Friday, July 21, 2006

The Value of Tribal Voyeurism

Patriotism, tribes, competition, battle cries. Many people seem to decry such "primitive" rituals of bloodletting and whooping. Yet the reality is that patriotism pays. The World Cup has been responsible for a good economic season in the UK, with its influence extending not just to barbeques, pizzas and beer, but also to television sets, flags, and quite possibly "extras" such as broadband and 3G.

So things are up, at least for the moment. And there's the rub. The World Cup is popular not just with the punters, but with the retailers, but only comes around once every 4 years. We can't live like this, injecting huge amounts of cash into the economy once in a blue February, and then lounging around and floundering for the other 3 and a bit years. That's ridiculous.

No, we need to grasp the link between that sense of tribal belonging, and the success of the GDP-o-meter. We need to exploit pride if we are to survive the 21st century intact.

But having a World Cup every year is obviously flawed - it would cause too much disruption to national football, for one thing, and generally lose its novelty appeal for another. And creating a new international event just wouldn't work - football is the global symbol for "We are better than thou", so you either risk clashing with an already established iconic event (by creating a new football tournament) or crash landing by trying, against all odds, to make another sport popular. Not going to happen.

But we do have established tribal callings already, pretty much all year round, with well-defined international squads and enough "matches" going on to keep things interesting. Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel/Lebanon are already in play, with Iran, Syria, North Korea and France lined up waiting for same players to be released. We've seen that cameras operating from the front-line can get a signal back. All the pieces are in place, they just need joining together.

Here's what we need then:

1. Extend news coverage to include pre-invasion "warm-up" coverage, including analysis of recent performance, current injuries and an overview of the tactics being used.

2. Heavier integration of in-game, live statistics for the maths-freaks. "Posession time" has many possibilities, for instance. Statistics should also be broken down into inter-allied-forces counts so that teams on the same side can compare their performance.

3. More action replays, with bullet-time, Hawkeye-style recreations of trajectories, targets, etc.

4. Bigger flags.

5. Conduct "mini skirmishes" that last for 90 minutes and broadcast them live on digital TV. (This last part is essential, as viewers need to be able to choose their viewpoint(s), check stats, etc.) Swapping ends is optional. Strike a deal with and/or force pubs to show these on large screens.

With all this extra information and viewer-centric "clashes", interest can't fail to be renewed. Furthermore, by publishing a schedule of "matches" in advance, not only is it easier to follow the action, but the opposition are encouraged to prepare themselves and interact at the same time. This will enhance and encourage the same format in other countries, reaching a point where "friendly rivalry" will emerge to replace the nasty vindictiveness of out-and-out racism. Especially once they've seen how much money we're making from all the sales of big screen TVs.

By being open and transparent and - most of all - competitive, the set of "rules" by which affairs are conducted will work itself out in due course: Press coverage and "democratic viewing figures" will ensure that the action does, indeed, stop once a "golden goal" has been achieved (and there is no retaliation after the final whistle). "Fair fighting" will become the new global watchword(s).

Profiting from war is not illegal - in fact, it's already the foundation of many developed economies, and is a big factor in making sure you have bread on your plate. So why not embrace it? Turn that bread into garlic bread, add some pizza, get some mates round, and sit back to watch the UK slug it out with the Taliban (once again - we won the first round, but past performance is not a guide to future performance, right kids?)

It's not even a zero-sum game, unless you score an own-goal.

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