It’s a hoary old question I know, but if he was still with us, what would Guy Debord have made of Todd Carney’s “bubbler” photo? Would he have viewed it as a Situationist act of rebellion, briefly disrupting the capitalist spectacle of Instagram and Twitter with a steaming stream of anomic subversion? Would he have looked up from his copy of Rugby League Week in the Rue Dauphine, taken a long, contemplative drag on his Gitane and thought, “Enfin, la réalité…”? Or more likely, would he have simply thought, “Fuck me, this kid’s dumber than a sackful of Corbys. Oh wait, they’ve even got a picture of the sack.”
Todd Carney likes wee. Or to be more exact, he likes his own. So much so, that in addition to enjoying the hoppy brew himself, he feels obliged to arrange tastings for others, such as the Canberra nightclub patron whose neck he micturated upon in 2008, and who was forced to undertake trauma counselling as a result. Indeed, Carney seems to be permanently trapped somewhere between the anal and phallic stages of psychosexual development, his id-ego conflict stubbornly unresolved.
Even more than his own home-brewed amber fluid, however, Carney likes The Piss – the type that comes in glasses, cans and synthetic bladders. And in a crowded rugby league market where it can be difficult to achieve brand recognition for alcohol-fuelled atrocities, his latest attempt at homeopathy has seen him jump ahead of Craig Gower, Mark Gasnier , Nate Myles and even bestiality-curious ex-teammate Joel Monaghan in the Race for Disgrace.
Carney’s history of cretinous behaviour whilst on the drink is long and storied. His rap sheet includes a 2007 conviction for DUI and reckless driving that resulted in a five year driving ban; a police chase through the backstreets of Canberra three months later when caught in breach of said ban; being banned from his hometown of Goulburn for 12 months in 2008 following a drunken rampage where he damaged numerous parked cars and defaced the shopfront of his club’s major sponsor, Fone Zone; injuring a man’s buttocks and genitalia by setting his pants alight on New Year’s Eve 2010; and a series of further alcohol-related misdemeanours, including yet another drink driving conviction, during his time at the Sydney Roosters. More crucially, his breaches of the social contract, and his inability to maintain a self-imposed sobriety, have seen him sacked from three different NRL clubs and effectively banned from professional football, after league bosses recently confirmed it was unlikely they’d ever grant him another playing registration.
Prevented from signing for English Super League club Huddersfield in 2009 because of his criminal record, he’s unlikely to be afforded an opportunity to ply his trade overseas in the future, in either of the rugby codes. Hence this week’s quashing of the outlandish rumour he was being fitted for a switch to the AFL appears to have finally extinguished his sporting career. And with zero tertiary or TAFE qualifications to his name, and next to no chance of gaining admission into the cosy frat house of sports media due to possessing the charisma of a cold wonton, his future prospects look increasingly humble.
So is there anything about Carney’s entirely self-inflicted predicament that should arouse our sympathy, or failing that, anything more generous than schadenfreude? His problems appear to stem largely from just being young, dumb and full of rum, a condition he shares with many of his peers. He was also cossetted and protected from himself all the way along the line by a series of football clubs more concerned about losing a gifted player than taking a tough and disciplined approach to his chronically poor behaviour. His less talented teammate at the Raiders, Steve Irwin, was sacked by the club for his involvement in Carney’s drink-driving capers (even though he wasn’t charged with any offence by police), and claims he was asked by the club to keep quiet about the nightclub incontinence incident, lest Carney be sent to jail for breaching his court-ordered alcohol probation. The Fone Zone vandalism episode was Carney’s unsophisticated response to finally being sacked by Canberra, a club which, like so many others mired in a cycle of on-field mediocrity, had tolerated the behaviour of its terrible infant for far too long.
Todd Carney is, for the moment, an uncomplicated figure of fun. He is the meme artist’s muse, the hack panel show comedian’s safety gag, clickfeed for every online news editor, and the default quip in every banal Facebook exchange. But when I look at Carney, I see a sad story in the making. It’s an old tale of naïve boom and bust, and the inability of unsophisticated, damaged people to deal with fame and success, most recently adumbrated in the startling skateboarding docu-tragedy All This Mayhem. The film follows the rise and piteous fall of the Pappas brothers, who emerged from troubled working class childhoods in the western suburbs of Melbourne in the late 1980s and rose to worldwide skateboarding fame, only to then tragically descend into drug abuse after their careers ended prematurely. I’m not suggesting this is necessarily the fate that awaits Carney, or that their stories are a direct match, but the film traces a narrative arc that you feel Carney is at a liminal point on.
The Pappas family was highly dysfunctional, with early parental warfare giving way to separation, an absent mother (in the film at least), and a shadowy father who later became implicated in embezzling the profits of his sons’ success. Without stating it overtly, the film suggests that Pappas Père became a lot more interested in his kids once they’d morphed into a potential meal ticket. At the height of their success, both brothers became immersed in the party lifestyle of the US professional skating scene, only to have their careers wrecked and their lives destroyed by drugs.
Carney’s parental relationships appear almost the converse. Although from similarly humble roots as the Pappas’, his mother Leanne seems to be a constant and loving presence in his life, standing staunchly by him through a series of embarrassing incidents. His father, Daryl, was the dominant influence in his early years, particularly in terms of his footballing development. However Daryl died of complications from dementia in 2008, and it seems anything but happenstance that this event coincided with Carney going completely off the rails, and turning to alcohol as an emotional anaesthetic. During his one season of sobriety in the NRL in 2010, after it was made clear to him that he was on his final warning at the Roosters, Carney won the code’s top individual honour, the Dally M Medal, and took the club to a grand final (which they lost). He also spoke publicly for the first time about his father:
“The player you see today is because of him,” Carney said.
“Dad had me passing the football from the day I could pass a football.
“The day he realised I could be strong enough to do weights he made me do weights.
“As soon as I finished school I had to train.
“There was always football and no skateboards and no roller blades.
“If I had football the next day I had to be in bed at a certain time.
“They say NRL players watch football after games to see how they play. I was 12 and he’d get the tape of the game and show me what I was doing wrong. He lived and breathed football.
“If I could have one bloke to watch me on Sunday it would definitely be him.
“What Dad taught me, the traits about life, I’ll never forget.
“Hopefully one day I have a boy, and everything I was taught as a kid, I would teach my boy what dad taught me.”
I’m no therapist, but it must’ve been pretty terrifying for a kid like Carney to witness his dominant male role model slowly succumb to something as emotionally confronting as dementia. You wonder how much his football clubs knew about this festering psychological wound, and how well-equipped they would’ve been to deal with it even if they were aware. In the case of the Pappas brothers, it was the eldest, Tas, who turned to substance abuse as a means of dealing with his grief over the death of younger brother Ben, who had himself dived into serious drug addiction following the premature end of his skating career (due to a drug conviction). Tas also admitted in a recent interview that he’d been the victim of sexual abuse as a child, which likewise goes a long way to explaining his turbulent life.
Some people just don’t have the analytical tools required to engage in self-analysis, or therapy, or to make necessary changes in their lives. And oftentimes, this lack of emotional intelligence sadly goes hand-in-hand with an ability to kick a football, or vert skate to world standard. In the case of famous people, the media understands this. They can see a car wreck in process, and will pursue it to the bitter end with no regard for the individual’s welfare. Because despite what we consumers might tell a pollster, or say in a public forum, we’re all ghouls who like to watch. It’s funny that Carney got banned from his home town for jumping on parked cars. It’s funny that he pissed on some guy in a nightclub. It’s funny that his party trick is “bubbling”. But when this 28-year-old kid’s relevance begins to fade, very shortly, and he’s got nothing more to offer the vultures, he’ll be left with no career and a ton of emotional baggage, not unlike the Pappas’. Tas says at one point during the film:
“Skating was the thing that saved us from our childhood and yet we wound up exactly where we would have been if that hadn’t happened.”
This is undoubtedly the road that Carney is now on – possibly even all the way back to his home town of Goulburn – but whether his story ends quite as tragically remains to be seen. I hope my hunch is wrong.