Better audience, better Barton?

On Wednesday night I went to the Times building for an evening with Joey Barton. It was the day of the release of his autobiography No Nonsense, and a week in which he’d been suspended by Rangers for another alleged bust up. He’d also been accused of breaching gambling rules by betting on a Champions League game between Barcelona and Celtic.

If I’m honest it all felt a little convenient, as if Barton had pulled the most audacious of PR stunts. Do as many controversial things as you can, and your book will sell more. I was ready to ask Joey some difficult questions. But as soon as the event kicked off, and Henry Winter began reading Barton’s wrap sheet, something happened that changed my perspective completely.

Each misdemeanour was met with belly curdling laughter from the audience. Granted, the back and forth between Winter and Barton was witty, but the way in which the crowd roared just didn’t sit right with me. I looked around and realised I was surrounded by a room full of pompous middle aged men starring at Barton as if he were a chimp in a zoo, albeit a very articulate one.

They loved it.

“Please Joey, tell us more about what it was like to be poor. Not like the really horrible stuff, just the bits where you have to be hard. Ooo yeah.”

Let’s be honest, a lot of us love a little bit of violence. We’re drawn to these loveable rogues whose charisma often masks a propensity for abhorrent behaviour. From Goodfella’s to Breaking Bad, we fetishize these dangerous characters and make antiheros of them. Films and box-sets walk that thin line between telling the story, and glorifying the debauchery.

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference, but on this particular evening it was as clear as day. Joey Barton’s violent history was getting the crowd going. Not a violent crowd, not a crowd from the wrong side of the tracks, but a conservative crowd of cowardly men.

I found myself identifying with Barton far more than I did with the audience. After all, he comes from a place where intelligence is often a handicap, yet he aspires to learn more about the world he lives in. He’s previously spoken up about homophobia in football, when many of his peers have been reluctant to. On taboo subjects that are close to his heart, he has a great deal to offer.

Image result for joey barton rainbow laces
Joey Barton posing for Rainbow Laces campaign after being one of the few footballers to speak out about Homophobia.

In fact, when Barton spoke at Oxford University he did so with far more eloquance and decency than he was allowed to at The Times. Maybe the young students weren’t quite as interested in his violent incidents, I don’t know, I wasn’t there. He didn’t have to pander to a crowd full of bravado. He could actually be the best version of himself.

Yes, he may border on pseudo intellect, particularly when he starts rattling off names like Malcom Gladwell and Friedrich Nietzsche, but at least his aspiration is to be informed rather than ignorant. The problem is that we encourage him to speak on certain matters, where he has less to offer.

It’d be far more interesting to know how much of Nietzsche he has actually read, rather than asking him what he’d do if someone hit him. We know the answer to that already.

The evening with Joey was the epitome of everything wrong with our relationship with Barton. The crowd revelled in his tales of violence and entertained his pointless pontifications of the economic intricacies of British football. Shame on us all.

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