Other / media
The Zuckerberg-ian Panopticon
In some regards football is much like an impenetrably self referential modern art installation. Part Tracey Emin's bed, part Marchel Duchamp's urinal the wilful obscurantism of such achingly pretentious pseudo intellectualism is a product of the conflicting variability of competing interpretations surrounding the game (spot the irony). The same imaginative process which can transform an unmade bed into a commentary on the myriad anxieties assailing modern women or a urinal into a ceramic inversion of society's expectations is more than apparent in how we analyse matches and the state of the game as a whole. To my mind at least it can feel like prevailing footballing narratives are woven from gossamer threads to form a precarious construct - part mythology, part unassailable truth, part fiction. Look at it this way, while in the aftermath of Man City's victory over Liverpool Vincent Kompany's performance was roundly hailed as totemic it remains inescapable that it was a correct refereeing decision from being derided as calamitous. I find this a curious idiosyncrasy more than anything else, just about grounded in truth; Kompany's performance was towering and it's not like he can be expected to down tools just because the referee made an error. Still, it places a little mental asterisk next to the hyperbole. Something altogether more pernicious occurs when journalism's pendulum swings so far as to render the emerging discourse almost indistinguishable from fiction. Personally speaking there are few things I find more exasperating than a lucky win being undeservedly exalted to almost allegorical levels of example setting or a single defeat being blown up into some sort of Stalingrad scaled crisis. Yet, if readership is anything to go by, such overblown and unthinking sensationalism thrives like a cholera epidemic would in the excrement issuing forth from the puckering arsehole of culture that is The S*n. A by product of such seeming approval is that sensationalism, shielded by the paradox of its subliminal overtness, can inveigle its way into the collective subconscious and so while empirically execrable it remains at once consumable and consuming. Indeed, in the sheer addictiveness of its disposability sensationalism could be described as neoliberal capitalism's journalistic ideal. This written drug is singularly rapturous and numbing and in my opinion can, through the deadened discourse it promotes, threaten to reduce readers to ventriloquist dolls whose wooden jawed chattering is nothing more than a servile recapitulation of ideology filtered through football. But then again football is ideological, isn't it? The Reaganistic orgy of the Premier League's rampant consumerism could be Milton Friedman's masturbatory fantasy, where the empty posh seats at Wembley become aspirational markers of one's ability to consume without consuming and fans are demeaned as human billboards for multinationals. It's depressing to think that perhaps the most penetrative insight into the state of the game actually does come from the monotonous churn of excitably vacuous headlines, from the lies of transfer speculation, from the nauseating individualism of Balon D'or campaigns, from all the f*cking hype, and from purple dildos on Goddamn Transfer Deadline Day. Thanks to all this white noise football is rhetorically annexed and reduced to a lurid escapism wherein Maud Flanders' headspace of permanent outrage and moral panic is sutured to Cristiano Ronaldo's 6 pack. This ugly surgery is legitimised by the reductivist sentiment of "giving the people what they want" - but is that really the case? Although I can't provide a definitive answer, I do wonder whether the relationship between chemicalised news and the modern world is much different to that between the coca leaf and Potosi's silver mines; is it just a way to get through the day? If we run with the notion of sensationalist journalism as a means of distraction we find ourselves trapped in a feedback loop wherein its meaning is derived from how well it serves the overarching sporting entertainment complex, best epitomised by the mournful, sleepless slog of 24 hour news. Using this frame of reference, which admittedly may be based on false assumptions, the Daily Mail's extremely prejudicial treatment of Raheem Sterling served no greater purpose than amusement and editorially was considered as no more pernicious than "giving people what they want". This raises the very troubling proposition that elements of the fourth estate can't differentiate prejudice from entertainment and hence discern where the ethical precipice falls away into the abyss of commodified hate. Is this still giving people what they want? If we understand ideology to be circular where the extremes merge into a singularly totalitarian vision then in turn it becomes abundantly clear that change is not as simple as doing the opposite. Indeed, a Leninist "State-News-ian" ideal of redacted half truths consecrated as doctrinal certainties is so unconscionably repressive as to make the current state of affairs appear almost utopian. Nevertheless to say that there can be no leftist alternative is to fall into the trap of capitalist realism, wherein journalistic expression is subjugated to the notion of there being no other "realistic" way. Hence, the traditionally left leaning Daily Mirror's recourse to sensationalism may be understood as a Blarite capitulation to a post ideological third way school of journalism. Despite the proliferation of sensationalism we haven't all zombified into McDonalised ideologues that worship at the altar of profit and while that is enough to suggest that, as of yet, we're not ready to be passively indoctrinated, by the same measure we're not exactly ideology free either. Our opinionated selves are but the mutt-like progeny produced by a somewhat Freudian coitus between a fetishistic superego and libidinous curb crawling psycho-social influences. Essentially, whether we accept it or not we've all been mindf*cked and consequently the only questions remaining are how hard and by whom. (In my case vigorously by Noam Chomsky) You only have to observe the fawning obsequiousness with which Rupert Murdoch is treated by the political establishment to understand how far reaching the influence of the media truly is. Moreover, in the face of such overt plutocratic backscratching is it too far fetched, too ludicrous, too baldly Orwellian even, to claim that there may be an oligarchy of thought seeking to dictate the shape of public discourse? We normally frame such questions to pertain solely to the political sphere, but if we expand on that to include football, perhaps we can gain a fuller understanding of how the world's game serves as an agent of social control and the role the media plays in facilitating this. In that regard though we are stuck playing catch up to a media which in going fibre optic has atomised into an emergent class of journalistic citizenry (yes you). In this online age defined by the Zuckerberg-ian Panopticon of notional privacy, even Murdoch increasingly resembles a relic; one half fossilised in newsprint the other preserved in the pickling fluid of TV's dwindling cultural hegemony. Ominously, the imminent contraction of this stateless dictator's sphere of influence seems set to create space for an even more insidiously undemocratic threat. The online nexus between ourselves, big data, algorithms, social media, data mining and God knows what else, essentially represents a unique opportunity for unaccountable elites to develop behavioural palantirs for ideological and, more to the point, self-interested ends. It stands to reason therefore that if at this point any space could be still described as apolitical it is shrinking fast. Such a hyper-politicised future has clear ramifications for football journalism and by extension for the game itself. What exactly happens at the point when the purpose of sensationalised reporting shifts from providing us with a distraction to providing someone else with information? A journalistic Arab Spring, a resigned shrug of the shoulders, or something else ........ Scorum? At its best journalism remains textured, empathetic, incendiary, provocative, poetic, and eye opening. Moreover, it is doubtless that there is a certain beauty in the fact that, from person to person, such adjectives can describe very different things. But sensationalised journalism is none of this, rather in meaning nothing to anyone it is the antonym of insight and the vacuum where words go to die. Hopefully Scorum can avoid this pitfall and become a forum for genuine opinion built on the understanding that it's actually healthy if people disagree. And since this is in essence a Neo-Marxist polemic, I'm sure plenty of you will!!