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Emile Durkheim, Donald Trump and Manchester United: A Short Essay on The Media and Corporate Greed

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Time to “Kick” Corporate Greed Out of Industrial Football? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2924895/Eric-Cantona-wish-d-hit-harder-Manchester-United-legend-shows-no-remorse-Crystal-Palace-kung-fu-kick.html

 

Business Insider recently published a piece with the headline “Manchester United is blaming Donald Trump for the club’s half-year loss of £29 million — here’s why”. Considering that the piece garnered almost 5,000 hits in just under 24 hours I might need to consider using sensationalist headlines myself, but I digress. According to the article, Manchester United FC had to write off £48.8 million ($67.9 million) and “because of US tax cuts imposed by Trump, United posted a half-year loss of £29 million up to December 31, 2017”.

Given that the club’s chief financial officer noted that “It should be beneficial to the club in the long-term”—which should not be surprising, seeing as how Mr. Trump’s tax cut was designed to favor corporate entities like Manchester United—the sensationalist headline was surprising. Indeed, it is so surprising that it is worth delving into. While the headline follows the tendency towards one-dimensional thought in the media—anything negative about U.S. President Donald Trump sells—it also does nothing to further the traditional “watchdog” role of the media. In the past, the media acted as a counterweight to the state/government/dominant narratives; now it seems as if the media merely trumpets out the same old familiar lines day in and day out. It is one-dimensional enough to turn one off from even reading the news—which would be a feasible course of action were it not so dangerous!

What is most disturbing about this headline, however, is that Business Insider (and other outlets who carried the story with nearly identical headlines such as The Daily Mail, Bleacher Report, and The Telegraph) conspicuously ignored the much bigger—and more concerning—picture for football fans and normal citizens alike.

Who, honestly, really cares how much Manchester United loses? Does a £29 million loss really mean a lot to Manchester United, the most valuable team in Europe according to UEFA, with a value of 689 million Euro and a yearly growth of 169 million Euro (32%)? The question journalists should be asking is just why we care that a football team—that is supposed to be for the people (just like our countries used to be)—needs to make such obscene amounts of money. It is this kind of corporate greed which has led the world towards a tipping point; capitalism cannot—and will not—be able to sustain continued growth to infinity. Just like the club revenues of football teams in Europe that have tripled this century according to UEFA, it is inevitable that the upwards trend will end. The question, of course, is when. And it is a question which journalists are clearly not willing to touch.

 

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Where Does it End? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.uefa.com/MultimediaFiles/Download/OfficialDocument/uefaorg/Clublicensing/02/53/00/22/2530022_DOWNLOAD.pdf

 

This kind of greed has had negative effects on working classes and middle classes all over the world, and that is why it is something—one would think—that journalists would make note of. In national terms, this has led to a “bloated” and “unaccountable government” in the United States; as the (conservative!) Washington Times notes

bureaucrats in the information business flout the law, as though they’re above it. While those in charge of our money use it like a never-ending water stream, that is unending and belongs to them [. . .] When the government views the citizen as the servant, we get weaponized law enforcement agencies to be used against us, and law-breaking agency bureaucrats and politicians who see our democracy as an inconvenience to be subverted.

This is why the issue of corporate greed goes far beyond the faux “left” and “right” dichotomy that, clearly, journalists love to underline in order to (you guessed it) sell more news!

Indeed, the United States—like much of the world—is facing absurd amounts of equality even though there is more than enough money to go around. According to the United Nations, the poverty and inequality in the U.S. is “shockingly at odds with [the United States’] immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights”. Similarly, the Economic Policy Institute found in 2017 that “in 2016 CEOs in America’s largest firms made an average of $15.6 million in compensation, or 271 times the annual average pay of the typical worker”. As the report shows, this is “light years beyond the 20-to-1 ratio in 1965 and the 59-to-1 ratio in 1989”. Indeed, “the average CEO in a large firm now earns 5.33 times the annual earnings of the average very-high-wage earner (earner in the top 0.1 percent)”. Clearly, the jump in discrepancy between CEO’s and average workers since 1989 (not coincidentally, the end of the Cold War) is not sustainable. What is more alarming, is that this absurd gap is not just confined to the United States; as Bloomberg notes (https://www.bloomberg.com/quicktake/executive-pay many European countries also have large discrepancies between CEO and average worker, even if they are not as astronomical as in the U.S. (Indeed, in Manchester United’s home country, the UK, the ratio is 201 to 1).

 

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Its Not Just an American Problem. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.epi.org/files/pdf/130354.pdf

 

The scariest part of these figures is that while CEO pay has increased from 843,000 USD in 1965 to a projected 15,636,000 USD in 2016, the annual average wage for private-sector production/nonsupervisory workers increased from 40,000 USD in 1965 to a projected 53,300 USD in 2016. That is an astounding 936.7% increase in CEO pay between 1978-2016 and a mere 11.2% increase in average worker pay during the same time period. Needless to say, the issue is not that there is not enough money to go around; the issue is corporate greed. And it should be clear that this system is not sustainable, it will—quite literally—lead to the end of world civilization as we know it. And the solution will certainly not be found if the media continually ignores inequity in the favor of furthering their own bizarre sensationalist agenda based on the imagined “left” and “right” divide.

 

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It Is A Sad Sight Indeed. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.epi.org/files/pdf/130354.pdf

 

Here, French sociologist Emile Durkheim is quite relevant. I quote from George Ritzer’s The Development of Sociological Thought (8th ed.), the text I use in my class:

In Durkheim’s view, people were in danger of a “pathological” loosening of moral bonds. These moral bonds were important to Durkheim, for without them the individual would be enslaved by ever-expanding and insatiable passions. People would be impelled by their passions into a mad search for gratification, but each new gratification would lead only to more and more needs. According to Durkheim, the one thing that every human will always want is ‘more’. And, of course, that is the one thing we ultimately cannot have. If society does not limit us, we will become slaves to the pursuit of more (Ritzer 2008: 81 [Emphasis mine]).

We would all do well to keep Durkheim in mind given the massive amounts of inequality we see in the world. It is our responsibility—as citizens—to keep our journalists aware that they exist to serve the people, and not their corporate sponsors. Their job is to print news that keeps business and government accountable, not sensationalism that panders to the zeitgeist of the day.

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Media Literacy And Syria’s Improbable World Cup Dream

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I have written about media literacy in regards to Syria in the past, and a recent Daily Mail piece on the Syrian national football team’s World Cup hopes offers another chance to dissect media narratives. We know that Syria has been engulfed in a bloody civil war for half a decade. Yet, despite international opposition to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian “state” has not yet fully collapsed because there is still—on some small level—a modicum of national “identity” left in the battered nation-state. This tragic civil war shows the dangers of allowing division to triumph over dialogue, and a recent article regarding the Syrian national football team shows why alternative readings of modern media narratives are necessary to form independent positions of thought.

Journalist Ian Herbert of the Daily Mail wrote a piece on 30 September 2017 entitled “Syria are on the brink of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup… but will their team just be a propaganda tool for the murderous Assad regime?”. With all due respect to Mr. Herbert, I took from his article the opposite conclusion: It is possible that Syrian qualification for the World Cup would actually be a propaganda tool for FIFA instead? I came to this conclusion after a critical reading of the article, which I will share here.

In the article Mr. Herbert makes a few arguments that could lead the reader to an opposite conclusion, yet the title has already framed the issue at hand for readers; no independent analysis is necessary and the reader is made to believe that anything good that happens for Syria’s national football team is bad. That the headline should be one of the first signs of a biased media piece is not very surprising. In just the second and third sentences of this article, we are shown how evil the Assad regime is: “One of the national team’s goalkeepers was deemed an enemy of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and survived several assassination attempts. Another was jailed. A talented member of the nation’s Under 16 squad was killed by a bomb a few years ago”. An educated reader, of course, will already know that this is the case. It will not seem out of place; it fits with the headline.

 

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Just Who Stands To Gain From Syria’s Possible Qualification For The World Cup? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-4936834/Syria-brink-World-Cup-just-propaganda.html

 

In the fifth sentence, we see the shift: “Such is the backdrop to the most extraordinary of all the World Cup play-off ties: Syria‘s journey to the brink of qualification. Beat Australia over two legs, and Syria will have one final qualifier — possibly against the USA, of all countries — to earn a place in Russia”. Here are the seeds of a feel good story, one fit for a Hollywood movie. The team from the war-torn country, that the West is saving from a tyrannical leader, will face their liberators (here Australia and possibly the United States) in football and play for a right to go to the World Cup. What a narrative it is.

The article goes on to inform us that the seeds of the team’s performance were planted in the midst of the Assad regime a decade ago:

 

As the [Syrian national] side progressed deep into the qualification stages, the charismatic [coach Ayman] Hakeem has persuaded several of a golden generation developed in the past decade to put their abhorrence of Assad to one side and return to the international fold.

 

But before we get to thinking that there was actually a positive aspect to life under Assad, the author wakes us up:

 

They include veteran striker Firas al-Khatib, whose young cousin was killed in an attack on Homs, and Omar al-Somah, Syria’s most celebrated footballer due to his goal-scoring exploits with Saudi club Al Ahli – but this is by no means the fairy tale it seems. 

Assad’s regime is providing the team’s finances and seeking a propaganda coup. In the early stages of qualification, some of the team’s players wore shirts featuring an image of Assad at a pre-match press conference. 

Making it to Russia would create the impression of normality and order in his country. It would also give a headache to FIFA, who vehemently oppose political interference in football.

 

It is shocking that the writer makes the reader believe that Syria’s success would be a boon for the Syrian regime and not the West. As the author explains, there are few in Syria who do not want their country to win—and the piece ends with this quote from striker Firas al Khatib:

 

The people could do with some kind of enjoyment and happiness. The reason why I have come back into the team is very complicated but I can’t talk more about these things. Better for me, better for my country, better for my family, better for everybody if I not talk about that, but if we can win and go the finals it will lift the people. The people deserve that.

 

I do not think one could find anyone from a Western audience who, after reading the quote above, would not support the Syrian national team. It would be very, very difficult not too. And it should not come as a surprise to anyone that this particular quote was the one selected to close the piece. So why does the title of this piece conflict so much with its contents?

Perhaps it is because the author does not want to dwell on the fact that there might just be life beyond politics. Maybe it does not all have to be about politics, maybe we can—for once—celebrate Syrians being able to come together for the purpose of supporting their national football team. Or maybe it is because there are clearly some footballers—like apparently Firas al Khatib—who have some sense of national identity left that they care to spend their energies for their country’s team, since this would go against the anti-nationalism rhetoric of Western media outlets like the Daily Mail. Or maybe it is even because the truth hurts too much: the truth might just be that Syrian qualification for the World Cup will mean a propaganda coup not for Assad, but for FIFA. After all, FIFA has far more to gain from Syria’s qualification. It will mean a feel-good story about a country pulling itself together against all the odds, and those stories always sell. An emotional story about Syria will also help FIFA sell the World Cup and paint over the fact that they gave the 2018 World Cup to Russia (where stadiums are in trouble according to The Daily Mail) and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a state sponsor of terrorism. In short, it seems like FIFA has much more to gain from Syrian qualification for the World Cup than Bashar al-Assad does.

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Russian Stadiums For the 2018 World Cup Are…Different. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-4947998/World-Cup-venue-Ekaterinburg-Arena-odd-new-stands.html

 

Who knows, with reporting like this, maybe the Russian football fans who branded the BBC “Blah Blah Channel” were right: mainstream media is too busy building narratives to actually report on anything in a non-biased objective way. Maybe it is because, in the age of 24 hour media available on the internet, journalists are no longer tied to their consumers. If no one pays for news anymore, then there is no longer a system of checks and balances. If journalists cannot be held accountable, then we–as the public–lose a valuable resource in the public sphere.
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Spartak Moscow Fans Voice Their Opinion. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/spartak-moscow-fans-brand-bbc-10056759