Ever since I first studied sociology (in about 2 million years BC) I have known that the media’s first need is to see to the continuation of itself by keeping up its audience. It does this by telling the audience “this is how it is” and then, having got the audience fixed on this version of reality, it proclaims, “you only get this reality here.”
“Football is great,” says Sky, and when it thinks you agree is says, “and you can only get it here.”
But there is a problem with this approach. And that is that you can get stuck in a groove. Papers and broadcasters have a view which suits them for a time, but it can become self-perpetuating, long after is has served its point. It carries on in the old style, because, well, it does.
The Match of the Day approach is like this – the vision that the football audience is so stupid that it doesn’t know a bent ref when it sees one, that it finds mindless chit-chat somehow a worthwhile way of passing the time, and that we want to know the opinion of some boring jerk who is famous for being a boring jerk and who knows very little.
But the media got away with it in the past for two reasons:
First, there was a limited choice of media, so if you liked football (for example) you took what you were given, because that’s all there was.
Second because you couldn’t talk back.
Now that has gone – although the un-reconstructed 20th century media likes to pretend it hasn’t.
Consider today, when the press and broadcast media gobbled up the line that 300 Arsenal fans had written to Shawcross to tell him he was an ok dude. Really? Are we expected to believe this? In their unreconstructed modernist way the media think they can say it and we will scoop it up.
We are expected not to ask if these were really Arsenal fans and not Stoke or Tottenham fans in disguise?
Indeed it seems as if I expected to forget that in the wonderful days when Ossie Ardiles was Tottenham manager and he trotted out and said that he had hundreds of letters from fans begging him to stay, I dropped my pint of beer on the floor and screamed, knowing that at least 50 of those letters had been written by me and my mates.
The fact is that for a long time the press has existed in a time bubble that suits its own perception of reality. A perception that says the world cup is important, rather than being something many of us dread as the moment when our players get crippled. A perception that says that if you keep on and on and on and on saying Shawcross is a nice fellow, we might believe you, even though he destroyed Jeffers and Ramsey.
A perception that says Liverpool are a decent club that plays good football. A perception that says (as happens while I write this) when the Everton manager comes on TV and says how well his club are doing after a SLIGHTLY SHAKY START we have to nod. A slightly shaky start?????????????????
The difference is of course that now we blog each other, and we each of us know, we are not the odd ones out, we are not the only people who have a strangely bent view of reality – it is the media. It is the loonies stuck in their little towers spouting gibberish who are the nutters, not us.
I once had the temerity to report here that I was rather chuffed that the odd phrase of mine first displayed to the public on this site had entered the domain of commentators. I meant to say that this proved blogs had power, although several correspondents accused me of disappearing up my own arse.
But I do think that very slowly the fans are beginning to get a little bit of power back – not least because some of our prognostications have been proven right. We are starting to define the world – and we are not letting the media do it.
After quite a bit of time of site like this one saying that the whole football edifice is unsustainable, people are listening. They notice that the old English way of believing that we are automatically worth ten of those johnny foreigners is no longer holding sway. The old, “you need an English spine” gibberish is vanishing.
And they note that as the Manchester Arab model fails to get off the ground so the Roman Abramovich’s model has come back down to the ground. The KGB has had success, true, but not every year as he imagined it would be. And this “break even” campaign he has promised, this “youth academy” thing, all seems as distant as when the Oligarch spouted it three or four years ago and the uncritical media lapped it up and said “yes your almightyness, anything you say, can I have an oil well?”
But there is more, because in a tiny, tiny way the media are noticing what little us have been saying all this time – Arsenal have a young team, the KGB have an old team. We make a profit, they make a loss. We have a conveyor belt of young talent, which took 10 years to set up, but now delivers the goods. They don’t. When our players get into personal difficulty (Merson, Adams) our club quietly supports them and turns them round. The KGB in true KGB style re-write history. It never happened. We play football.
And here’s the big issue that the media is just scratching its way towards. Where is the fun for a man like Abramovich of being second and having a captain and left back who can’t tell a screw from having a screw loose? What’s the point of hanging around when that’s all you get out of life – a loonie with a mobile phone and a captain with a drug dealing dad, a shop lifting mum, and a propensity to show people round the training ground at £20k a time?
But fortunately a change of stance is not completely impossible for the hardened hacks. They have been brought up on “1984” – that most prophetic of books, in which you simply change your stance, and write out the old approach.
Arsenal bad, Chelsea good, Man U better becomes Man U best, Chelsea inept, Arsenal actually doing rather a good job old chap, becomes Man U rather dodgy and a bit, well, un-English, and Arsenal become foreign and odd, but still, fairly sound…
But there’s another twist. Mourinho is ordered not to speak to the press by the Inter boss. Sir Alex F Word doesn’t talk to anyone. John Terry’s wife orders him not to talk, and the manager of Liverpool plays games – remember his “the referee was perfect” piece. Even I loved him at that moment. And if there is one thing the press don’t like, its people not talking. Let’s go and talk to Wenger.
The point is this. Had Portsmouth gone into the liquid hand basin three years ago they would have been seen as a one-off odd ball. Now they are seen as the icing on the iceberg. The press haven’t quite got around to calling West Porno, West Porno, but everyone is watching to see how such a basket case can escape reality. An alternative universe would help.
To think that Man U might disintegrate into fireworks is too much, even for the nouveau media, but they have got the hang of the fact that Liverpool are just about to fall over the edge into the void as the banks ask for their money back.
This doesn’t mean we have any sort of version of reality from the media that you or I would recognise as the truth, when we open door in the morning. But today’s version is half an inch closer to the world that I see, than it was when I was born during the Late Stone Age (I was in one of those families that finally realised we had run out of stones and so invented the Bronze Age).
It’s a step. One step. But the journey of ten thousand miles starts with a single step as Mao said. Or was it Plato. Sorry can’t remember.
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ARSENAL IN THE PAST…
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The sound of a billion fans saying “I think we are onto something here” as Arsenal prove they were right all the time, is copyright © Untold Arsenal 2010.
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