I’m a very small part of the football media, but even so, I am aware that I’m adding a unique dot to the pointillist picture of The Now. These days, I worry about adding sunshine and not slurry, because I see how powerful football media is at influencing people and thus society.
This weekend I watched as players were speaking to each other with their hands over their mouths and it hit me: this was an example of how modern football media has changed life. The players know they’re on camera, someone will read their lips and then no matter what they say, even if it’s just “I’m ‘avin beans for me tea, Jack”, within minutes it will be a ‘Jack and the Beans Talk’ website headline and some poor hack will be tasked with drumming up 113 words about baked beans, and plotting how to make it go viral. Nothing is left unexploited in football, no matter how
banal and trivial, nor how personal and intrusive.
This is where we are today; the media’s behaviour has curtailed footballers’ freedom of speech. But nobody seems to care. The power of the media to affect lives is just accepted without thought because the power of the media seems to have numbed much of its audience.
Very popular newspapers and websites warp, distort and fabricate stories about football, stories which are then picked up by TV and radio, all of which can shape how fans think about players or managers or anything. I know we use the Raheem Sterling example a lot here, but that’s only because it is the perfect illustration of how the machine works. Some sections of the media sought to do nothing less than a character assassination, purely in pursuit of clicky profit and will now vaunt him to the skies for the same reason.
But it works. And it works because enough of the public have been trained to respond appropriately. Very much a case of ‘Welcome my son, welcome to the machine. What did you dream? It’s alright, we told you what to dream’.
We have been well-trained to read and believe media output, no matter if it’s true or if it’s lies. We soak up the ideas and the words used to express them. We are an existentially lobotomised audience in the full control of the media. This makes what writers, presenters and pundits say and how they say it very important.
There are those who justify everything and anything they say with “it’s just my opinion” as though that’s a get-out-of-jail-free card. But when you’re broadcasting to a lot of people, my feeling is that you should have at least a modicum of responsibility not to do harm. And it’s my view that some, albeit unconsciously, do. Let me illustrate.
I’ve written much about the pro-British/anti-foreigner element in the punditocracy worldview this year, because, as you know, foreign names are ‘sexy’ and ‘block’ the progress of British players/managers. It is simply another form of “they’re coming over here and taking our jobs”. There’s little doubt that non-British people and even people who just appear to be non-British, suffer at the hands of those whose xenophobic paranoia has been fed by the constant use of this sort of language, in the same way that a billion drips make a stalactite.
I am 100% sure that is not the result these pundits intend, but it is nonetheless a consequence, because football media is omnipresent and changes how people think and behave. If you’re thinking I’m overstating this, my Polish friend tells an all-too typical story about how his young teenage boy was berated by a parent after a school game, an encounter he accidentally captured on his phone as he filmed his lovely lad coming off the pitch, delighted, arms aloft having scored.
“They’ve only put you in because you’re foreign. It’s all PC bollocks, an’ that! Probably some quota sh*t. How’s my lad ever going to get a chance when you’re in his way, eh?! This our country, not yours. You’ve no right. You don’t know anything about playing here. So just f*ck off! Go on! F*ck off!”
He shouted this into a the face of a 13-year-old, who promptly burst into tears and ran into his father’s arms. Try telling that lad about having a ‘sexy’ foreign name.
But that heinous bully didn’t get those words from nowhere, nor the sense of entitlement to say them. He’s been supported in that. He’s heard it in football media and has been reared on this language. They have unintentionally, thoughtlessly, given a vocabulary to bigots.
Just listen to any phone-in and you’ll routinely hear punters who have swallowed whole whatever tabloid or government orthodoxy that has become common currency this week, be it on football or anything else. They pick up on some simple slogan and then repeat it in lieu of actual detailed knowledge or learning.
Just because you and I surround ourselves with people who are not like this, that doesn’t mean they’re not out there and out there in large numbers. My pal said after weeks of campaigning in her constituency during the election, she thought the vast majority of the public were “too ignorant about almost everything to know how ignorant they even were”. And it’s exactly the same in football. The gap between the well-informed, well-considered view and the rest is very wide and lopsided.
When your sources of information are half-digested half-truths from press and media, mixed with fictional stories on Facebook and Twitter and an inability to apply intellectual rigour to any of these things, you end up with a pliant electorate capable of being easily manipulated for profit. Look! Boobs!
This is The Now.
While there are excellent, creative and thoughtful pundits, journalists and writers, their output is not the majority. As we document every day in Mediawatch, the football press in this country has a poisonous river of deceit and dumb running through it which has changed the sort of society we’re living in, and it has changed football too.
The need to feed a permanently hungry media monster means spooning out massive tasteless portions. Accuracy, truth or quality is irrelevant, it’s all about quantity. All about red-eyed journos pounding out more and more and more tortuous nonsense. While it’d be an exaggeration to say that whatever the majority of the pundits and press are saying, the absolute opposite will be where the truth lies, it’s easy to see that place from where we are right now.
So, when you read me or anyone else protesting about some kinds of media coverage of football, it isn’t just because we think they’re wrong, it’s because they’re making all our lives worse on and off the pitch. It might all sound like so much hot air, but it isn’t. It seeps into the fabric of society, plants seeds, sets roots and yields a very bitter crop indeed.