The World Cup vs the American Right
There’s a World Cup on, you’ll have noticed. Depending on your tolerance for empty platitudes, it’s either a joyous carnival of global fellow-feeling, or an excuse to have a month’s sit-down football binge.
Unless, of course, you’re a conservative American media pundit, in which case the whole farrago is a giant four-week excuse to flare your nostrils, beat your chest and proudly trumpet your increasingly deranged xenophobia amidst a rare backdrop of useful context.
The American Right, you see, hates soccer. None of them, however, are quite sure why; they just know that it threatens them in some unknown way, and then try to construct arguments to fit their prejudices. Every time the World Cup rolls around, conservative commentators fall over themselves in the scramble to link soccer with any number of anti-American canards: socialism, anti-exceptionalism, ‘diversity’, you name it. This year, as ever, we have a vintage crop, abetted by a powerful rightwing blogosphere.
Take Glenn Beck, for example, tin-foil-hatter in-chief of the new American Right. He devoted a decent chunk of a recent radio show to an apparently sincere comparison of the World Cup to Barack Obama - a man he really doesn’t like all that much:
“Barack Obama’s policies are the World Cup. His policies are the World Cup of political thought…The rest of the world like Barack Obama’s policies. We do not, and I’m cool with that. If you want Barack Obama’s policies or the World Cup in your country have at it. I don’t hate you. I don’t understand you, but I don’t hate you… Congratulations to Barack Obama and his polices that will have as much success as the World Cup in America. Go try those polices someplace else. They’ll be wildly successful.”
It has to be heard to be believed, but the point he seems to be making is that Obama is dangerously European, and hence un-American, or something. A lot of the things Beck says make only superficial sense beneath all the homespun bluster.
A favourite claim of the Right is to suggest that foot-to-ball is somehow a ’socialist’ game. Once again they tend to start with the hypothesis and work back. Take Matthew Philbin’s piece for NewsBusters – a site dedicated to ‘documenting, exposing and neutralising liberal media bias’. It’s a vintage piece of soccer-bashing, bristling with huffy xenophobic barbs.
“The liberal media have always been uncomfortable with American exceptionalism – the belief that the United States is unique among nations, a leader and a force for good. And they are no happier with America’s rejection of soccer than with its rejection of socialism.”
Also, soccer is a game for wimps and sissies:
“Baseball is too intimidating, football too brutal, and basketball takes too much time to develop the required skills … Soccer is the perfect antidote to television and video games. It forces kids to run and run, and everyone can play their role, no matter how minor or irrelevant to the game.”
And, of course, American games are totally different to soccer, he concludes, for lots of reasons concerning manliness and virility:
“Americans look to sports to teach work ethic, teamwork and responsibility, in addition to the physical and mental skills necessary for competition. They love underdogs and ‘Cinderella stories’ and ‘Evil Empires’ and ‘bums,’ ‘Hogs’ and ‘No-Name Defenses’.
And Americans like to think their sports reflect something about them. Michael Shackelford of Bleacher Report praised football because it, ‘requires a combination of power and agility, brute strength, and grace … In other words, it requires American characteristics in order to succeed’.”
As you can tell, none of these arguments makes much sense. Gary Schmitt, another big bad neocon, took a different tack in an article written last year, following the US team’s shock defeat of Spain in the Confederations Cup.With glorious incomprehensibility, he opines that soccer is a bad game because sometimes the underdog wins:
“I can say unquestionably that it is the sport in which the team that dominates loses more often than any other major sport I know of. Or, to put it more bluntly, the team that deserves to win doesn’t.”
Yes, he really just made that point. There’s more!
“The so-called ‘beautiful game’ is not so beautiful to American sensibilities. We like, as good small ‘d’ democrats, our underdogs for sure but we also still expect folks in the end to get their just desert. And, in sports, that means excellence should prevail. Of course, the fact that is often not the case when it comes to soccer may be precisely the reason the sport is so popular in the countries of Latin America and Europe.”
The point he makes is a very conservative one: Americans want the powerful to stay powerful, without any chance for the underdog to get in, or some such. He then scores bonus points for getting a sly dig at losers like Latin America and Europe – xenophobia is never too far from the surface in American arguments against sport. I can’t quite believe I’m giving him this much oxygen, to be honest.
(Image: Getty)Tagged in: america, world cup 2010
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