Fan TV, like herpes, is with us now, and there is a good chance that we will never be rid of it. For the virus, it’s need to exist is a biological imperative – to survive and become more effective. For Fan TV, things are slightly different. It’s need to exist is defined by the opinion that opinions are all equally valid, and that people want to be listened to.
It was David Brent in the Office who was held up as an example as a particularly modern, English trait, that the man in the street wanted to impart his wisdom. Fly on the wall documentaries created mini-celebrities.
Ricky Gervais correctly observed that some of those celebrities, who were essentially decent people, were given the chance to influence the world in some small way, and many found it too tempting an opportunity to turn it down. Back then, around the turn of the Millennium, it was a largely benign phenomenon. The people were harmless and nobody took it too far.
As the course of humanity progressed, that could no longer be said. While it is hardly a great terror for the world, the contribution of Big Brother and X Factor is a crass one. There’s nothing wrong with talent shows, or the desire for attention, but it is hard to discern quite why these things deserve our attention. They aren’t witty, funny, illuminating or clever.
There is only rarely any talent discovered. The inanity of the people serves to reinforce the pointlessness of the whole endeavour. These things matter purely because we are told they matter and because they are backed by companies who traditionally produced entertainment.
As this guff spread to different channels, and fragmented onto the internet, credibility became worthless, and the importance of the medium was seriously reduced. The democratising nature of the internet has meant that being on YouTube is a perfectly valid way to disseminate your product.
People are snooty about YouTube vloggers, but there’s no need to be. It isn’t worse to be on YouTube or the internet. The problem is that most humans can’t do anything that merits mass attention. Most people are average, that’s how average works.
Now that everyone can, in essence, choose to be on television, more people are choosing to do so. It’s a positive that demographically access has been broadened – entertainment and discourse is still far too dull and struggles for a lack of diversity. So, then, Fan TV, great. More voices, more input from those who were previously excluded.
The problem is that these people were not excluded for a terrible reason. It turns out that they were excluded because nobody should be subjected to the effluent they produce. The majority of fans can contribute only two meaningful sets of emotion. ‘Yay, I like this!’ and ‘Boo! I want the manager to never work again.’
Arsenal TV is the most egregious offender, and its various characteristics sum up what is wrong with most support these days. The club is only ever as good as its most recent result. You can see it across the top teams, and also with Liverpool. If the team has won, they are on their way up and need just one or two more signings. If the team has lost, then the manager is on borrowed time (or if you support Arsenal, Wenger is the worst man in the world, ever). Everything has to be an extreme position.
These channels are stuck in a difficult position, though. Nobody wants to watch a fan admit the truth: that, game-by-game, things rarely change. Progress and decline almost anywhere, including football clubs, are slow processes.
They change imperceptibly for much of the season and then we ascribe meaning depending on whether a club finishes second or first, fourth or fifth, or just above relegation. It wouldn’t be very entertaining to see someone respond to the meaning of one match as, ‘Well, it’s hard to say just now. I’m overemotional at the moment, and in the context of a full season, this could be definitive or meaningless.’
You could, then, take it as a reason for why these channels are like they are, swinging from one wild position to the next. Because that’s where the entertainment is, whether you are watching because you support a club, or because you want to laugh at the distress of other, rival supporters.
This makes sense. In order to carry weight with viewers, there has to be an impact. That means that there is artificial hyperbole, or nonsense provided by people who can’t think properly. It is either dishonest or exploitative.
Perhaps it is both. From the boring, quotidian nature of employment, we moved from documentaries of the lives of people who work at airports or vets, and onto watching people drunk and in tears in staged reality television shows.
And in football, we moved from screaming during the matches to screaming after them, as well, making increasingly less rational and reasonable decisions, despite being given the chance and time to do so. From all walks of entertainment, we are being provoked into hysteria, and then we in turn come to expect it.
All these things can exist. At the right moment, they can pass the time until we die, too. They are not the sign of the end of civilisation, and they are to some degree a result of more people having access to the means of production when it comes to content. But, and this is particularly aimed at Arsenal TV: just because something can exist, it doesn’t mean it should.