Why aye, man
September 22, 2010 § 6 Comments
Righteous fury about the state of the nation’s coverage of the nation’s game is coming to the boil. At least on my tiny corner of Twitter, which – while significantly divorced from reality, a strange place where women put cats in bins – has spent the last day or so dragging Alan Shearer over the coals for his own special brand of punditry.
Alan’s offence? His comments regarding the Geordie Nation’s latest pending disappointment Hatem Ben Arfa, during his analysis (I know, I know) of the Newcastle match. When Shearer told Gary Lineker that “Nobody had really heard of him”, you could almost hear the jaw of the footballing blogosphere hit the floor. (That’s right: “blogosphere”. I’m hip.)
For me, there are two questions here, both of which concern not only Shearer himself but also our general expectations of television punditry. First of all, should he have heard of him? Secondly, if not, should he have found out about him? Both these questions come with the premise: given that his job is to talk about football on television.
So, given that his job is to talk about football on television, should we expect that he have heard of a French international who came through Clairefontaine to Lyon, made a big money move to Marseille, then moved on to the club Shearer supports, acquiring a reputation as a not-insubstantial berk on the way?
Well, I’d heard of him, but I also had to look some of that up. Besides, I generally don’t think it’s fair to criticise somebody for not knowing something on the basis that you know it. Shearer’s job is to analyse domestic (and occasionally international) football. He may not have any interest in Ligue 1, or the Champions League, or the French team when they’re not playing England; while some might find such an attitude dispiriting, it doesn’t necessarily disqualify you from the job in question.
But for me, beyond any doubt, is that given that his job is to talk about football on television, he should have looked him up. Even if Mr Shearer doesn’t Google, there’s the BBC’s own army of researchers, journalists, bloggers, and support staff. Presumably Newcastle’s own website has some details of the player. And I can’t imagine for a second that Shearer doesn’t have one or two contacts left at St James’s Park, who might be happy to provide a little information.
“Aye, Chris, why’ve you signed this lad? Nobody’s ever heard of him.”
After all, it’s not as though Shearer was caught on the hop; suddenly ambushed in the street by a roving highlights show, microphone thrust into his face. As a Newcastle fan and Match of the Day employee Shearer would have been aware of Ben Arfa’s belter in both his professional and personal capacity. But to my way of thinking, if you know that you’re going to be asked to discuss a subject, and you know that your knowledge is inadequate, and you take a decision not to find anything out about it, you have failed to do your job. I’m writing this in my lunch break at work, and I have a meeting this afternoon. If I don’t make sure I know what I need to know, I’ll make a tit out of myself, and deserve the bollocking I’ll get. If I carry on as such, I’ll get the sack.
I’ve touched on this before, but it is utterly inconceivable that a purported expert in any other field would choose to advertise his or her ignorance in this way. If you don’t know something, you either find out, or try your damnedest not to get caught not knowing. Indeed, that’s the weird part: Shearer wasn’t even being quizzed about Ben Arfa’s playing history. There was no reason to establish his ignorance. He could have restricted his comments to the usual narration-masquerading-as-analysis that he normally manages with such panache.
See the ball. See Hatem. See Hatem kick the ball. See Hatem be happy with that.
Shearer’s job is to deliver comment, yet he knows that it is acceptable to flaunt his inability to do so. He is therefore not only failing, on a personal level, to achieve a basic level of competence; he’s also demonstrating that his ignorance is mirrored and accepted throughout his profession. He is showing his audience that the bar is set as low as possible: it’s okay not to know; it’s okay not to want to know; it’s okay not to try to know. I’ll get paid whatever. (All this from a man who spent last season criticising Dimitar Berbatov for not running around enough. There’s more than one kind of effort, Alan.)
For this, the fault lies with Match of the Day itself. The BBC knows that football fans, particularly the vast majority without Sky, are effectively prisoners; a captive audience that will return regardless of the pap they’re fed. We’re there for the highlights, and they know it. And while the attempt to provide analysis and context is laudable in itself, the stultifyingly poor editorial standards gives the whole exercise the air of an abusive relationship. They know we’ll come crawling back; they have what we think, in our masochistic inescapable idiocy, that we need.
Just because they don’t need to try harder, doesn’t mean it’s okay for them not to try at all. It’s not okay to feed your audience shit, just because you know they’ll eat it.