Oh, Jermain, that was bad

Observations on biting

I don't have children, but I've heard from parents that biting is the worst thing tots can do to one another. My best friend caught her daughter preparing her playmate for a bite. She had rolled up his little sleeve, gotten his forearm into a sturdy grip and, as a final precaution against having her moment curtailed, taken a deep breath, when my friend caught her. It's the premeditation, isn't it, that gives this crime its magnitude?

Along with that tricksy fact that nobody ever bit another person by accident. And, should you ascend out of the under-five years of your life still biting people, it is yet worse, and also more complicated. Because of sex, you see. I remember the first time I heard that classic lament "I always wanted screamers and biters, and all I get is whingers and moaners." It's totally strange, but also totally true. Biting is definitely a sex thing, and furthermore, a mainstream sex thing. It's not something you'd, ahem, have to pay extra for.

So, when you see a prominent person caught in the act of biting another person, it does raise certain questions. It's always sportspeople, naturally. I can account for this, partly because sporting photographers are trained to catch exact moments in time, unlike, say, news monkeys who just have to get the gist. Also, you don't find many politicians biting one another. I've never even seen John Prescott biting anyone. When Tyson bit that fella's ear, the bestiality of the crime - removing a chunk of cartilage - blinded us to the homoerotic bass notes of this curious act. Jermain Defoe, on the other hand . . . we see him raise himself from the ground, targeting his prey. Javier Mascherano is as unaware as a pretty gazelle with long eyelashes. Defoe's rage and cunning dance across his features. The delicate Mascherano is making a hand gesture of some sort - I can't be sure, but it looks like the international symbol of "Ref! His Mum Works In McDonald's!"

Defoe leans in for his nibble. We have to assume that he hadn't thought this one through - but, were he asked to account for it, he would probably try to put it down to his masculinity. You know - as a sportsman, he's riddled with the incredible cocktail of testosterone and adrenalin. He is closer to the raw animal self at his core. What a hunk of burning man! Depending on what kind of telling off he gets, he'll probably pat himself on the back for this. But that'll be before anybody points out the underlying nemesis-as-sex-symbol, Coriolanus-y eroticism of the act. He bit the guy's shoulder. I bet he was aiming for his nipple. I mean, come on. It's just so totally gay.

This article first appeared in the 30 October 2006 issue of the New Statesman, Israel: a nation under siege