Monday, 14 June 2010

I Don’t Like Mondays (And I Need A Scapegoat)

Like most England football fans I was initially dismayed at the draw with the USA on Saturday night. England created enough chances to have won it but so did the opposition and a draw, on reflection, seemed a fair result against a side that have beaten Spain in the last year amongst many other supposedly big scalps.

Robert Green made a calamitous error on the evening but you can’t help but think his devastated reaction to it was as much to do with what he knew would be meted out to him by the national sporting press.

For papers that make much of their devotion to all things Eng-er-lund they did a pretty good job of humiliating the family and friends of the England goalkeeper. “Hand of Clod” was a pretty common headline on front and back pages, the implication being that somehow England are already good as out of the tournament because one player made an idiotic error.

How constructive that criticism will turn out to be we have yet to find out. Capello now has a dilemma. Stick with Green and he shows his support of the player. Drop him and probably finish him as an international goalkeeper. If Green plays and drops another clanger, Capello will probably lose his job and the consequences for Green will be disastrous.

The hype surrounding England’s chances get more ridiculous with each tournament. Some facts – we don’t have a team filled with world-class players, we have a team filled with exceptionally well-paid ones. The obvious goalkeeping issue aside, in the defence probably only Ashley Cole might get into a world XI. In midfield Barry is no Veron, Lampard is no Kaka and Gerrard would probably make a World sub’s bench but no further than that. Up front we have our one unarguably world class player, Wayne Rooney. That’s it. And if Rooney has a poor game, England have a poor game. For a team that couldn’t qualify for the European Championships two years ago, talk of emulating the “heroes” of 1966 is frankly embarrassing.

To make Robert Green the scapegoat for not winning a football match is to deliberately miss the point about why our* national football team has so consistently failed. The Premiership has made millionaires of a great many very average footballers, and money and success are not the same thing. Footballers now routinely take home tens of thousands of pounds a week thanks to the largesse of Rupert Murdoch – a man who feels, perhaps not unreasonably, that as he bought the no doubt very expensive house Robert Green lives in, that he can take a shit on its doorstep.

The culture of blame that we currently find ourselves wallowing in isn’t merely Murdoch’s fault. It can be seen in many of the BBC’s flagship programmes. The Apprentice is a triumph of editing, a choice compilation of people making bad decisions before going into a boardroom to find the weakest person so they can be humiliated on national television. Of course, nobody forces these deluded people to go onto these shows but TV is increasingly a wall-to-wall broadcast from Bedlam.

The massive deterioration in the quality of the quiz show Have I Got News For You is a case in point. Clinging to its satirical status only by dint of its close to filming broadcast slot, the show has turned into a weekly opportunity to smugly bait which ever bear is foolish enough to take part that week. The recent show hosted by John Prescott was a classic case. Prescott is a walking disaster at the best of times but his treatment at the hands of Ian Hislop was less satirical and more a personal assault with Hislop repeatedly making references to Prescott’s various misdemeanours whilst turning his smug goblin fizzog to the joyfully whooping crowd knowing that Prescott wouldn't dare rise to it and smash his face in.

The talent shows with which ITV gleefully saturate their weekend schedules spend more time showing us possibly disturbed people lining up to be nationally humiliated is another obvious example of the chase for losers.

Even the news seems to be looking for victims. The appalling tragedy in Whitehaven would seem to be a story with enough victims and a clear scapegoat already but when the news channels began to suspect this was a tale with perhaps not enough momentum to keep it as a lead till the weekend, questions began to be asked about whether or not it was the fault of local unarmed policemen for not finding Derrick Bird quick enough. Had an unarmed policemen challenged Bird of course he would probably have been gunned down and then he’d be a hero and another story within itself. You can’t help thinking that, in the press’s eyes, that this is really what the police are guilty of – not laying down a sacrificial lamb or two on which a follow-on story might be built.

Good journalism is about asking questions, is about challenging figures of authority and examining a story from all angles. It’s a truism that no news is good news but does that mean the opposite must be the only way in which to form a journalistic narrative.

Comparing a goalkeeping error to a rampaging gunman may be trite but the coverage remains essentially the same – find someone to blame and start from there, and if an obvious target doesn’t immediately present itself, focus on finding or inventing one.

The news media has essentially turned itself into a kind of journalistic version of those ambulance chasers that promise compensation for people injured in accidents over the last five years. If you’ve been in a tragedy in the last five minutes and you haven’t found someone to adequately blame, call this number.

It is often said of us British that we like to laugh at ourselves. However, it certainly makes for a better joke if that laughter is unprompted. These days we like to laugh at others and invite them to join in later.

Rather than look for someone to mock, perhaps we should all indulge in a collective navel-gazing, wonder perhaps if we aren’t all to blame for Robert Green’s human error and Derrick Bird’s atrocities. Maybe we could consider the idea that by buying the Sun and subscribing to Sky, it’s us who are responsible for funding a lavishly rewarded clique of average footballers with more ambition than ability. And when we fail to adequately punish those MPs who cheat the taxpayer, we mock our precious ideals of democracy and justice, and inevitably that leads to men like Derrick Bird deciding to mete out their own form of punishment.

Just as we get the governments we deserve, we get the football team we deserve and the press too. Cancel your subscription to Sky Sports, arrest your local MP and get angry at the right targets, starting with yourselves.

*Admittedly only if you're English, other UK nations are advised that although supporting whoever's playing England can be defended on grounds of "my enemy's enemy is my friend" it probably stems from a sense of inadequacy.

No comments:

Post a Comment