Right. I haven’t written anything here for a while and now I’m going to pick apart/rant about an article in the New Statesman (a publication I usually like) that annoyed me. Let’s get this over with.
This is the article comparing science-fantasy television programme Doctor Who to football (specifically soccer) in a manner that seems (to me) to assume a supercilious attitude towards both.
Was the person who wrote this deliberately trying to offend anyone with and interest in football, Doctor Who, or both?
First of all, the title “Why Doctor Who is football, but for geeks” suggests that geeks like Doctor Who (alienating people who self-identify as geeks but do not watch Doctor Who), that people who watch Doctor Who are geeks (alienating those who watch Doctor Who but do not self-identify as geeks), that football is not for geeks (alienating people who self-identify as geeks but watch football) and that people who watch football do not watch Doctor Who (alienating anyone who watches both).
Before we even get to the main article it also says “In the same way that complete strangers can bond instantly over the latest football news, Doctor Who gives geeks an easy solution to awkward silences in conversation”. What? Because no one could actually want to talk about either of these things? We just use them where there’d be an awkward silence otherwise? Are people who discuss football or Doctor Who just failing to think of anything else to say?
On Doctor Who, it says “The show isn’t ever going to be held up with the same critical acclaim as Breaking Bad, The Wire or whatever the hot new HBO production is – because that is not what Doctor Who is for. Doctor Who is football, but for geeks.”
Why wouldn’t it be held up with that? It’s a long-running programme with a biggish budget that can address any possible issue because the protagonists can go anywhere in time and space (whether those times and spaces exist or not) and Neil Gaiman (who sometimes gives the impression of unable to leave the house without collecting a literary award of some kind) wrote two episodes ( one won the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)). Maybe the series hasn’t been at HBO-level (whatever that means) but that doesn’t mean it can’t be in the future (future? get it? Time-travel).
Straight into the next paragraph, the writer appears to assume that no one who likes football could possibly be reading this:
“Now I know what you’re thinking: how dare I make such a comparison? After all – while everyone knows that all of human existence is futile, sport – especially football – is even more futile than that. Football is a game enjoyed by idiots – not cultured geeks like us, right?”
Who thinks that? Why would anyone think that?
“Now steady on there with your geeky arrogance and hear me out. Doctor Who provides the same social function for geeks that football does for normal people.”
What geeky arrogance? Your strawman’s geeky arrogance is not my geeky arrogance. Also, Doctor Who is not for normal people? Football is for normal people? What even are normal people? Can people not like two things? I think this why we can’t have nice things.
“Crucially, it fulfils a function as a social lubricant. It can be a brilliant ice breaker. Football is perfect for this: complete strangers will bond instantly over the latest football news.”
Hang on…. Wasn’t this a joke from the IT Crowd? Is this article just a joke? It doesn’t seem like a joke. It’s a very irresponsible joke if it is a joke.
“The same is true for Who: it is something fairly universally followed by geeks of all stripes thanks to its accessibility (it is free to air, and on telly on Saturday evenings).”
What’s a geek? How many stripes do they have? Why can’t they have a likes-football-stripe? Why do they like Doctor Who so much, anyway?
“Unlike politics, religion and other stuff that actually matters it is unlikely that the conversation will end with someone throwing a punch”
Because obviously Doctor Who has nothing to say on either topic [laughs sarcastically, points out that Daleks are more or less explicitly meant to be Nazi-analogues]. Also, these things are relevant to football, how do you think they decide where the World Cup will be held?
The article claims: “The only major aspect of football that I can’t explain in Doctor Who terms is the public health aspect. Part of the reason why the establishment puts up with many of the negative consequences of football (hooliganism, etc) is because ultimately there is a net positive for public health: the game’s popularity means that millions of people are getting more exercise by playing.”
Hooliganism isn’t a consequence of football, hooliganism is a consequence of hooligans who would probably hooliganize otherwise if denied that opportunity (correlation does not mean causation); likewise hooliganism is the action of a tiny segment of football fandom and thus more likely a consequence of the mass-appeal of football allowing some people who happen to be fans an outlet for anti-social behaviour than anything inherent in the game.
Doctor Who could be argued to have a public health aspect in that the themes and values expressed in the programme can influence fans to some extent which can be either good or bad (the Doctor is skeptical of authority-figures, ergo the programme subtly encourages a skepticism of authority-figures). Like any work of art, it can have many contradictory effects at once and people will read their own ideas into the work but the tone is usually optimistic and optimism is usually considered both psychologically healthy and contagious.
“Some of the kids who tune in on Saturday night could be at huge risk of heading down a dark path. They could only be a D20 roll away from some of the more dangerous geeky hobbies like D&D or LARPing.”
This one’s a joke, even I got that this is a joke. I really hope the rest is a joke.
I didn’t go through every paragraph. I know there’s a jocular, tongue in cheek aspect to the whole thing but it’s a denigrating belittling thing. An elitist, malicious humour without cheer. That’s what it seems to me to be. Just another attempt to divide people up into little groups by things as arbitrary as a sport and a television programme. It just strikes me as stupid and mean-spirited and I really didn’t like it.
I didn’t mean to write all this. It started out as just a few words of complaint to accompany my sharing the offending article on Facebook. But then I just kept writing. There are so many more important things I could be writing about but I wrote about this, which seems trivial but it’s all part of the same stupid, in-group/out-group, us-and-them nonsense that we can’t afford in a globalised society, even if it is just a joke. Nothing’s ever ‘just’ a joke, a joke needs context and this kind of joke perpetuates the tribalistic context it begins from. Despite that wink-wink, nudge-nudge maybe-they’re-not-so-different apparent thesis, it’s still trying proposing a dichotomy between football and Doctor Who and between “geeks” (whoever they are) and “normal people” (whoever they are). Rant over.