The emphasis on the ‘live’ nature of football coverage, particularly on Sky Sports, has become something of a joke lately in football circles. Before each kick-off, official ‘commentator of the decade’ Martin Tyler, now with an emphasis so great it’s as if he’s trying to outdo last week’s performance in a kind of parody, shouts ‘and its LIVE!!!!’ to the delight of everyone watching.
The appeal of ‘live’ coverage is of course not only relevant to the football world; there is a cultural appeal to the idea of experiencing the event ‘in the moment,’ which stretches as far as Saturday Kitchen emphasising that its cooking and mundane chat, believe it or not, is going on absolutely LIVE in front of our eyes.
The 2014 World Cup will be an extreme example of this cultural phenomenon; all channels will advertise their LIVE coverage not only of the games but of the draw, the interviews and the injury updates. Live feeds will abound across the internet allowing the viewer to feel that they are always involved, there experiencing the moment when some news breaks, some man kicks a ball, someone turns an ankle or has an argument in training. We want to see everything LIVE.
What this seems to involve is an exciting experience of the moment which happens outside the mundane and predictable chronology of the normal course of events. It appeals because of the excitement, the unpredictability, the randomness not just on the field of play but everywhere in the game. The pleasure seems to come from something like a breaking of chronology; the ‘normal’ flow of events can be interrupted at any point, in game or out, changing the futures involved in the tournament and the way things will pan out. We want to be there at these moments, to see them LIVE, to see the future diverted.
On the contrary, what I argue here is that this involves not an instantaneous ‘live for the moment’ attitude of experience outside chronology, a pure moment of instant enjoyment which breaks the narrative and takes it somewhere new, but the absolute opposite. In fact, we enjoy the moment precisely because we feel that its future is known and predictable.
Alain Badiou’s concept of ‘the event’ sheds new light on these ‘events’ we experience ‘live.’ The idea probably originates in Freud’s concept of Nachträglichkeit, often translated as ‘afterwardsness.’ Nachträglichkeit is not just a later reaction to an earlier event but a recognition that the first event is invested with a new significance which turns it into that which it will then always-already have been. So the moment is constituted by what happens after, challenging the idea of chronological time because the past is influenced by later events as much as later events are influenced by the past. Badiou develops the concept, arguing similarly that ‘the event’ is not the culmination or result of something but rather that ‘a site is only evental insofar as it is retroactively qualified as such by the occurrence of an event.’ In other words, all events exist only in relation to later events which turn them into what they are.
In footballing terms this can be easily demonstrated: a goal scored in the last minute of game 1 becomes something completely different when that team goes on to win the trophy in game 64. It will become an event that always contained the potential of its own future.
We are under the illusion that event A seems to contain within it the possibility of events B, C and D, etc. This means that every event that occurs must contain within it all the possible ‘future’ events which may or may not occur subsequently. This is at the heart of the appeal of ‘being there’ at this moment of possibility and witnessing something which leads off into the future.
But this is a structure which is easy to believe in football terms and more difficult to believe in when it comes to the bigger question of life outside football. Perhaps it can be connected to the ‘big bang theory’, another linear narrative in which infinite possibility comes from one moment. Whilst we might consider this scientific theory ‘true’ we do not, at least for the average subject, feel that it is evident and clear.
This is because it is only in a system in which the possible outcomes are limited and mapped that this illusion can maintain the strength of its hold. One of the 32 teams will win the World Cup, retroactively turning everything that has happened to that team along the way into the path that led to victory. If we witness all the LIVE moments we can be sure that one of them will become what we project it to be.
Badiou shows that in life outside of football or the sport tournament the future, never determinate, can change our present into something which we have no idea (from our own moment) that it is. In sport, we have a comforting feeling of predictability which we enjoy, which might appear to us as the charm of randomness and unpredictability, but which is in fact its opposite. The feeling is one that gives us something we don’t feel outside of sporting tournaments, that when we experience our own ‘live’ moment, we can enjoy it because we know what it will become, not because we don’t.