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Alan Harding will be as sick as a parrot if football doesn't remain a game of two halves

American football?

When an emotional Luciano Pavarotti received the gold disc for the sales of his 1990 World Cup hit 'Nessun Dorma', he exclaimed that this was one of the proudest moments of his life. Not because he had succeeded in bringing great music into the homes of millions, but because the disc was presented to him by 'the great champion' Bobby Charlton. Pavarotti (a devoted Juventus supporter) was honoured to be in the presence of a footballer - and an English footballer at that!

It was a touching moment that revealed the gulf between Italian and British football. In Britain, when Nigel Kennedy wraps an Aston Villa scarf around his neck, his manners are part of a self-conscious attempt to junk the idea that he is 'cultured', and to appear plebeian. Indeed supporting Villa is, for Kennedy, a way of acquiring a working class aura. Pavarotti, on the other hand, loves football because he is cultured, not in spite of it. Kennedy's conceit would have no meaning in Italy where it is not vulgar to follow football, and middle class supporters of the game are not johnny-come-lately yuppies slumming it on a Saturday afternoon.

Of course the majority of the fans who fill the San Siro stadium in Milan and the Stadio Olimpico in Rome are working class. But a far wider audience follows the game and is engaged by its passions and personalities. And, unlike in Britain, the players are presumed, until evidence points to the contrary, to be reasonably intelligent human beings. 'Toto' Schillaci, the Italian World Cup hero, was recently asked whether the fact that his wife had left him was responsible for his lack of goals. 'My personal life does not affect my performance on the pitch', Schillachi replied. A diplomatic reply that strains credulity - but a far cry from a burp and a fart, which would probably have been Paul Gascoigne's response.

The centrality of football to Italian life has given it the power and the affluence to draw to the national game some of the world's greatest players - and in turn has made Serie A (Italy's equivalent of the Premier League) the world's greatest league. 'When I pick up an England programme, and I see it there, "Platt, Juventus", it hits me', observed England (and former Aston Villa) player David Platt. 'There I am, in that black and white strip, the most famous in all football. There is never going to be anybody bigger than this club.'

But the glitz and affluence of the Italian game has also led to fears that it is being 'Americanised': that the interests of the sport and its followers are taking second place to business interests and the need to transform the game into glitzy entertainment. The epitome of this for the European observer is the presentation of the SuperBowl (American Football's Cup Final) where Michael Jackson is an equal attraction to the game itself and the whole schedule is dictated by advertising revenue. And what happens in Italy, many fear, will also happen in Britain. Already in Britain much of the Premier League schedule is dependent on the whims of Sky TV, which has exclusive live rights to the game.

The Americanisation of football is a particular worry since the next World Cup takes place in the USA. It might not only be a matter of being unable to say 'it's a game of two halves' because TV advertising demands four quarters instead. The greater fear is that the Americanisation of soccer will rob this greatest of sporting spectacles of any atmosphere. After all, despite the generally inferior quality of the football at the last World Cup, the sense of occasion at Italia '92 was unparalleled - even though in the end it was a deeply mourned funeral for the Azurri (the Italian national team), rather than the expected Caesarian triumph.

Personally, I think the fears for the Americanisation of football are overplayed. Even in American football there is spectator involvement. After all there are 49er and Giants' fans who, for better or worse, do define themselves through their team. It is also senseless to complain about football being considered as entertainment. What else has it ever been?

There is an even more important point here. Football, like all other sports, is an organic part of the culture that produces it. And like every other cultural phenomenon you cannot simply drag it out of the culture whence it came. Just as it has proved impossible to implant American football into Europe (viewing figures for Channel 4's coverage of the game have fallen sharply since the initial hype, and the London Monarchs reigned for only slightly longer than Lady Jane Grey) so there are limits to which real football can be Americanised. Italian football may look more like an American sport because the people involved are richer and there is more razzmatazz about it - but it remains a specifically Italian cultural phenomenon.

You certainly need big money to succeed in Italian football, and it is big business. Former steel-mill owner Jack Walker of Blackburn Rovers, the closest thing to an Italian football magnate in Britain, would not make much of an impact alongside the likes of media mogul Silvio Berlusconi at AC Milan and Gianni Agnelli (Mr Fiat) at Juventus. But Italian businessmen do not buy franchises on teams to make money, and there is no case of a team being bought up and moving city - something which has happened often enough in US sport.

AC Milan - probably the best club side in the world today - is the best example that money can buy success but success does not bring automatic financial reward. This year, even with 73 000 season ticket holders, a league triumph and so far an uninterrupted run in the European Cup, Milan will not break even. Not surprising, when you consider that owner Berlusconi signed away £40m last season on eight players.

No doubt there will be a tendency for the game to become less focused on the paying customer and, as in the USA, there will be less away support for the key games as big clubs travel the length and breadth of Europe in search of the glamour prizes. But it is very difficult to see this destroying the fabric of support. In the end what makes football is the emotional support for your team, however unglamorous it may be. Once a Charlton supporter always a Charlton supporter. A friend of mine in Italy has remained a Bologna supporter all his life because that's where he did his national service. And so it goes.

For all its success, Channel 4's coverage of Italian football remains a minority attraction. It may provide a dazzling display of international talent playing to feet and killing the ball with a first touch. But it doesn't have the raw excitement of a ball pumped into the air, chased hard, and skidding away in the mud from a player who might be a donkey, but he's your donkey.

The cultural war goes PC

The controversy surrounding Michael Medved's book Hollywood v America has made censorship sound politically correct says Alka Singh

Michael Medved is a worried man. The American film critic whose book Hollywood v America has caused a storm on both sides of the Atlantic fears that Tinseltown is being taken over by a posse of film-makers who have a fatal attraction for sex, violence and immorality. Hollywood, he told a packed audience in London's Dominion Theatre earlier this year, has become about honouring ugliness. Why else, he wondered, would Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear be nominated for an Oscar?

Medved's crusade is to return Hollywood to upright citizens and decent values. Why can't art be uplifting rather than sordid?, he wants to know. Why can't it be beautiful rather than ugly? And why can't the main characters in Hollywood films be 'ordinary' people: married, faithful, responsible parents, rather than single, divorced, gay or psychopathic?

If Medved did manage to cleanse art of its nastiness he would barely have a book to read or a film to watch - and certainly not by his favourite authors or directors. All the names held up as the great masters of the Western artistic tradition are hardly shrinking violets in their treatment of sex and violence.

Take Shakespeare. From King Lear to Macbeth, there is barely a single decent, law-abiding, faithful citizen in sight among the buckets of pig blood which were habitually thrown around the Elizabethan stage. Titus Andronicus is surely one of the goriest stories in the English language, in which children are served up for dinner in a supreme act of vengeance. Or think of the Greek plays. If any Hollywood scriptwriter came up with the plot of Oedipus Rex ('man has child by his mother and then gouges his eyes out with a pin') his script would be binned quicker than you could say 'self-censorship'.

Or take one of Medved's favourite films, The Alamo. Here John Wayne, as Davy Crockett, helps lead the fight for Texan independence, massacring Mexicans wholesale in the process before getting his own men massacred in the fight-to-the-death finale. 'Its sole redeeming feature', critic Peter John Dyer wrote at the time, 'lies in one of those crushing climaxes of total massacre which Hollywood can still pull off thunderingly well'.

Medved clearly does not object to violence, only violence that does not uphold his moral vision of the world. Violence at the Alamo is acceptable presumably because it is in pursuit of the American dream. Violence in Shakespeare and Greek tragedy is acceptable because the masses don't read them (or at least so Medved would like to believe). But Cape Fear or Terminator 2? Now, they might give the wrong idea to the wrong people. What Medved's argument boils down to is that violence and moral ambiguity is fine for enlightened minds (like his own), but not in front of the plebs or the children, please.

Medved justifies his objections to Hollywood's output by arguing that screen violence leads to social violence and moral depravity. This is, of course, a very old chestnut, long favoured by the more loony right-wing politicians and figures like Mary Whitehouse.

It is also a specious argument. Watching Terminator 2 is no more likely to lead you to blast away with a machine gun than Oedipus Rex caused an increase in incest in ancient Greece or Titus Andronicus led to a wave of infanticide in Elizabethan England. There is no link either logical or factual between artistic representation and social behaviour.

The argument that 'screen violence causes social violence' hinges on the idea that people are irrational, unthinking beings moved by instinct and emotion, for whom images of violence trigger an atavistic response to go out and cause mayhem. That says more about Medved's view of humanity than it does about people's actual behaviour.

In the past, liberal commentators would have had little difficulty in dealing with the arguments for the censorship of violence. Today it is different, however, because Medved uses the language of liberalism to promote his reactionary ideas. Not for him Pat Buchanan's 'cultural war'; Medved prefers the politically correct 'cultural environmental movement'. He is opposed to violence, he says, because it is oppressive to women. He likes TV programmes like LA Law because they have a high quotient of black and female characters in important roles. He sprinkles his argument with impeccably PC terms like 'diversity' and 'positive images'.

Medved employs the language of political correctness to promote highly reactionary ideas about family values, moral order and Western civilisation. Where once liberals called for 'positive images' to promote women and blacks, Medved calls for positive images to preserve American values. Where once liberals called for the censorship of racist material, Medved argues for the 'self-censorship' of all 'demeaning' material. To those liberals who used to call for pornography to be banned because it led to violence against women, Medved says why stop there: 'Let us clean up the whole of our culture.'

The result is a panoply of liberals who now back Medved's censorious campaign. People like film producer David Puttnam ('a raging moderate' as he describes himself), critic Barry Norman and Guardian journalist Melanie Phillips have all given their support to Medved, albeit reluctantly. It is ironic that the most vocal opposition to Medved has come not from liberals, but from reactionaries like film director Michael Winner.

In Medved's hands censorship has become politically correct. This is a far greater threat to our well-being than the most depraved product of Hollywood.
The body count in Gone with the Wind (left) made Terminator look tame

This work by Tom Halliday is one of the winners of a national competition for cartoons about the monarchy, on the theme of 'Another Annus Horribilis?'. The competition was supported by Living Marxism and the New Statesman and Society. The judges - including Steve Bell, Spitting Image's Roger Law and Financial Times cartoonist Jeremy Banx - placed Halliday's cartoon third, but we liked it the best so we've reprinted it here. First place in the competition went to John Docherty, and Leon Kuhn came second.

A selection of the cartoons submitted - including the winning entries - can be seen at The Angle gallery in Birmingham from 17 April. The exhibition has already caused controversy before it has even opened, with a number of local councillors trying to get it banned - so catch it while you can.

The Angle gallery, The Arcadian, Ladywell Walk, Birmingham B5 4ST. Tel (021) 622 7187
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 55, May 1993

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