June 24, 2006

short attention span leads to madness….

Yes, once again I've got bored waiting for a football match to finish and have wandered off to write blogs entries while most of the population sits glued to their seats. I can't help but think that the sole purpose of extra time is to irritate people like me who have just about learnt to sit still through 90 minute games.

But, I'm determined to pretend that this is at least a pseudo intellectual post, and so I'll start the following rant: what's most irritating about football is not the game itself, but the (oh, that was a goal, I can hear the shouts from next door) encyclopedic knowledge of certain fans (mentioning no names….).

While I confess that it hardly gets my pulse racing, I'm perfectly capable of watching a game whilst enjoying a pint or two, and while I really don't give a toss who wins, I can just about recognise a particularly skillfull play and get a dim sense of recognition of the level of talent involved. I begin to feel the hounds of death pursuing me when the conversation turns from the game at hand, where I can at least make naive observations and ask stupid questions, to discussions of the players' histories.

Before long, I begin to suffocate under the weight of footballing trivia diffusing into the atmosphere, and soon the game at hand has faded into insignificance in the face of potential questions concerning the crucial period during the last decade in the history of a particular (oh look, an interruption: apparently Argentina scored that goal just now. It was a great goal. Oh and I am informed that play is apparently not a noun one is allowed to use to describe football, at least in England.)

Where was I? If Isaac Newton had had to put up with such interuptions, we'd never have discovered gravity.

The point is that game that is apparently the focus of all this activity, or even the sport itself is of course of negligible significance. What is actually important is the act of following the sport. This is why it is of far greater significance to ascertain from one's fellow sport fan not what their opinion might be on a particular aspect, say, of a game, but instead on their opinion with regards to a an aspect of what one might term the metagame, viz what team they choose to follow. Perhaps I was wrong in my earlier rant with regards to football, perhaps football represents not primitive tribalism manifested in a modern age, but instead is essentially an insecurity of identity.

In other words, we (well, not me personally, of course, lesser beings, amongst which I shall assume for the sake of rhetoric I fall) construct for ourselves a metagame, a semiotic universe of sport in which obscure trivia are elevated to heights of absurd significance, purely for the purpose of using it as a tool of social classification. We are thus able, through the application of a few judicious questions, quickly able to situate a new acquaintance in this metagame, and are thus able to establish not only our derived position respective to them, but are hence able to establish a mutual identity.

(This ties in with my sudden conviction that all identity is inherently subjective; formed only from interaction with others: before he met Friday, Robinson Crusoe did, in a sense, not exist.)

As a proof, or rather as a potential line of supporting evidence, consider the odium with which are considered pretenders to the throne of fans: those foolish individuals who claim a greater knowledge of a sport than they in fact possess. Is this not a demonstration of a fundamental insecurity in the heart of the accusers? Is it not the case that –

Bugger. I've run out of beer.

- 4 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Yup, always the possibility of football discussions becoming an implicit competition in who can display the most background knowledge. This isn’t exclusive to sport though; I’ve sat through conversations about books and film that have focused on details of time periods and personalities rather than content.

    The trivia is a by–product of an interest in the substantive content. Someone with a keen interest in the actual game will pick up the trivia, without consciously trying. That conversation turns to trivia thus doesn’t mean the football is of ‘negligible significance’, even if identity formation is an important part of the overall appeal. In fact, I’m yet to sit though a World Cup game in which conversation has noticeably been detached from the action at hand. Bear in mind that some history helps in understanding why certain people are on the pitch, what to expect from certain people, why a team is playing as it is and the likely outcome of the game. Whether those I hang around with are anomalies, or just don’t have the knowledge to take part in the extreme trivia–trading you describe, I dunno!

    24 Jun 2006, 23:23

  2. Lee Davis

    I can't maintain interest in football longer than the amount of time required to check the final score so at least I have a vague idea what ecveryone else is talking about over a lunchtime pint.

    24 Jun 2006, 23:37

  3. Hey, hello. I’ve just stumbled on your blog so I thought I’d comment just to say hello.

    First off, Jonathan, you are right in saying that people only start watching football because they want to be accepted by the rest of the group who all watch football. Imagine two groups, one group watches football, the other doesn’t. The first group will prosper because the football game gives them trivia to talk about and hence strengthen the social bonds connecting them. The other group could fail because without any external source giving them information to talk about than their social bonds would probabally stagnate, and hence the people in that group would get bored (as they are trapped in the social group, hence they cannot pursue personal interests, but there isn’t any group interests to indulge in). The footballers group would seem as a bastion of strength and joy compared to the bored and alienated non–footballers group, hence the non–footballers would naturally feel compelled to join the footballers group.

    But over time Iyobosa’s comment proves to hold some truth. You see the only reason you want to talk to people in the first place is because you see yourself as a person, this is your belief, and talking to people affirms and strengthen your belief that you are a person, and thus inducing joy. When you watch football for long enough you start to unconsciously internalise the trivia. The internalisation of these ideas into your unconscious result in the creation of unconscious desires to learn more. Learning more football trivia (or just watching football) would reaffirm your current internalised beliefs; it would give them the satisfaction of completeness and the joy of strength of will. Hence you start to watch football because you enjoy it in itself, not just because you want to advance in the social hierarchy.

    For myself this is true with music. In early secondary school I listened to very little music. I then started forcing myself to listen to, talk about, and read about, music a lot more, the motivation being to get on better with my friends, something that I did care about. Today however I like music in itself. I could never talk about music again to anyone else for the rest of my life, but I would still listen to music, buy new music, and write about music. However, this is assuming that I never get satisfied and content with my music, in which case I wouldn’t listen to any new stuff or perhaps even stop listening to music altogether; but this is a different story.

    17 Jul 2006, 15:11

  4. Hi Sean!

    To respond you and belatedly to Bosa's comment that you support, it is indeed the case that someone who likes football, or indeed anything comparable, will automatically internallise the trivia. This is indeed a result of a liking of the game, and, to mix examples, were Robinson Crusoe abandoned on his island with a record player, he could continue both to enjoy music and absorb further music trivia.

    However in a social situation things can be considered differently. Crusoe, a rap aficionado, meets Friday, a hard rock maniac. Their relative tastes in music go towards building up their respective mental images of the other, and through their interaction, based in part on their images of the other, their respective identities are formed. Should the two then move to a neighbouring island and encounter The Swiss Family Robinson, all fanatical devotees of the Pet Shop Boys, it is easy to see how musical tastes go towards forming socially constructed identities.

    Now, should the increasingly crowded island host a Crowded House festival, the interaction between the various shipwreckees will to a certain extent not focus on the music at hand, but on continuing to establish the positions of the others vis–a–vis the music at hand, and therefore with respect to each other. Thus the ostensible object, (Crowded House, the World Cup games) serves simply as a focus for a social process of identity formation and affirmation.

    18 Jul 2006, 12:31

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