Witless twits and blissful ignorance
A strange episode occurred last year, writes Kieran Knowles, when the former member of a moderately (un)successful rock band (that renowned augur of the music-biz Rob Adcock was quoted on their Myspace page as saying – “What does 2010 hold? For me – I cannot see past this band”: a prediction up there with Harold Camping and his promise of Rapture for this century’s most misjudged prognostication) became, briefly, a work colleague of mine.
At first, the novelty factor of this appointment was uniquely enchanting. His stories of meeting Fearne Cotton backstage or sharing a hug with Faithless member Maxi Jazz made a welcome change from the usual office chit-chat of last night’s episode of Top Gear or endless debates upon the merits of the two big Manchester clubs. After a while, however, the novelty wore off and some rather more unpleasant qualities came to the fore.
To begin with it was petty things like his penchant for playing air guitar along to the radio – complete with serious muso rock-orgasm facial expressions – or his constant 6th form quoting of Alan Partridge, or bizarre denouncements of people with monochrome body art because “life is colourful and tattoos should reflect that”.
After a while, things took a more sinister turn. There was his ‘ironic’ use of racism towards those from Asia, which he defended by pointing out that he had been schooled in China and thus, somehow, was excused. There was also his questionable attitude to women – often speaking of his ex-girlfriend solely as “a Polish model” and never by name, as if she was merely a status symbol to be ticked off on his Rock Star Stereotype scorecard. By the time he left to return to university a couple of months later, my rather naive assumption that musicians are wonderful, progressive, forward-thinking liberal types had been completely shattered.
I should have already been aware that the more you know about your heroes, the less heroic they seem. For the past year I have been following players past and present of the League Two club I support on Twitter. What exactly had I expected to discover? Deep insight into the struggles of the lower league footballer? Insider information on the inner workings of a side I have supported my whole life?
What I actually found out was that a rotund forward who moved on to better things would have no qualms about the reinstatement of capital punishment and that a full-back currently employed by the club thinks the eight-game ban for Luis Suarez is a “joke” and that Paul McGrath is a “f**king gobs***e p***head” for his opinion on the matter.
Previously, it was easy for fans of clubs further down the Football League ladder to deludedly imagine that the players in their team weren’t as moronic or arrogant as their top flight counterparts because, away from the glare of the media spotlight, they didn’t have an outlet to air their views.
For all we knew, the shaven-headed centre-back who kicked lumps out of the opposing forward/pitch/ball each week could have returned home after a game to recline in an armchair with a glass of wine, dusty Flaubert novel, and Radio 4 crackling happily in the background. Now, with the advent of Twitter, we realise it is actually far more likely that he is getting enthusiastic about a game of darts or becoming emotional whilst watching Free Willy.
The initial excitement that Twitter and other such social media outlets would allow us to get closer to our heroes has been largely replaced with the realisation that, a lot of the time, they are the sort of people you wouldn’t want to get close to.
Next Saturday when the midfielder I have seen casually referring to “gays” and “orientals” during banter with his mates online is about to come on as a sub, do I forget what I have read and cheer and applaud regardless? Is it like being a fan of Elvis Costello and ignoring the disgusting remark he made about Ray Charles because the art should be kept separate from the artist?
For now I think I will unfollow the players currently plying their trade at my club, with the reasoning that – if a footballer makes a cretinous comment on the internet and I am not around to see it, is he really a cretin? Yes, he obviously still is. But I’d rather not know.