Roller Derby as Punchline
When I ran the PR committee for Gotham Girls Roller Derby, every few months I would get an email from a TV producer who had come up with the "brilliant" idea to put a reporter on skates as a gimmick for a segment about roller derby. Just as we can all recite "by day/by night" verbatim from memory by now, this feature rarely deviated from a pretty typical script. The league had done segments like that before, after we had lost our practice space and were desperate to get the attention of anyone who could help us find a new one. In 2008, it already felt old-hat. And in 2009, after we won the WFTDA championships (back then still called Nationals), it felt demeaning.
But when a popular New York TV station told us they had a brilliant idea (sigh), we said OK and gamely helped their slender-legged reporter muddle through on skates, letting her hit us without hitting back and barely even smirking when she fell down.
Her editor did a good job of cutting it so the reporter looked OK, but it was still plain to see that what the reporter was doing was not playing roller derby. Talented, trained athletes playing roller derby are fantastic to watch. Whatever you feel about the current ruleset, on the whole, the sport is still fast, dynamic, and hard-hitting. And that's something that gets completely lost when non-derby-players get on skates.
That's why I have a problem with things like The Bachelor co-opting our sport as a schtick. I'm sure that there were people out there who had never seen roller derby before who saw it on the show. But what did they see?
What is it that makes non-skaters try out roller derby, a dangerous contact sport on wheels, as a TV gag? I can't remember instances of dating shows having the contestants play full-contact football or rugby. So why is our sport fair game for this kind of treatment?
Maybe derby still has a whiff of the fake or WWE to it, in spite of all that the WFTDA and other governing bodies have done to legitimize the sport in the eyes of the public. Is it the sexiness? Or does a full-contact sport that's mostly played by women just not seem "real" or actually dangerous to most people?
In the grand scheme of things, the sport is still in its infancy. The fact that people are interested is something we should be thanking our lucky stars for, and I understand that. But the fact that mainstream media and entertainment channels are more interested in the "derby girls" phenomenon than what it is that derby girls actually DO--that's something I just can't make my peace with.
What do you think?