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MacKenna On Monday: McGregor A Microcosm Of A Sickly Society

Money talks.

It also tends to walk when dealing with the justice system, be that in the United States or most other places for that matter. Conor McGregor and his designer wallet know better than most.

On Thursday morning in a courthouse in New York, it was confirmed that the Dubliner’s legal team had struck a deal with the district attorney whereby a plea bargain around lesser charges worked for everyone.

The city would have their win via anger management classes and five days worth of community service. The fighter would serve no jail time while his entry rights would be unaffected.

In a place where immigrants are rounded up, and the colour of your skin so often sets the tone for engagement with the law, it was very much a case of who you are and not what you did.

Granted, there was another sickly side to this whereby McGregor is just a victim. For some years we’ve had many demanding the ultra-aggressive Dubliner go to the next level in his efforts as a cage fighter so they can get their kicks, and now they are saying that he needs help in order to dial it back. It truly is the reactionary age of idiocy.

At the end of this process, more than ever, you got the sense that in the shady and often grimy world of the UFC there’s only one thing worse than not being talked about. There are those who will scoff at the suggestion that what happened was originally meant to be attention-seeking, and amounted to seat-selling pantomime that went too far; the sort of Jim Corr subscribers who will tell you that jet fuel can’t melt steel beams.

However, let’s look at what we were asked to believe.

That McGregor’s teammate Artem Lobov had an altercation in a hotel, with Dana White saying, “When Conor found out, he loaded up the plane full of guys from Ireland, flew over here and coordinated this attack”.

That he and his entourage of never-weres and never-will-bes went straight into the lobby of the Barclays Centre in a security obsessed city without encountering anyone. That they then gained access to the athletes in the car park without a single person asking a question. And when going off on one they just happened to be in the presence of cameramen.

Get real.

Worse was White’s use of the incident for days afterwards, at a time the UFC are said by outfits as reputable as Bloomberg to be in difficulty, to the point writer Thomas Hauser described the WME-IMG $4.2bn purchase of it as “starting to look like Time Warner’s decision to merge with AOL.”

It’s quite a co-incidence how this worked out so well for so many involved. McGregor stays relevant, opening the opportunity for a bigger return; Khabib Nurmagomedov, whom he tried to attack, will likely be his opponent in a match where the sell has now been made so easy that pay-per-view records will tumble; and after it’s done the UFC will have boosted interest and profits.

Sadly though, many of us have already won too.

As is so often the way with McGregor, it was a light breeze talked up as a hurricane, and that’s just what we crave. He’s the media’s clickbait. He’s the bar-stool gossip. He’s the dinner table outrage.

This fuels all such pathetic social interactions until the next great drama in a reality TV world.

Maybe it’s awkwardness, probably it’s dimness, but with the 30-year-old we stare so hard and get caught up in so little that we continually miss a trick. What makes McGregor actually interesting and worthy of more attention and discussion – albeit of a very different kind – is that across this generation of athletes, there may not have been a better example of sociology through sport.

We were given a blank canvas and this is what we created to fulfill our needs.

Ultimately, he has become an uncomfortable glance through the looking glass at what the modern day has been reduced to. Indeed in a way Conor McGregor is the window into society’s slack-jawed soul.

* * *

The late philosopher Denis Dutton once aptly said: “Dumbing down takes many forms. Art that is good for you, museums that flatter you, universities that increase your self-esteem. Culture, after all, is really about you.” In 2018 we get what we want, not need, to the point McGregor is culture.

At a time when we get the politics we deserve, we get the sport we deserve too. Others have tried to capitalise on short attention spans and a yearning for not having to think with the shoot out in snooker and the shot clock in tennis, twenty-over cricket and six holes of golf. But in an era of instant gratification and minimal concentration, mixed martial arts captured that market first.

Two people violently beating each other unconscious for a few minutes plays to the most base instincts.

That’s not to say there isn’t huge skill in that, but for many looking in it was just a way to switch off and stare. Then along came McGregor, adding to a moronic populism outside the octagon too.

In the beginning there was The Late Late Show, as after his first UFC win he entertained with cheap and cheerful jokes as if a jester dragged from the slums for a middle-class crowd to point at and laugh at, all because he was original enough to still provide a curiosity for them.

But the money was elsewhere, in the pockets of the same white shopping mall kids who buy manufactured rap. Some will chalk this down as a protest, but the million-man march it wasn’t, and such an ideal can be overstated as to go against something, you have to stand for something. McGregor doesn’t.

Still, he tried xenophobia and it was defended by these fans as humorous. He tried homophobia and it was defended as fight talk. He tried racism and it was defended as being a sales pitch.

There were those who strapped their identity to him so strongly that they either could not see his wrongs or, if they could, it would be to admit they were wrong.

That is the great modern taboo. Basically that new-age creed of profit justifying any and all means was a shield to those that surrounded their demigod.

Worship and sport is nothing new to a generation of mostly young men as before him in Ireland we had Roy Keane who himself was far from perfect. At least he was a fascinating character though that provided worthy discussion and worthwhile study. But the leap in two short decades to The Notorious shows how far standards have slipped in society as nobody ever stopped and delved into what McGregor was talking about and why his words and ways made them so excited.

Had they, at best his rhetoric would have come across as obnoxious and insulting, but that probably attaches too much value. It turns out that what people wanted and craved was vacuous nothings. It was like the futuristic comedy Idiocracy, where the president is a wrestler to a people that scream and hollar to shallow incendiary words. With McGregor a ‘Bitch’ or a ‘I’ll whoop your ass’ was all it took for cheering. That’s the level we have sunk to, that’s how low the bar has gone.

McGregor though wasn’t so much a man for this time. He has been a man of his time.

The sad part for him in this though is that by using such a foundation-less platform to go so high, it also is his downfall.

People have used him up for all the positives they wrongly tried to attach such as money over morals, and a new and confident Ireland when hiding behind a mask is actually cowardice. But we’ve squeezed all we can from that side, and having chewed him up, now we are spitting him out as that’s where the 10 minutes of fun now lies. In that we forget that McGregor is a person as what’s more convenient is to cast him as a robotic celebrity.

When he started to go down the cheap road, to question him and take the middle ground was to be a begrudger, to be outdated, to be attention-seeking. Now many of those same people want to turn on him and, to keep that same middle ground, is to be a contrarian, to whinge, to again be attention-seeking. That’s the level we are dealing with and that’s the level that got McGregor where he is.

Turns out we don’t like much what we ourselves created.

Say what you will about McGregor, but he is ultimately a microcosm of a sickly society.

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Author: Ewan MacKenna

One of the country's top sports journalists, and a recipient of Irish Sports Journalist of the Year.