Sunday, April 01, 2007

Football & the tedious media

I have enjoyed watching several AFL games over the past few years – but even this limited interest has recently waned. The dominance of match reports, sick, injured and drunk player reports, tribunal hearings, tipping guides and, most recently, events associated with the suspension of Ben Cousins, that have dominated the Melbourne public media over the past weeks, leave me suffering from footie indigestion. Moreover, with only a month of autumn gone, the footie season has only just started.

It is not only boring – the obsession with AFL is an indictment of what is an asinine aspect of Melbourne’s culture and of course, part of the general Australian obsession with sport.

I tire of the AFL dominating news broadcasts and lunchtime conversations. I don’t care if players in this game get suspended, suffer injuries, make love with other team-player’s wives, fight in bars, stick white powder up their noses, go into rehab or get sympathy messages from Shane Warne. I don’t care if Melbourne is, or is not, the sporting capital of Australia. AFL is a sporting game and, beyond the game itself, players are unworthy of the attention given to them.

Indeed, I suspect many of them might not enjoy the media spotlight. Certainly the egos it helps build seem unhealthy. Very plausibly the over-exposure is partly a sickness associated with the incentives facing commercial television. Interviewing players and describing the details of the latest scandal or poor performance is a cheap way of filling out spaces between advertisements in news programs and I suspect, despite the vast sums cited, a relatively cheap way of filling out other programming time as well. Commercial television news in Melbourne is dominated by football reporting. Moreover, the sickness is creeping into the ABC’s television coverage and, like a southern-based cane toad invasion, has spread Australia-wide.

This obsession is partly exaggerated. It does not fairly reflect demand – 2.5 million Australians attended AFL matches last year but 2.7 million attended the theatre. About the same number of people watched Rugby League as went to a classical music concert while more went to a dance performance. The ‘couch potatoes’ who stayed at home prefer movies and sport to the football.

OK I am overstating the issue a bit and being somewhat hypocritical. I am, in fact, a fan of watching cricket – although not of talking about it or hearing gossip about Shane Warne’s mobile phone bills. On TV, I only watch cricket intensively over the Xmas break. And I don’t really dislike football - indeed I'll start taking my son top AusKick over the next few weeks. It is just that there is an overexposure to the trivia associated with football. I am completely disinterested in such detail and have convex preferences - my tastes don't specialise to a single form of entertainment.

How to change things? I am unsure - the Anti-Football League has recently been reconstituted.


Chidori Ashi Kun said...

It keeps people from thinking about matters that actually matter.

Out of character for me, I was watching "the footy show" recently and the panelists were interviewing a young aboriginal player. The panelists were doting over this player. I couldn't help but be shocked at how aboriginal people in Australia are popular when they are good at sport, but that is about the only time.

Until recently, being good at sport allowed aboriginal people to be granted equal status as "whites". Does this legacy continue?

hc said...

You make it sound almost like a conspiracy - like the Roman games keep the citizens happy and at peacer - not thinking about overthrowing the Emporer.

Maybe but I suspect it is part of the mass dumbing down of intellectual standards in a near universal mass consumption society.

I've never watched the Footy Show but I agree it is one way to achieve status. Generally I am not at all opposed to players achieving status and good incomes. Good luck to them - being a skillful performer who entertains deserves good rewards.

I just don't want to hear about them and their sport all the time.

P.A. Coplay said...

I find the numbers about theatre hard to believe. I just don't believe that there were 364,544 people at theatres this week the way there was at the opening round of the AFL

If you include all theatres, and movie theatres and the like - maybe - but then all football games - local etc should probably be included.

Though the statistics are from the ABS, it is almost certainly not comparable.

In defense of the AFL at least it largely pays its own way unlike certain other sports and the arts.

hc said...

pac, I agree it pays its way. On the basis of popularity some claim the AFL should get public subsidies if the opera or the ABC do. I have never been able to accept this although, when pressed, find the going tough without falling back on some near-tautogical value judgments.

I also agree there are logical issues involved in comparting weekly football attendances for one form of the game with all theatre and other entertainment.

I guess the TV stations consider preferences for alternative forms of entertainment and costs of delivery. Still nearly 75% of the evening news on channel 10 is devoted to footie. It is by any standard too much.

P.A. Coplay said...

Hi Harry,

I wouldn't support public funding for the AFL and think public support for other sports and entertainment at the very least debatable.

I agree that 75% of a news bulletin on a topic like this is too much. I also think too much has been made about the non-performance enhancing drug taking in AFL (though it is a serious matter for Cousins et al).

But I would argue there is a strong entertainment element to news bulletins (public and ABC) so this sort of thing is a fact of life!

The results in Gentzkow's work that he presented at MBS are consistent with newspaper publishers presenting political news that cater to their audiences biases (though editorials are different) - one would expect the same for commercial television.

mlesich said...

Harry, I'm curious, what team did/do you support anyway

hc said...

I could say I support Collingwood or Essendon but the truth is I don't follow it enough to really give a stuff. When I go to games I watch the game, enjoy the way players cope with the random bounce of the ball, the long-distance kicking, the shorter distance precision kicking that accounts for the movement of recepient player.

Its a good diversion and a fun afternoon but not to be enjoyed every week and not something I would ever allow to dominate my life.