During the group stages of the European championships I was only half watching. Thanks to a slew of games compromised by negative tactics (even adopted by the likes of the Netherlands and France), a ridiculously bloated and therefore watered down competition which is indicative of UEFA’s perpetual greed, featuring minnows who you’d ordinarily not watch if this wasn’t a ‘major tournament’ or you didn’t have a serious gambling problem. And yeah, I’m giving Scotland the minnow designation to avoid being labelled a hypocrite.
(Even worse, there was the involvement of Hungary, again, thanks to UEFA’s expanded finals format. What a nice bunch, passing laws that discriminate against LGBT folk, booing players kneeling, racist and homophobic chanting, and a full stadium in Budapest with not a mask in sight. UEFA’s refusal to allow the Allianz Arena in Munich to be illuminated in the rainbow colours before the game between Hungary and Germany to appease these arseholes was risible. I was disappointed the Bavarians didn’t call UEFA’s bluff and just do it anyway. At least UEFA’s weaselly justification showed that kowtowing to those who maintain their revenues and status, not inclusivity and equality, is what matters most. Add it all together and Hungary’s involvement in Euro 2020 has been the equivalent of inviting your local paedophile to a street party.)
This brings us to an extremely drab group game between Denmark and Finland at the start of the tournament. I had it on in the background. When I finally glanced back at the telly I saw a Danish player lying prone on the ground with a paramedic repeatedly pressing down on his chest. My initial reaction was one of shock, but not the kind you think I mean. I wasn’t shocked that a footballer was having, what appeared to be, a heart problem. Sadly it’s an occurrence which happens periodically. Most of us only hear of footballers dropping dead of an overexerted heart after the fact (it has its own Wikipedia entry), and most of us don’t have the opportunity (for the lack of a better word) to witness them collapsing and the attempts to save them. But yet here I was, in sheer disbelief, witnessing Christian Eriksen trying to be revived, on prime time TV. The really unforgivable part was the attempts to spin out its narrative, with a series of choreographed camera angles. It was fucking grotesque, and peculiar. What’s next, showing executions by Islamic State in full (with instant replays)? Or how about the Islamic State execution channel (on demand)? Necrophilia? Giving David Icke’s Lizard-people illuminati theories another airing? Someone impersonating Jimmy Saville fingering the arsehole of a decomposing horse while shouting ‘different class’ on a live stream?
It’s tiring to focus on the negative, so let’s first focus on the positive. Christian Eriksen was revived, is still alive and is likely to fully recover. Maybe he’ll even be able to play football again at some point soon.
But back to my gripe. The BBC not cutting away from this coverage. It is indicative of editorial opportunism to appease the new diseased populism. But at least they know their audience; socially and politically apathetic viewers that don’t care about the consequences of their actions and latently depressed sofa dwellers who wallow in their discontent of a life lived vicariously through rubber necking. It’s why we get so many car crash compilations, ghastly news channels in America showing police chases, and reality TV shows. The Beeb’s decision to continue the coverage belonged to this dismal species. This speaks to how jaded I am, but I’ve seen Eriksen’s eventual recovery wielded as justification for showing the entirety of it. It was so tasteless that even Twitter, shockingly, and to their credit, censored it. Not even Charlie Brooker would write a Black Mirror episode incorporating such a scenario.
Showing Eriksen collapsing, and even the close up shots of his lifeless body and face, with his eyes open while he lay prone on the floor all but dead, you can somewhat forgive as it’s nigh on impossible to diagnose what is happening at that speed. But once the Danish players started panicking and CPR was clearly being administered, the coverage should’ve been cut and reverted to the studio (who were more than capable of keeping you updated). Instead the BBC chose to indulge morbid curiosity at a level that was pornographic and dramatisation over decorum. We were treated to shots of bemused Finnish footballers not knowing what to do, spectators watching in horror, the Danish players forming a circle (admirable, but with little effect with so many cameras in the ground) around Eriksen and the paramedics, before, and this is the bit that really ticked me off, his wife was brought to sidelines, clearly very upset, all the while Jonathan Pearce and Martin Keown, who, to be kind, didn’t sign on for this, or are equipped to handle such an ‘event’, provided ‘commentary’.
I’ll be empathic here – if you didn’t feel like a horrible cunt, or deeply uncomfortable, for continuing to watch this then there’s something wrong with you. Shame on me for watching it. I’ve never watched someone be executed, or a kid being gang raped by Tory peers in a boy’s home in North Wales in the 1980’s, but I’d imagine they would conjure a similar feeling of revulsion and regret if I had the misfortune of unwittingly witnessing them too.
The hypocrisy of Eriksen’s ‘treatment’ being shown was made elsewhere, and I’ll regurgitate it here. If the producers of sporting events can follow the widely held convention of cutting all camera shots of the pitch/action when a streaker or protestor stops play then why didn’t they cut away here? And the excuse that it was an unprecedented live TV event is laughable. It soon became clear what was happening, and it was just indecently invasive. The coverage kept rolling because this was deemed newsworthy and in the public interest, no doubt, whatever that means. What does it mean? That we might get to witness someone die on television? Edgy. A real conversation starter. Certainly to the Beeb, no matter if Eriksen lived or died, keeping the coverage going guaranteed an increased audience share for the wasteland that’s their Saturday day time TV coverage and helps to justify the licence fee. Here it got to be the epicentre of a media cycle for the next few hours. Outside of election coverage on the day of and day after, and, say, a Kennedy assassination level event (I’m coming back to this phenomenon), when else can they achieve this? Certainly not through their normal programming, that’s for sure.
I have a list of things, events and people to blame for the masses indulging in this insatiable proclivity to gawk. Lockdown certainly hasn’t helped. Most people, housebound, waiting for it all to end, are desperate for something different to happen to break the monotony of working, sleeping, shitting, eating, barely leaving the house and in a lot of cases have become trapped in a daily cycle of being stuck in front of some form of screen communicating virtually, if at all.
The timeline of decline is also clear: OJ fleeing in his Bronco was the first instance, I can recall, on television where rumour and conjecture were reported as fact to satiate curiosity and gossip. The subsequent trial was the first one by media to become an entertainment event, shortly followed by Diana dying and her funeral becoming the biggest show of self-pity since Hitler topped himself. Then came the 11th September attacks in 2001, the ultimate TV car crash. In the case of latter, even I’ll concede that as a spectacle it was extraordinary. As was the loss of perspective and tact it and the aforementioned events accelerated. Crucially, said series of events occurred right around the advent of the internet (and not before social media had drastically altered sociological behaviour) and set the template for how we’re expected to stop and devote ourselves unequivocally when they occur. Witnessing is the new living. Social media shifted the paradigm, adding an instantaneous feedback loop to consumption of said events. Everyone can go Gonzo with the right tweet or reaction. TV as a medium (struggling to maintain its relevancy) in the new landscape simply can’t keep up, unless it unwittingly happens upon something and becomes the source, as it did with Eriksen collapsing.
Thankfully, the mute button still exists, and I’ve been watching the knock-out stages of Euro 2020 with the sound off (so far so good, as the second round games have been largely excellent). It’s good to know that in most circumstances I can watch a game of football blissfully unware of any additional editorial projection by switching on just before kick-off and leaving the room at half time to avoid bleak nationalistic collage pieces infused with trite xenophobia that perpetually follow England’s involvement in a finals tournament. The coverage of Eriksen’s brush with death broke through the barrier I’d crafted and served as a reminder of the disease that lurks beyond. It’s sad to concede, but we’ve declined to the point where not even a man nearly dying on a football pitch is safe from the foul stench of tabloidization.