Nirvana’s third album, In Utero, includes the angsty ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’, which kicks against the popular success of Nevermind’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. On a five times platinum album, bought 4 million times, the irony of the title is blurred somewhat. Nirvana really were Unit Shifters.
‘Alternative’, as Kurt Cobain found out, is just another mainstream label.
The Marxist scholars, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, knew this already of course. In their essay on ‘The Culture Industry’, Adorno and Horkheimer make the somewhat pessimistic claim that:
It is still possible to make one’s way in entertainment, if one is not too obstinate about one’s own concerns, and proves appropriately pliable. Anyone who resists can only survive by fitting in. Once his particular brand of deviation from the norm has been noted by the industry, he belongs to it.
That’s what happened to Kurt right? It happens in football too. All the time.
Mario Götze, Borussia Dortmund’s sensational teenager, is one example: no longer an exotic nobody, in the age of hits as manna, Götze’s new contract was reported by the Guardian as a blow to Arsenal’s summer recruitment plans. Charlie Adam, so thrilling at Blackpool, is now an expensive symptom of the awkward transition of sabermetrics from baseball to football.
This, though sad, is almost the pleasant side of this process as it relates to football. That the cream should rise to the top, that the world’s best players should congregate at its wealthiest clubs, is a natural consequence of the market. Controlling this is, to quote the Frankfurt Scholars again, the ‘function of the market’.
More insidious, because calculated, is the similar (though not the same, because less meritocratic) processes whereby the mainstream football media has absorbed the alternative.
This is calculated because the aspect of the blogosphere, home of the ‘alternative looks at the global game’, which has been assimilated is that which provides coverage of the game outside of this country. The Guardian provides the model for this assimilation. Even before the launch of the advert-heavy but non-paying ‘Sports Network’, the Guardian provided the model for this process. The long-time homepage of England’s educated football fan, the sports website of the year has been amenable to European coverage for a while, offering fairly workable coverage of La Liga, the Bundesliga and Serie A. Along with its extensive reporting and analysis of ‘the Barclays Premier League’, then, Guardian Football has got Europe’s major league’s covered.
In the post-Football Italia vacuum of the mid-nineties to early-noughties, when Sky thought the Premier League would prove sufficient for Britain’s football audience, writers like Sid Lowe may have been denied mainstream exposure. Not so. Thanks to YouTube, etc., today’s football fan is insufficiently equipped to wax on her game if she doesn’t know the latest from Catalunia, or who’s hot in Germany right now. The vacuum has been filled.
This brings us then, to the Sports Network, and its harem of parasitic providers of the ‘alternative’ (there are exceptions to this, Run of Play, for example, is a cool website featuring good writing on stuff we all know about; based in the United States, it is fair enough that its people should seek wider international exposure). These people, I’ll not name names (they know who they are, you can find out easily enough), with their ‘expertise’ of French/Portuguese/Polish/Houyhnhnmian football are poised to fill a new vacuum; ready to step in when Portuguese domestic football finally gets the recognition it deserves.
And there’s the rub. The problem is that it might be that Portuguese football already gets the attention it deserves, which is some. Maybe there is no vacuum. This explains the second part of the aspirant’s project, which seeks to create one.
Twitter, and ‘interactive journalism’, offers an excellent forum for this. It’s easy to tweet that Cardozo’s better than Drogba, or that as much as everyone’s going on about Nico Gaitan (see the Mario Götze situation above) Bruno Cesar is where it’s really at. If you’d watched enough Primera Liga (like I have), the argument goes, instead of wasting all your time in front of that commercialised rubbish (the Premier League, obviously) then you’d share this valuable knowledge; ‘here, read my blog, I’ll tell you all about it. A job? Well, thank you very much. Oh, you’re not going to pay me?’ (thinks: ‘Well, I wasn’t going to ask anyway, foot in the door and all that’).
The Premier League, packaged as champagne, really is just lemonade. The blogger who extols his or her own league at its expense is right about that. When s/he tells us that x-league is the real stuff, though, that’s a lie. It’s not. It’s not even, to extend an analogy, lemonade; it’s piss (did you see how bad Benfica were last night? and boring?). They’re not calling, like the Frankfurt School would, for an artisitic revolution that would benefit everyone. They’re asking for a change (or, perhaps, an expansion) in focus; that will benefit them.
And that is why, finally, I am glad that Chelsea won. Of course the Premier League is commercialised nonsense, as a market, so is all other football – and that includes the Primera Liga, Ligue Un, and whatever name the clever talking horses give their league. Chelsea’s win last night, like their defeat of Napoli in the previous round, is a depressing symptom of the market’s dominance but at least it’s an honest one: A Radio Friendly Unit Shifter dressed as A Radio Friendly Unit Shifter.