A Gunner’s Handbook: Surviving Arsenal
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
I often ask myself this.
As an Arsenal fan, and someone who chooses to blog about that experience – I find myself existing in two dichotomous worlds:
The first is an experiential one, solidly based in reality. In this world, I have chosen to support a football club, battling it out with other football clubs, on the pitch, in an increasingly competitive arena, for a handful of meaningless rewards. Bragging rights, essentially. This world is governed by forces – financial, political, social and spiritual – that exist in every facet of the human existence. It is, most definitely a “real world” – a world of cause and effect; one that from a distance seems predictable – governed by universal laws, manageable.
But the living, breathing, 'moment' – that elusive, fleeting present during which things actually happen – is slave to forces powerful and unpredictable: randomness, chaos, chance. These forces shape the roller-coaster ride that is reality. They change constantly: surprising and delighting, or troubling and disappointing in equal measure.
The climax of this world is ultimately a weekly 90-odd minute encounter between Arsenal and its opponents. Much goes on between encounters to which I am not privy, which adds to the element of surprise: players are injured, fall ill or out of grace. Much like a game of cards – I am dealt a hand when the kickoff whistle blows, and spend the next hour and a half hoping that my hand is stronger than that of my opponent.
But – as in real life – sometimes the stronger hand doesn't win. A well-timed finesse, or poorly-disguised bluff can tip the odds and upset the result. Add to this the influence of external forces – weather, pitch, officials, crowd – and suddenly, what seemed like a child's gentle train track rears up and becomes a thrilling, unpredictable roller-coaster ride that only ends when it ends.
This is real life.
The final whistle blows and the second world kicks in. A world of post-mortems and statistics. Analysis and conjecture. It's a world populated by people like me – opinionated, vocal, passionate and, occasionally, extreme. It is a world that exists both in 'meatspace' and cyberspace – but it is in the cyberspace world where the significant stuff happens, mainly due to the 'melting pot' nature of the online experience.
On social network sites – Twitter, Facebook – and in blogs and forums across the internet, there is a convergence of loosely-affiliated netizens. I say 'loosely', because ultimately, there is only one significant element drawing them together: the fact that they consider themselves to be “Arsenal supporters”.
In the 'meatspace' universe, we have far more control over our interactions with strangers. We are far less likely to approach a brooding band of black-scarfers, or a camp-fire, kumbayah cluster of gooner cheer-leaders. But on the interwebs, which thrive on equality and anonymity, we are easily exposed to individuals we would probably avoid offline.
Being flamed online is the ultimate passive-aggressive experience. Passive for the flamee, aggressive for the flamer. It's impossible to “un-see” an insult hurled at you by an online stranger: by the time you've read it, it's too late. You can take preventive measures in an attempt to avoid re-occurance, but the damage has been done. Aggression wins the day.
The sad truth is, that this encourages a certain 'hit-and-run' mentality among those less inclined towards reason or debate. It is the perfect arena for bullies and cowards, due to its lack of accountability. The internet is the ideal stomping ground for the smash-and-grab hoi polloi. And, inversely, a hostile place for those who choose to linger and stay engaged, to learn and discuss.
Much as the squeaky wheel always gets the oil – cyberspace also seems to amplify the opinions of those who rant and rave. If you judged all Arsenal fans by the tone of their online presence, you'd be forgiven in thinking that 50% of them were classless, spoiled, angry or delusional. You'd expect half the matchday stadium to be dressed in black, booing the players and hurling insults (and more) at Arséne Wenger.
Thankfully that's not the case. it's just the nature of this second world: the fantasy world. I'd urge those of us who explore this second world in search of enlightenment (in its loosest sense) and not merely as an outlet for our frustration in the first world (real life), to remember this, and not allow it to dictate our online interactions.
Ignore the squeaky wheel, I say. Don't oil it. Don't engage in any way. It is not rational. It answers your head with its gut, every time. The head is known to produce thought and reason. What the gut produces belongs in the gutter.
All that aside – there is an element of lunacy in this world to which all of us willingly subscribe. The world of post-mortems and statistics, analysis and conjecture, is a fantasy world. It happens in a vacuum that is not connected to the real world, despite our best, delusional intentions.
In this world, we're virtual owners/players/managers. We are armchair experts in finance, management, tactics and analysis. We blog and we tweet as if we actually mattered. As if our abstractions, our opinions were real. Matter. They aren't. They're bits and bytes. And when the electricity runs out, they won't even be that…
We certainly act as if what we think is important. We continue to generate thousands and millions of words each day: dissecting, describing, predicting and criticising the real Arsenal world, as if they had any effect on it at all. It doesn't matter if you have a gazillion followers, or none at all: truth is, the only world you are actually affecting is the fantastical one.
Real life continues on, rewardless, regardless.
I get caught up in the fantasy too. I get caught up in this 'second life' – where I can be Wenger, Kroenke or Henry. Where I can put a penalty kick onto the top right-hand corner every time, see the perfect through-ball, buy the perfect player, pick the perfect team…
But I remind myself that this online world, this 'batmandela' I have created – they're not real. They're imaginary.
And, if the meatspace human that powers their existence is to stay remotely sane, it would be best not to allow their fantasy world to devour the real one.
So: go to the game. Cheer for Arsenal, with all its faults and short-comings. Cheer for those who are giving their actual, physical all for this precious Club. Cheer them on when they succeed. Encourage them when they fail. They are doing their real best in that fragile, fleeting, moment we call the present.
Any way the wind blows.
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— invinciblog (@AFC_Invincibles) January 9, 2013