or, Be Careful What You Wish For
The football World Cup has begun. You can tell this because both social and mainstream media can now be divided into three broad groups: people talking about football; people griping about people talking about football; and people who insist on continuing their discussions about less pressing matters such as conflicts in the Middle East, American gun massacres, child abduction, and so forth (this last is by far the smallest group).
Ahem. So people want to belong to something bigger than themselves (patently). And this process of belonging appears to axiomatically involve a process of rejection. It is not enough that I win, other must lose. It is not enough that I like what I like, I must denigrate that which I don’t, and by extension those who do. Clear? I think this is especially true in areas which aren’t especially ‘mainstream’, or at least that don’t perceive themselves as such, and is in part a defensive posture: if you’re not one of the cool kids, one of the majority, then the easiest way to protect your ego is by talking them down. We’re all special snowflakes and there’s none more special than me. I mean you. (No I don’t). If many people like a thing then that, paradoxically, means that the thing must not be worth liking; this thing which is only liked by me and my friends is extra special, and, by extension, so are we.
And yet this belittling of the mainstream seems to directly correlate with a desire for acceptance by it. Every time a major ‘literary’ shortlist is announced it’ll immediately spawn a flurry of pieces about which genre novels should have been nominated, because the mainstream literary establishment who have hitherto lacked the taste or openness of mind to appreciate the epoch-defining brilliance of The Massive Sword of the Brooding Protagonist are somehow simultaneously possessed of the necessary credentials to confirm its unquestionable quality (and by extension yours for liking it). Those idiotic snobs who hand out the Pulitzer and the Booker clearly have no idea what they’re talking about if they’re willing to dismiss some of the most vibrant, essential material being produced today, so they must be the perfect people to validate it if only they’d pay attention properly. Look you idiots! Look! Here! PAY ATTENTION TO THE STUFF I LIKE! NOTICE ME! IT, I MEAN! NOTICE IT!
Here’s the thing though: mainstream acceptance ain’t all that. Once something becomes popular with a lot of people then it’s not yours anymore. And this is very much a double edged sword, massive or otherwise. I’m old enough to remember when football in the UK was not the shiny all-conquering marketing mega-cudgel that it is today (other points which may be of interest: all this used to be fields, and kids these days, eh?). In fact, throughout much of my early childhood football and its fans were treated as little better than cattle by the powers-that-be, and I mean that literally, not figuratively: cadged, prodded, herded and ultimately, disgracefully, seen as possessing lives worth less than those of ‘normal’ people.
But in the Nineties this changed, somehow. It got a glossy veneer of respectability though admittedly dubious associations with ‘Cool Britannia’ and ‘lad culture’. Football got adopted by the mainstream and now look at it; a transnational supra-state with enough clout to compel national governments to change their own county’s fucking laws. And it turns out that FIFA, the body which governs a sport now worth $20 billion and whose fourth-term president has been elected either unopposed or by majorities that would make Kim Jong-un blush for the past three elections, might just be a little bit dodgy, ethically speaking. What were the odds?
It is, admittedly, an extreme example, but this is what happens when the niche stuff you used to like goes mainstream. The mainstream will take it and make it palatable to as many people as it can – that’s what ‘mainstream’ means (and oh, incidentally, this will be incredibly profitable for a few people as well). That’s usually going to end up in a blander, less provocative product, which to be honest might well be an improvement, but the important point is that if you want other people to take hold of what you like then you must necessarily loosen your own grip a little. What you like won’t be the sole property of you and your mates any more, though it never really was in the first place. The solution? Don’t define people by what they like. Taste is entirely personal and liking one thing or another doesn’t make you a better person, or anyone else a worse one.
Unless it’s West Brom of course. Fuck those guys.