Cultural appetites: A new treatment of an old problem

July 7, 2021

In the run up to the England Germany Euros football clash,  a critical incident changed the way I had been thinking. It connected up a large number of problems of fake news, leadership behaviours, and what I had been seeing as dysfunctional social and political trends which have tended to be dismissed as naive popularism or maybe psychodrama.

Unusually, I can trace precisely how the idea of cultural appetites came about. In the tabloid media in the build-up to the match there had been outbursts of anti-German sentiments in the tabloids. The match itself started with vituperation against the German National anthem, and against the gesture of ‘taking the knee’ by both teams, as a gesture against racism in football, including against their own black team members. I witnessed a voluble minority of jeering fans acting as if impelled by events that happened before they or even their parents were born. Some form of inter-generational hatred was being transmitted. 

The Critical Incident

The critical incident for me came when I came across a tweet from an English ultra, immediately the match. He was exulting at the transmitted image of a 10 year old German fan in tears at her team’s defeat. He presumably expected he was echoing shared patriotic beliefs. The force of his expressed venom against a child’s anguish triggered an idea. I was watching a cultural appetite for cruelty against the innocent.  So there I had it. A new label for outbursts of irrational anger against perceived enemies. I could immediately see other examples I had come across . Recent examples were the so-called ‘woke’ wars, outcries against statues, and against the protests against statues. There were also the more complex sets of behaviours of entrenched advocates be it for or against Brexit, vaccination and individual freedoms such as the protests culminating the the tragic end to Trump’s presidency against what his supporters believed was ‘the big lie’ that was stealing the presidency.

In the first days since that football match, my initial reaction continued to survive scrutiny as one of those moments of creative insight I used to teach about. Sometimes, they lead to something valuable. In which case, as I was fond of quoting,  apparent inspiration needs to be accompanied by lots of perspiration for it to survive. 

[To be continued]