Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Three Cheers for...oh wait, how do we do this properly?

When I first saw today's Morning Edition rundown and came across the piece about plans to build a cheerleader hall of fame, my first response was to roll my eyes and mutter "oh, PLEASE.". When Bruce Bradberry came in for his shift, he scoffed considerably more.

Before I joined in, I caught myself and remembered discovering there's more to cheerleading than meets the eye. I was thinking about the TV series called "Faking It." It was on a few years ago, first on BBC America, then on TLC. Individuals are given one month to transform completely--punk musician morphs into classical conductor, burger flipper steps into the role of gourmet chef, web surfer turns wave surfer, and (my favorite) sheep shearer turns hairdresser. I found the stories instructive and thoroughly entertaining.

One TLC episode threw a bookish Harvard grad student into the dizzying (tempted to say "ditzying"?) world of cheerleaders for the Atlanta Falcons. Her initial attitude was not unlike Bruce's and mine this morning - that is, barely concealing disdain. Her lack of enthusiasm and interest for cheerleading was evident, and she put in the corresponding amount of effort into her task. Needless to say, she was then forced to hear her mentor's pronouncement of disappointment, and pleas to "try harder!" "I believe in you!"

To the best of my recollection, the young woman learned just how hard it is to jump around in unison with the other women who bounded across the field with the surefootedness of mountain goats, beaming broadly from ear to ear, all the while remembering every bit of the routine and executing it perfect time. I do remember her realization, with humility, how difficult it is to do even a short routine, and not look like a complete fool. All her preconceived notions of airheads, ditzes and so on - out the window. At the end, experienced judges had to observe 4 cheerleaders, and figure out which one was the fake - and the Harvard faker successfully slid under their radar. She looked truly proud of her accomplishments in her month of faking it.

So - even knowing that cheerleading is a lot harder than meets the eye, why do so many people still maintain a whiff of scorn? I suspect it's not the activity, it's the stereotype of the people it draws. Maybe it's because the women who participate (and it is, still, largely a female activity) are so perfectly ripped, bleached and tanned that we think that's all they do, work on looking great. Maybe it's the scandals, such as the Texas mom who hired a hit man to kill a junior high school cheerleader so her daughter could get a spot on the squad. Maybe it's because those of us who just can't get excited about sports don't see the point of it all. Any thoughts to share?

I'm still learning - walk a mile in another's shoes before passing judgement. (But can't I at least roll my eyes at the kind of shoes they're wearing before slipping them on?)

At any rate, there seems to be no shortage of interest in cheerleaders/ing in popular culture. In movies, there's "Bring It On" (2000) and "The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom" (1993), to name just a couple. And on TV, next month, a new reality series, Cheerleader Nation, returns for another season on Lifetime, billing itself a "real-life mother-daughter drama of blood, seat and tears." Rah rah rah.

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