Join in, or else: The Wimbledon final

The clamour behind Andy Murray’s success in reaching a Wimbledon final, reminds us how much the country loves to turn up to the big national events. They may not want to admit it up-front, but they get into the swing by the end.

While I was at the BBC, there was genuine fear that the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton would be met with shrugs and national boredom.  Our tracking survey had found little public interest in the event.  Some stereotypes were confirmed, as women were interested in the dress and the ring, while men (or meh…) could muster a little interest in the stag night and honeymoon but little else.  Even before most of the coverage had started, many said they’d seen enough.  Then, on the big day, everyone seemed to get excited and turned up.  And, while most people who saw it thought ITV’s tone of amused warmth was better than the BBC’s traditional reverence, the BBC attracted the massive audiences, and the BAFTA.

It’s always been a little like this. The biggest TV audiences in history include such diverse sports as Ice Dancing (Torville and Dean’s comeback in 1994), boxing, horse racing, football of course, and now tennis.  Football aside, these sports usually attract tiny audiences, a reminder that it’s not the quality of the play that matters, but the overall context. Give the country half an excuse to celebrate or get excited and it will do so.

I’ve tried an experiment.  I had been turned off sport by the incessant comment on Twitter and news media: there’s something about hearing the same jokes, speculation, peculiar national excitement and all the rest that offended my rationalism and my hatred of hype and band-wagon jumping.  So I made a point of boycotting England’s last match at Euro 2012, and the Wimbledon final.  Instead, I watched other programmes and spent two of the longest hours of my life in the park, feeding ducks and reading a book under an umbrella.  Emile Durkheim would have called it anomie, the alienation of feeling cut off from society.  (By the way, although Durkheim died in 1917, you can follow him on Twitter).  All I know is that it was a profoundly miserable experience.  Half despising the people who had become swept up by it all, (that is, everyone I know), and part hating myself for not wanting to take part.  There wasn’t even something noble about avoiding it all. If you don’t watch something, no-one cares.

It’s miserable being outside, when people are enjoying themselves inside.

‘Lonely’ (Highfields Park, University of Nottingham) by Chirs Kimmett from Dunkirk, Nottingham

In the end, it’s probably best just to go with the flow, ignore the hoopla, and join in.  Or rather, don’t join in, just watch a little – be like the ball, challenging, (and winning) by brushing the edge of the line.

And that’s the thing about TV. It doesn’t require you to say something clever, or excited, or smart-arse about these national events.  It’s there if you want to tune in. Something else will be along to entertain you a little later regardless.

Save the park bench for when it’s sunny.

Thank goodness that experiment is over, now where’s that Olympic Flame got to.  Whoo hoo!


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