Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tiffany Michelle and the WSOP

I've been following the bigger poker blogs during the WSOP to keep up with the drama. I don't exactly know why, because I don't really care that much about tournament poker. I guess it's decent entertainment value for me in reading about poker when the writing is done by talented people. Like Pauly. Or Shamus.

I don't spend my days endlessly refreshing the PokerNews website for live updates, though, nor do I check the rankings or results. I'm in it for the anecdotes and funny sideline stories. But still, one thing that hasn't escaped me is the hype going on (or that went on, technically) around Tiffany Michelle, who was knocked out in 17th place. A lot of people were rooting for her, were rooting for a woman to win the WSOP, or at least for her to be among the November Nine, to sit at the televised final table.

Someone else who didn't miss this commotion was The Poker Grump. He writes about how it's odd that everyone is excited about a woman going deep (pardon the expression) - that Tiffany Michelle is the "last woman standing" - but little attention is given to, as he puts it, the "last black standing." He suggests that there's no good reason why we should care at all about the sex or race of a poker player. He's right.

I do, however, think the defining characteristic for the media frenzy around Tiffany Michelle is based more on the fact that she's a good looking woman, and not just "a woman." I understand that there are female poker players who might be excited for her without caring how she looks, and I understand there may be feminists who'd love to see a woman win "a boy's game," but the primary reason the cameras are pointed at Tiffany Michelle isn't her lack of a Y-chromosome, it's because she looks good on camera. And it's important to keep the cause-and-effect in check here, because I think people are excited about her because they hear about her, rather than the other way around. News outlets dictate what we care about.

But there was a reason to be excited about Tiffany Michelle, and that is that, frankly, it could have given poker another "boom." A pretty girl making the final table of the WSOP Main Event? That's something that might even be headline news on the big networks. And why? Because she looks good on camera. I know it's superficial and shallow, I know it's sleazy and sexist, but it's real. She would very effectively draw attention - the good kind - to poker, quite possibly causing a large new influx of players. Another poker boom. And hey, if she's more than just pretty - smart and a good card player to boot - we hit a jackpot.

So while I agree with The Poker Grump on the overall moral of poker not being about your gender or the tone of your skin, this doesn't preclude me from being just a little disappointed that she didn't do better. Because the final table will now probably get less media attention than it would have had she still been in it, and that's unfortunate.

Ah, well. Maybe next year Ben Affleck will win it. That ought to attract some attention.

1 comment:

Tildy said...

Okay, have to stir the pot. I believe that you're right about the attention being mostly a result of her hawtness, but I don't agree with this Poker Grump person about it not being interesting or important.

When I was studying for a PhD in math we had a guest lecturer whose name I don't remember, but the emails that came out pointed out in several ways that he was the "first African-American mathematician to do this or that." One of our professors replied, irritated that this was considered important, and why does it matter what color the guy is? Does that make people more likely to go to his lecture?

I wrote him back and told him that yes, in fact, it does make some people more likely. In our class of 50 grad students, one was black -- I bet it made him more likely to attend. If it had been a female lecutrer, I'd have been more likely to attend. Why? Because we were definitely minorities in the context, and people like to have a role-model and see that "hey, he/she did it; I can do it, too."

In the context of poker, a black player isn't that interesting. Being black doesn't seem to be considered a detriment to one's poker abilities (although people do cock an eyebrow to see a black mathematics professor). And you've got Phil Ivy, so that is sort of old news. However, it is, as you say, a "boys' club," and you point out that a woman has never been at the final table. So the possibility of it happening for the first time is interesting both for male and female spectators.

If you still think the race or gender of a person should be uninteresting when we've agreed that neither suggest a diminished ability to do the job, take a moment to recall the current presidential race. ;)