Sunday, 27 June 2010

All fun and games?

Recently my Twitter reading list has been full of games. Football, mostly, but I think there was some rugby at some point, and then of course there's still Wimbledon. Among those who don't follow any sport at all one of the topics seems to be, er, Big Brother.

Does this seem absurd to anyone else?

It's not that the games are trivial, though Big Brother might seem so at times. As a musician, I understand something of the rigour of athletics, of training for an event, working with others or alone and then, on the day, doing the best one can in circumstances one cannot control. I admire those who have the level of commitment require to attain a professional level in sport, even if I myself have very little interest in the actual games. I respect that it is hard work, and I understand that it can be beautiful, sublime even, for those who appreciate it.

But more people I know have casually mentioned football or tennis than any other one topic. The English flags I've seen hung off of windowsills or attached to cars have almost rivaled the number of adverts I've seen on the Tube, and then of course some of the Tube adverts have been football-themed too.

I'd love to see that level of involvement over... I dunno. Something that actually affects us all. Homelessness. Environmental damage. Electoral reform.

I can't be the first person to ask why this enthusiasm for football isn't echoed in other arenas. What does football have that church doesn't? Why will people faithfully follow a team but not get anywhere near religion?

I think one answer is this: for fans and spectators, football doesn't make many demands. Oh, there are people who will go to great lengths to show their support for a team, who will spend a lot of money on tickets for games, who will obsess on one level or another about managers, players, game strategies.... but for the most part, that doesn't actually affect the outcome of games. I don't doubt there are people for whom today's World Cup loss is painful, that there are people who are so very attached to their teams that this is a significant wound. But I am pretty certain that for most of them, "What could I have done differently here?" is not a question that is on the agenda. The game isn't like that. And that makes it easy to engage with, easy to follow.

In football, nobody is going to ask you why you haven't been kind to your neighbour. In football, nobody is going to expect you to make a serious attempt at finding out what you are for. In football, nobody says you have to change your life, nobody says you have to care, nobody asks you to look at what is wrong with the world and try to figure out how you can change it.

Of course it's popular. It has all the camaraderie of a shared hope without having to get to know your fellow-fans as people rather than as fans. It has all the excitement of a big battle, without having to actually take any risks.

Perhaps that's too harsh a judgment, but the same could be applied to music in some circumstances. Music can speak to the soul in songs of comfort, songs of challenge, songs of pain and songs of joy -- or it can keep the ears occupied for a while without making much impact. The same could be applied to liturgy, in some circumstances. I've certainly been to church services where people seem to feel good but they don't seem to be challenged in any way, though of course it's impossible for me to judge what is going on internally.

It isn't that I don't think there is value in entertainment. There is. The camaraderie of a shared hope can make future collaboration on shared goals and purposes easier. The shared excitement can be the basis for lasting friendships in which people do learn to see one another as human beings, rather than fans of one "side" or the other. Getting used to the disappointment of a cherished team losing may well be good practice dealing with losses that have more practical impact. There are probably other positive aspects that I don't pick up on, simply because I have never been a serious spectator of sport.

I was getting at something here, but I've forgotten what it is, and I'm too t to pick it up again now I think.

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