The age of mass media which has its roots in the newspaper revolution of the 19th century helped to democratise access to information first in the industrialised urban world and later beyond these initial boundaries. As the spread of electricity continued throughout the early 20th century, film, radio and later television helped to further democratise access to information. Whether some or all of the information distributed over the new media of the time was accurate or reliable is a separate issue. But this not withstanding, as technology expanded, the ability of ordinary people to access an increasingly vast amount of information without expending a great deal of cost or other personal effort became widely expanded.
The internet was a clear natural progression in the evolution of content distribution which traces its roots to ages long before mass media – to that of the printed word. However, the internet has done something which none of its predecessors have been able to do. While the 19th and 20th centuries saw the rapid democratisation of access to content, the 21st century’s internet revolution has witnessed a rapid democratisation of both access to content and more importantly a revolution in the ability of ordinary people to create content.
It is this latter phenomenon that separates the internet age from the age of the television, radio, film and the newspaper in a highly dramatic manner. Now, rather than just choose from a variety of opinions created by what in Marxist language would be called the owners of the means of production (in this case the owners of the means of content production), now everyone has the ability to be an owner of content production in his or her own right.
The results of this phenomenon have been predictably celebrated and condemned from highly predictable sources. As technology gives people the ability to publish and amplify their once private opinions into the public space, those whose opinions bolstered the pre-existing consensus of public opinion were praised by the powers that be (who helped to form and promulgate the initial opinions in question) while those whose opinions challenged the old status quo were and continue to be roundly condemned.
In this sense, the term “fake news” has been used as a libellous canard against anyone whose opinion tends to deviate from that of the old status quo which seeks to prolong its monopoly over opinion making (aka propaganda) just as for example a newspaper baron in the early 20th century may well have been inclined to heap scorn upon radio.
But while the aforementioned phenomena are well catalogued, there has been another outgrowth of the internet age, particularly where social media is concerned. As opinion making and sharing becomes democratised in terms of content creation and global in terms of its reach, the very idea of nationalism, national identity and cultural identify have been commodified as never before.
While the concept of selling national cultural symbols as retail or wholesale commodities has long existed, this has typically been restricted to national markets where one assumes that an audience for such national commodities exists in highly concentrated numbers. Today however, the power of the internet has turned nations throughout the world into a kind of fantasy football league in which those from all corners of the world champion the nationalism of foreign states and foreign people in a strategic attempt to prove a point that may or may not be directly related with the daily life or intimate experiences of the player.
Just as in previous generations, support for a particular football team or club tended to be based on one’s place of birth or familial lineage, in previous generations, nationalist fervour tended to be based on much the same. Now however, nationalism like football has been broadly detached from one’s own experience and has been reduced (or expanded – depending on one’s perspective) to a strategic calculation in pursuit of either pleasure, vindication or money.
While fantasy football began as a means for football aficionados to amuse themselves, it rapidly turned into a large scale gambling and marketing institution where vast amounts of money are made and lost on a weekly basis based on the statistics of various games and matches. Now that commentary on geopolitics has been democratised in the same way that commentary about sporting events has been, a similar phenomenon has occurred wherein people living in the United States may be cheering on the “Russian team” on the internet or people in Poland may be cheering on the “Japanese team”, while those in Australia might cheer on the “Israeli team”.
Whether in war, trade deals, diplomatic summits, elections, judicial matters or bilateral relations, there is always something to report, discuss, analysis and offer an opinion on. But just as fantasy football is largely about putting one’s money where one’s mouth is, so too is “fantasy geopolitics” much the same.
It is for these self-evidently benign reasons that many politicians throughout the world like to pretend that foreign regimes are meddling in their internal affairs more frequently than that which was done in previous generations. The truth of the matter is that foreign regimes always meddle in the affairs of others to some degree and have done so since before the Trojan Horse. All that has changed in recent years is the perception of foreign meddling as today, many people are using their social media platforms to openly cheer on the side of a foreign population or regime even though such people typically have nothing to do with any regime, not a foreign one and not the one ruling over their own lives.
Among those who tend to voice their fears about an alleged increase in “foreign meddling are those who actually believe what they say and the rest are those who realise that this scaremongering technique is merely a useful means to attempt to bolster one’s power over any given society. The truth of the matters is that the prevalence of democratised content creators voicing their opinions on geopolitical issues and engaging in games of “fantasy geopolitics” are no more or less dangerous, profound or relevant than those engaging in playing fantasy football.
As the name suggests, both activities are based on fantasy rather than reality in so far as the player of fantasy football or of “fantasy geopolitics” cannot meaningfully impact the final score in the stadium nor the final results of a war, trade deal or peace process. At the end of the day, both fantasy football and “fantasy geopolitics” are forms of semi-interactive entertainment and nothing more.
When all is said and done, most forms of entertainment do not impact the world in any meaningful way – neither for good nor for evil. Therefore, those who criticise the phenomenon of commodified nationalism in which people “root for the away team” are either too stupid to know or too wicked to admit that it is all a game and as such it is all perfectly harmless.
The only danger involved in the entire phenomenon is when corrupt political forces attack entertainment’s alleged influence on society in order to pass new forms of censorship laws, taxation or other restrictions on human freedom. This danger however is not new. Just as rock music was attached by prudish US politicians in the 1980s and video games attacked by the same in the 1990s, today it is fantasy geopolitics that is being attacked as yet another dishonest justification to retard the liberty of completely innocent civilians playing a completely innocent game. Such developments are of course far more dangerous than the innocent phenomenon of the players actually believe that their own decisions could somehow impact reality as some are prone to think in moments of inevitable excitement.