FOOTBALLERS AND THE "SOCIAL MEDIA"
Mickey Blue Eyes
Recently, ex-pinkies player Stan Collymore apparently became embroiled in "social media" argument. I say "apparently" because I speak entirely from hearsay from the youngest members of my family. "New" social media is of no interest to me and never will be. I have never liked gossip or cheap hate talk, or tedious explanation of what seems obvious in the first instance. In Collymore's case it seems there have been racist insults and hate directed at him for an opinion he posted on Facebook or Twitter or some other useless waste of bandwidth. Given my own limited experience (see below) I cannot say I am surprised. It is one reason I keep football entirely separate from the most important parts of my life, which are family and life-long friends.
But it seems the unfortunate Stanley has not learned a lesson available to all since the invention of writing, and, later, printing and broadcasting: which is, post an open opinion and you can guarantee somewhere out there in weirdoland there will be at least one crackpot who will hate you, or one loon who wants to tell you not only what to say but how to say it. It goes with the democratic territory, which is not to say we should tolerate racism or irrational hatred. The same goes for the hapless format of Facebook and Twitter. Why anybody should want to plaster their private details and daily doings in such a public manner is beyond my poor reasoning; maybe Andy Warhol was onto something with his world famous long-ago forecast that, "In the future, everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes."
I first encountered the internet in the late eighties and early nineties when it was confined to military or academic use and I used it for project management of large military construction projects. At the time I lived and worked in the Middle East. Then the internet quickly developed into popular use via the universities, and then, naturally and spontaneously, into the arena of football enthusiasm. Initially Everton had no fans websites but did have a mailing list, which was useless because it contained little more than dross. I never liked the format and hardly ever posted on it.
Then along came the message board format and like many others I was swept along with the novelty and initial humour of it all. Everton websites duly proliferated. Eventually I made some good and lasting additional friendships from it. But after a few years the novelty wore off, eroded by the appearance of nutters, back entry spivs, one-dimensional cynics and the utterly insane. When I came home I met as many posters as possible, quickly discounted the nutters, spivs and conmen - some of them were outright gangsters and thugs - and empathised with sensible fans where I could.
At first it was funny. After all, we Scousers have a sense of inclusive humour written into our rites of passage; if you don't use it you lose it, or you run off somewhere where laughter seems less important. This isn't exclusive to our city but it seems to have more of it than elsewhere, though perhaps that is partly my bias. Here, if somebody behaves oddly you are inclined to treat him like poor old Spike Milligan and tolerate accordingly......somehow, everything works out with a deflationary piss-take or two. Except on the internet it didn't. It turns out the medium is as perfectly suited for obsessive loons as it is for marvellously efficient research and useful information. Add in the disenfranchised, the inarticulate, the paranoid, the isolated and the plain lonely and you can have what the Americans call "a situation." I should have known. But in the beginning I made the classic mistake of all optimists: I assumed common sense would take precedence, temporarily forgetting the curious history of human folly. Mere enthusiasm does that to you.
So I left the footy message boards, never went back or even looked, and started to contribute blogs to Blue Kipper. These were my opinions, mostly football but not always (as in this case); people could take it or leave it. I really didn't care less what they thought. If they agreed, good...that was gratifying. If they disagreed...so what? To crudely paraphrase Nabokov, that was their problem not mine. I love footy, but not to the extent where peculiar, resentful people will influence me in the slightest. In the early days of re-settlement and blogging I received anonymous mail threats, particularly after an anti-racism or in-support-of-the-club-piece. Near Goodison several times my car got targeted and scratched. And occasionally someone would try to take me on in face-to-face verbals, which I relished - still do - for their comic value. But none of it fazed me or made any difference except occasionally to harden my views. Eventually it all faded away. Thugs and racists have never scared me and never will. Bullies, in person or on the internet are, of course, cowards. A sensible human being listens only to family and friends and those he or she respects.
Stan Collymore's experience seems to be a much more intense variant of my own. His is probably exacerbated by what sounds like a narrowing medium for early adolescence and a new rite of passage, a logical outcome of the tabloid society that produced textspeak and tabloid TV and radio. Why be surprised when you get behaviour to match? Allow your imagination to run riot and you can envisage a society as devoid of sensitivity as it is full of social media grunts, drugs and useless advertising. In that scenario articulate language becomes redundant, cheap emotion paramount, genuine humour replaced by a sort of jeering shorthand howl. Then you have The Ignorant Society, a distant precursor to a totalitarian nightmare.
Premier League footballers are probably - but not solely - more vulnerable than most to the worst of it. After all, they have become a separate social class almost from the age of fifteen. Everything is done for them; superficial short-lived fame means they can hardly venture out in society without attracting a fawning crowd or the attention of jealous riffraff. Even the strongest must have at least a sense of unreality and isolation, especially if they come from an established working class community. If they are unfortunate enough to have never used our wonderful language at its best then they are virtually certain to sink into notorious clichés. Why be surprised when some fail to cope?
It was inevitable we would get some legislation to counter worst reactions to the new medium. Sure enough, we now have laws against hate and stalking, including via the internet; they are imperfect, but they are a welcome start; eventually we hope they will improve through precedents. They cannot, of course, eliminate hatred in human beings. That vice will either evolve out or see the end of Homo sapiens. We have a long way to go.
Meanwhile, I hope Stanley Victor Collymore overcomes his present problems. Apart from detecting and prosecuting the perpetrators he could do himself a favour and ditch Facebook or Twitter (or whatever else it was) until it reaches adulthood. Given the course of human evolution I wouldn't hold my breath.