he became a journalist. Rafa answered, “First of all, I would never become a journalist.” Rafa’s been on the circuit long enough to understand that journalists aren’t after the truth, they’re after the story, and these are two very different things.
Now, this is the point in the article where the tone really sabatoges Lynn Barber’s point. Lynn Barber wants to argue that Rafa and other athletes should not be so straightjacketed by their PR teams, that they should be allowed to express themselves to the public. However, if the media is judgemental, confrontational, and condescending (as her article is) why on earth would athletes want to express their true selves? Lynn Barber comes across as one of those pushy customers I can’t stand in my job, that makes me get her out of my window (and my hair!) as quickly as possible. Lynn Barber does not inspire sympathy or trust, qualities that are essential for establishing any kind of intimacy. Reading the article, I don’t blame Rafa for being rude to her; I’m shocked that he didn’t give her one word answers.
Perhaps Lynn Barber’s interview, and the tone of her article, was a misguided attempt to play Good Cop/Bad Cop. Unfortunately, it backfires completely. I actually agree with the premise of her article, that none of Rafa’s fans can claim to know Rafa. I fully agree. As I told someone last October, I actually know Harry Potter far better than I know Rafa, because I know what Harry was thinking throughout the books, but I don’t know what Rafa is thinking. However, by in turns insulting, whining, and patronizing, Lynn Barber squanders whatever good faith she might have with the reader, and creates more sympathy for Rafa’s point of view than her own. I mean, go back and read this post! I tried to stay calm and clinical, but I find that at times she treats the reader with contempt. I feel the need to defend myself, to lash out at her, not for the way she’s treating Rafa, but for the way she’s treating me, the reader. I wonder, reading this, “Does she want me on her side?”
Ok, that’s it for tone. Up next, why I disagree with her premise about the “good old days of Agassi, McEnore, and Becker.” That will be a lot shorter. I promise. 🙂