If I were to make New Year’s resolutions, this year mine would be to watch less football, or – more specifically, to no longer watch Sky Sports.*
*It would have suited the narrative flow of this post to have started the previous sentence with ‘My New Year’s resolution is to watch less football”, a slight alteration in the construction of the paragraph, which in the scheme of things would have no bearing on anything; people adapt and edit their opinion to suit the narrative in this way all the time, apart from in this case, with regards to the salient point I’m hoping to raise in this post, it wouldn’t have represented the truth.
Football has no pre-ordained narrative, although we often think of a season as having a narrative retrospectively (and talk about it in narrative terms), in order to help piece it together, make sense of it and consign it to memory. We categorise points which were crucial, the events which conspired to create outcomes we weren’t anticipating and so on. However, as there’s no such thing as fate, football narratives are created in real time, as they are in real life. They’re real things happening to real people, or at least that’s how it was until television – largely in the form of Sky* – began to interfere.
*Sky is evil – nothing new in that. It’s the default standard for News Corp products (to that end this post could take any number of routes). People like to be lead and marketing departments know this. It’s a lesson learned from history, primarily through religion. Repeating messages and reaffirming them in a prescribed manner to people in need of guidance informs their dependency, thus they become indoctrinated. There’s a science to this: if you repeat a message X number of times, eventually it permeates the relevant part of the brain and sticks (don’t watch Sky. Don’t watch Sky. Don’t watch Sky. Don’t watch Sky. Don’t watch Sky. Don’t watch Sky. Don’t watch Sky). When a market becomes so aggressively cornered by A Brand – in this case Sky – it’s very difficult to counter it’s omnipotence. It’s incredibly strong market position allows it a self-perpetuating growth. People in marketing prey on insecurity (another lesson learned from religion) and know that people need to follow through fear of “missing out” and so the brand’s power grows exponentially: repeating messages, reaffirming beliefs, preying. It’s stranglehold on English football television rights creates the cycle that many people are predicting will lead to the inevitable death of the game and to a phrase I’ve heard repeated a lot recently: “Football will eat itself”. Though perhaps I think it’s more accurate to say that: “Capitalism will chew on football and tear everything of value from it, then spit it out when it’s done”. Just as it has done to industries, cities and communities. This was only supposed to be a footnote of sorts to the observation I was going to go on to make so I think I’ll save the, ‘profit = corruption, money = debt, flaws in Neoclassical economics debate and issues with infinite systems being arrogantly super-imposed over the finite ones that exist’, for another post on the twelfth of never. Though, as I mentioned marketing, it wouldn’t feel right, as a nod to Bill Hicks, to not ask any of you marketing people out there who might be reading this, to – if not kill yourself – at least give yourself a really nasty Chinese burn. Thanks.
(back to the point…)
These last couple of football seasons have been bulging with narrative and extremely entertaining, but I’m under no illusion: they’re becoming impostors. What we are witnessing are the affectations and pseudo-behaviours of generations who have grown up under the shadow of BSkyB. Players who have grown up so immersed in the culture of modern televised football broadcast, created by Sky – with a narcissistic image of themselves – and funded by Sky – that their actions (playing out like a dramatic montage on ‘Super Sunday’) are nothing more than a superficial aping of how they see themselves. Players kiss the badge, but not because they love the club. Players run to the fans, but not because they love they fans. Players are quiet after a goal against an old team, but not out of respect. They’re all affectations, one dimensional motifs belonging to the modern egotist who wants to be perceived in all dimensions, but can’t be bothered to put the time in. Perhaps the most honest of all aped celebrations is the one where the player points to his own name. Players have become hyper-aware of themselves as a product and that in itself is enough to manipulate their individual role in the narrative, so altering the whole. Sky created this, with money, and the hype they heap on top of the money, which they see as necessary to make them yet more of it. Hyperbole injected into our eyes with hyperbolic needles.
What’s the problem though, if it looks like a season and not only that, it’s more entertaining, more engrossing? The simple answer is there isn’t one – we’re all free to create our own realities. I saw a quote this week saying that, “Wilshere knows what playing for Arsenal means”. Rhetoric of this nature means nothing to me, it never has since I’ve been watching football. I understand the principle underpinning such a perception, but the way I personally perceive the way Wilshere plays, for example, is that his ego drives him on to want to be better. Both work. Wilshere is still doing the “right thing” on the pitch – the things we “expect” of him.
When we allow something (like football) to strongly inform our identity, it has to have meaning that we value, or it devalues our meaning: we become meaningless. We must search for, and give the things that define us, our own meaning. In the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes, the con men have taken everything for themselves, stripping the Emperor and leaving him naked so that the community that serves the Emperor are left staring at his naked body. No-one, either the Emperor or the community, wants to admit that there’s nothing there, so instead they convince themselves of it’s existence. They give it it’s value, because if they don’t, they have to admit that they’re stupid.
We will always say football isn’t how it used to be because we have the misfortune to have developed the ability of seeing things through the eyes of an adult. But it’s more than that – football is losing it’s truth. I’ve taken Sky’s own tag-line, ‘Believe in Better’ to it’s logical conclusion: a place where Sky doesn’t exist, not for me anyway.