It is difficult to talk critically about culture without poking a finger in someone’s eye. Since long before Hammurabi, we have been poking right back. From this we have no doubt come to understand the wisdom in keeping one’s singular eye on things such as the ball, the bottom line, the road, the prize, etc. With these trepidations in view, I venture into the world of darts.
As a cursory search of the internet and a modicum of casual observation will confirm that “darts began in the drinking halls of England”. The idea of drunken men slinging about shortened arrows at overturned wine barrels seems about right even now. Even the feaux cracks we see on modern dart boards are a remnant of medieval dudes throwing sharp points at an immovable object. I imagine that their spaces of sotted leisure were as given to banal expressions of masculine solidarity as ours, and that they drank the Miller Light and Budweiser (perhaps, Guinness) of their day.
I first played for Armed & Hammered in season 42 of the Bull City Dart League (hereafter, BCDL). Because it was my first season in the league and I had the highest average points per dart of the “rookies”, I was “BCDL Rookie of the Year”. I have a trophy to prove it. I also won a trophy for “high out”, meaning that my “136 out” in a singles game of 301 (where you have to count down and finish on zero by hitting a double) was the best in the league for the season. I was so excited about it that I took a picture of the darts, triple 20, triple 20, double 8. Overall, my numbers weren’t bad, but at around a 14 handicap I was in the middle of the statistical pack. There were guys throwing at 21 and 22, knocking down 180 once or twice a night, 5 marks on command, three bull outs to scare the pants off ya. I tell you, there were some serious players. And they keep some serious stats to prove it. It took me a full three weeks to figure out the scoring.
What seemed Byzantine in complexity turned out to be an interesting way of organizing an evening of arrows for between 10 and 16 people. As ESPN invariably flickered like a sad, decaying constellation in the background and Lynyrd Skynyrd hitched up his panties for another go at Freebird, with Joe Cocker limbering up in the box, some snuck outside for a “safety meeting”, everyone made sure their beers were full, the room filled with smoke and the game was on.
The BCDL kicked off at 8, finished by 11, and continually left me feeling either good about my darts and indifferent about the night, or badly about my darts and downright hostile for spending so much time and money thinking it was worth it. Nonetheless, I played another season (Season 43) of Tuesday nights in the BCDL (with two more trophies to boot), and then switched to the Triangle Dart League, now playing on a team called, Still Armed, More Hammered (see p. 2).
The geographic overlap between the BCDL and the TDL is minimal, only one bar, the West End Tavern (WET) hosts teams in each league. What these two leagues don’t cover in the Triangle the Raleigh Dart League with 8 divisions picks up in droves. All of these local teams and bars have an affiliation with the Piedmont Dart Association which has a fantastically complex and comprehensive geography of its own. But that organization is modest relative to the American Darts Organization (ADO) which is in turn humbled by the World Darts Federation. Successive levels of inanity each more befuddling than the next. However, if we look at the member countries, the ol’ British drinking game rears its head, with some EU company:
Wait a minute…Who is that between Hungary and Italy? Perhaps the next president could establish some kind of “darts diplomacy” with our Persian brothers.
It seems absurd to comment on the culture of darts without talking about the places and people in more detail. The places where darts are thrown with something more than sloppy attention tend to have pool tables, electronic bar-top gambling, drop ceilings, fluorescent lighting, perpetual sports programming, primitive toilets, NFL/Budweiser advertising, and rock and roll on the three song for a dollar jukebox. The bars either don’t serve food or don’t do it well enough to bother. Some serve decent beer on tap, all have something good in bottles. A majority of people smoke. Nearly everyone drinks, and if they don’t it is likely on doctor’s orders. Whiskey shots are unceremonious. Fist punching, ubiquitous; high fives, impromptu and frequent. Casual racism, homophobia, and misogyny pervasive. Following tough norms of masculinity are welcomed, but not required. Being able to protect one’s self physically seems unnecessary, though fights are a part of life’s great mystery. There are also women present. To call it a disproportional representation would be both cruel and accurate, yet as I have frequently heard, "no one wants to lose to a team of bitches".
In short, the world of the BCDL and the TDL is a common one, where petty antagonisms and historical trajectories of intolerance manifest in predictable and lame forms. It’s almost hard to muster righteous cries of indignance when people are so grossly ignorant as to continue half-hearted, yet pointed attempts at making intolerance clever. Yet, in darts, it is ever necessary and increasingly important to get one’s point across. A small world in a large universe leaves little room for distinction.
April 7, 2008