Cosmic Slop 127: Football Is a Dumb Reality Show Too

By Shaun Ponsonby
Thu 07 June, 2018

As the backlash against ITV 2’s Love Island reaches levels of intellectual superiority, Shaun Ponsonby suggests that the loudest critics need some self awareness.

The other week that local football team what plays in red lost some event where they kicked a clump of leather on a lawn for a bit. Apparently it was a big deal.

Unsurprisingly, I’m not into the footballs, and have an active dislike for everything that surrounds it (I have written about this at length before).  You couldn’t look at any form of social media that day, or for the days preceding, without stumbling across masses of disproportionate posts from people for whom the red people walloping said leather over a bit of paint more than the other people was a life or death situation.

And, you know…fair enough. Enjoy your game, ya’ll.

But, me being me, I decided to inject some variety into the proceedings for my own amusement. I took to Facebook to exclaim: “I’m gonna be controversial and different and say I hope Liverpool lose and that you all end up crying into your cornflakes in the morning, and that everyone would be better off watching the New Edition Story on BET UK as they’re showing the whole series all night.”

I obviously wasn’t being totally serious, I prefixed it by outright admitting I was only posting to be “controversial and different” – so I was baiting. The references to corn flakes and the running joke of my New Edition fandom was an attempt to underline that. I’m not going to sit here and pretend like it was my finest hour, not least because I’ve probably never had one, but it was mainly good natured ribbing about something I was totally ambivalent about.

The reaction was hilarious. Most people took it for the joke it was, but others seemed personally offended, making it abundantly clear to me that having a joke at the expense of their beloved kicking game was unacceptable. Why do you care what I think? (I mean, you do, obviously, because you’re six paragraphs into my opinion column).

And this is interesting, as a week before, social media was plagued with some of the very same people trash talking the Eurovision Song Contest, an equally inconsequential international competition.

In contrast, though, poking fun at both Eurovision and the people who like it is an accepted norm, even encouraged. But, what sets those audiences apart? Well, the culture of football is dominated by straight men, and Eurovision’s audience is largely LGBT or female.

We’re seeing it play out right now in regards to ITV 2’s Love Island.

In the interests of full disclosure, I agree with many of the criticisms of Love Island. It is a lousy and fairly vapid show.

But the backlash is extraordinary. The people celebrating its return and the people incessantly complaining about its return are about 50-50, despite the fact that they could just…you know…not watch it.

The level of bile towards the viewers is a head scratcher. They’re not just saying it is a bad show, the tone of the criticism often implies that if you watch Love Island, you’re a fucking idiot. Some of the posts seem to circle around mild homophobia towards men who are watching it too – I have seen many a “Men who watch Love Island” post that links to some supposedly emasculating image.

But it is accepted, even encouraged.

?If stupid opinions on pop culture are your bag you can check out the Cosmic Slop archive here?

The regular criticism is that it is a dumb show, as if it aspires to be Jacob Bronowski’s 1973 opus The Ascent of Man rather than a bit of fluffy entertainment designed to stop people getting depressed with their boring, insignificant lives long enough so that they don’t jump off a bridge. We need dumb things. How exhausted you must be to constantly be thinking about deep, intellectual subjects non-stop for your entire life, oh Great One! What a fucking burden.

There are genuine criticisms of the show, most notably a lack of diverse representation. But most of it decides not to go down that road, and instead applies a feeling of intellectual superiority. For example, there was a study that stated that more people applied to go on Love Island than to go to an elite university, and this was being used to show how those dumb Millennials lack ambition.

But surely that’s far too simplistic.

Officially, ITV has claimed that over 85,000 people applied to appear on Love Island. 23,521 people applied for a place at Oxford or Cambridge in 2017.

Last year, 759,000 pupils entered to take their A-levels. So overall, around 3% of people who could apply for an elite university, did – and this of course doesn’t take into account the other 128 universities in the UK, the vocational courses on offer and the classism.

To apply for Love Island, you don’t need jack shit.  You can just apply. That’s it. There are 11.2 million people under the age of 30 in the UK. Taking the official application figure of 85,000, just 0.7% of the people who could apply for Love Island, did.

So we can throw that bullshit out immediately.

The ironic part is this intellectual superiority tends not to be levied at big burly men who like the footballs, but football is as much a piece of fluffy entertainment as a reality show. It isn’t an intellectual piece of entertainment either, both the game and Love Island probably appeal to the more primal emotions.

In fact, if we’re being honest with ourselves, football today is basically a big, dumb reality show.

Think about it; you have your hate figures, small events being blown out of reasonable proportion, its broadcasts are overhyped to the point of melodrama, the press give it way too much coverage to boost numbers, each league has an overriding storyline, the people involved provide interviews to camera to discuss the events we just saw taking place, the result won’t make any significant impact on your life, all of the men have washboard abs and the cliché about them is that they have vapid personalities, are as thick as pig shit and they probably wouldn’t make it on television through any other means.

The main difference is that nobody cries if the person they wanted to win Love Island comes second.

But this isn’t surprising. Historically, media with a predominantly female audience – especially if they’re teenage girls – is disproportionately targeted. The Fast and The Furious and Twilight are equally dumb films, but only Twilight‘s audience are considered morons with no sense of good taste. Ditto 50 Shades, or One Direction, or whatever else.

So enjoy your football. Enjoy your Love Island. But maybe next time you try to make yourself out to be smarter than the people who consume different media, have a bit of self-awareness.