Absence of Good Cheer

"When I say 'Questionable!' you say 'Idea!'"

"Questionable!"..."Idea!"

That little cheer, and some chuckles, popped into my head last year, when I first noticed a solicitation for cheerleader videos from the editors of washingtonpost.com on the Web site's sports section.

"There's more to high school sports than statistics," the pitch, which still runs, reads, "so washingtonpost.com has asked area schools to send in a video of their cheerleading squads." Readers are not told, however, how to gain access to the cheerleader clips.

The Washington Post's site isn't hurting for surfers. Nielsen.net ratings, which ranks Web sites by popularity, has put the Post among the top three newspaper sites, and top 10 general news sites, on the Internet. Post-Newsweek Interactive, the parent company of washingtonpost.com, says that the site receives 6 million unique visitors per month, totaling some 170 million page views. Though most folks think that the Web is dead as a revenue producer, and news organizations everywhere are having money troubles, the company says its advertising sales for the site were up 60 percent last year.

The resources at the site's sports section are particularly bountiful. (Full disclosure: I write freelance music reviews for the Washington Post, which are archived on washingtonpost.com.) With a couple of mouse clicks, you can find not only athletic schedules and records of any area high school—DeMatha's basketball squad lost how many games this year? Really?—but also scoring statistics for individual athletes on most football and girls' or boys' basketball teams. Yet washingtonpost.com editors didn't make any pleas for schools to send clips of great dunks or epic kickoff returns.

So why cheerleaders?

"We think it's a cool feature," says Don Marshall, a spokesperson for Post-Newsweek Interactive. Marshall declines to name the individual whose brainstorm resulted in the cheerleader solicitation, but he does say that letters were also sent to area high schools last year making the same plea for cheerleader clips.

The judgment that the cheerleader feature is cool, however, isn't yet shared by area cheerleaders. As it turns out, there's a good reason the site doesn't include instructions on how to access the cheerleader videos.

"We didn't get any tapes,"

Marshall says.

None? After all this time?

"No. As far as I know, not a single school sent one in," he says.

Marshall says nobody has an explanation for the cheer-less response. "I think it takes time for word of something like this to get out," he says.

Marshall adds that the folks at washingtonpost.com are still hopeful that the cheerleader database will eventually be up and running. Another mailing with the request for videos might go out to high schools later this year.

Perhaps the next plea will bring in some tapes. But to an outsider, it also makes sense that high-school administrators would be wary about having videos of their cheerleaders posted on the Internet, even at a site as above-board as washingtonpost.com. At the risk of turning something innocent into something ugly: Cheerleaders hold a special and not always seemly place in the American male psyche well beyond adolescence. In American Beauty, it's perfectly fitting, if unsavory, that the midlife-crisis-suffering father played by Kevin Spacey would fantasize about his daughter's fellow cheerleader, in uniform. One of the featured gags in the new movie Old School has Will Ferrell's character asking his roommates if he should put a cheerleader uniform on his group house's blowup doll.

Dan Savage, the syndicated sex commentator (his column, Savage Love, runs in the Washington City Paper), says it doesn't take a syndicated sex commentator to figure out the mighty and

often indecorous appeal that cheerleaders hold for guys of all ages.

"My god, cheerleaders are the first cheesecake," says Savage. "And cheerleaders have uniforms, and little boys love uniforms. Cheerleaders are the uniform fetish of straight guys. Here's this militarized clique of girls doing line kicks and showing you their panties. You're putting steak in front of some boy who never had meat before, so then they hunger for steak their whole lives. What red-blooded heterosexual male wouldn't leave high school with something of a fixation?"

The Internet is full of evidence of the exploitation of that fixation. Anybody frustrated by the lack of cheerleader videos at washingtonpost.com who surfs over to cheerleadervideos.com, for example, will find himself at what could mildly be called an adult site. Similarly uncouth fare will be found at cheerleaders.com, cheerleaderuniform.com, highschoolcheerleader.com, cheering.com, hotcheerleader.com, hotcheerleaders.com, cheerleaderbabes.com, cheerleadergirls.com, highschoolcheerleaders.com, teencheerleader.com, teencheerleaders.com, cheerleaderworld.com,

cheertryouts.com, varsitycheerleader.com, and, ahem, pompoms.com. —Dave McKenna

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