Reading this only clarifies something that’s been really obvious to me for awhile—the emotional satisfaction of being a wingnut comes from being able to rationalize your deep desire to be a hater. This is something I’ve suspected for a long time about the anti-choice movement in particular, and today my column at RH Reality Check touches on how much not having a life and hating people who do is really at the heart of the anti-choice movement. But the fact that all the right wing pundits have organized around hating on the World Cup is pretty much proof positive that they believe that what their audience wants is an endless stream of haterade. World Cup is growing in popularity. People enjoy it. It tends, in the U.S. at least, to weaken nationalist sentiment. That’s reason enough to flip out and try to take a giant piss all over it.
It doesn’t help things, either, that Americans tend to associate soccer with women and girls, and with immigrant populations. Which I suppose is amusing to the rest of the world, but in the U.S. it just means that soccer can be used handily by conservative white dudes as a symbol of everything they consider inferior. I don’t think it’s accurate to say that World Cup’s growing popularity in the U.S. is strictly due to immigration, Title IX, and hipstery urban liberal types—I think the marketing blitz probably has a whole lot to do with it—but the perception is that all these hated trends are the only reason for World Cup’s popularity. Or the popularity of soccer in general, especially the growth in youth leagues, pick-up games, and even MLS.
This shores up a concern I’ve had that soccer is increasingly becoming a touchstone for racists who target their hatred at Mexican-Americans, alongside other cultural markers like Cinco de Mayo and even, amazingly, the eating of salsa. There’s already reports of racist incidents that center around soccer, such as this Texas teacher who flipped out on a student who was wearing the jersey of a Mexican team. Considering that World Cup is touching down during a time of aggravated racial tension in the Southwest, I fear that these kinds of associations will just get stronger. Already you’re getting some pundits trying to work that implication in.
Discussing soccer’s popularity in the U.S. on his June 10 program, G. Gordon Liddy asked, “Whatever happened to American exceptionalism?” Liddy noted that “this game … originated with the South American Indians and instead of a ball, they used to use the head, the decapitated head, of an enemy warrior.”
In reality, of course, soccer was invented in England. But this sort of misinformation and blatant racism while trying to shore up hatred of the sport is endemic to the right wing anti-World Cup panic.
MRC’s Dan Gainor: “Soccer is designed as a poor man or poor woman’s sport,” “the left is pushing [soccer] in schools across the country.” Also on the June 10 G. Gordon Liddy Show, Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor said, “the problem here is, soccer is designed as a poor man or poor woman’s sport” and that “the left is pushing it in schools across the country.” He added: “generally football games in this country don’t devolve into riots or wars.” He later added that the sport of soccer “is being sold” as necessary due to the “browning of America.”
Perhaps the problem is that G. Gordon Liddy and his guests think England is south of the American border? That’s the only explanation I can come up with. First they credit South American Indians with inventing a game that comes from England, and then they conflate soccer violence with the “browning of America”, even though the football thuggery they’re thinking of is once again the province of pale Englishmen.
And the notion that it’s a “poor man’s sport” doesn’t reflect the reality of soccer, a sport where the amount of money being flung around has reached obscene proportions, even by American standards. As one of our resident soccer bloggers explained to me this morning while I crafted my response, club soccer operates way more on free market principles than any major American sport. Unlike in American sports, there are basically no caps on what people can pay for anything, and players are actually bought and sold with cash, instead of on the trading system used in American sports. Teams are ridiculously expensive. And in a move that should make conservatives cream their pants, countries like Spain actually offer huge tax breaks to soccer players as an incentive to come play for their teams. The numbers that are being used often to talk about soccer aren’t in the millions—increasingly they’re in the billions. It’s just simply factually incorrect to call it a poor man’s sport.
But it is funny to me that the supposedly populist teabaggers are so responsive to hating anything that’s associated with the common man, at least when instructed by their leaders to do so.
Beck was also factually incorrect.
In an extensive rant on the June 11 Glenn Beck Program, Beck purported to explain how President Obama’s policies “are the World Cup” of “political thought.” Beck stated, “It doesn’t matter how you try to sell it to us, it doesn’t matter how many celebrities you get, it doesn’t matter how many bars open early, it doesn’t matter how many beer commercials they run, we don’t want the World Cup, we don’t like the World Cup, we don’t like soccer, we want nothing to do with it.” Beck stated that likewise, “the rest of the world likes Barack Obama’s policies, we do not.”
This is an argument that depends on defining huge numbers of Americans as not real Americans in order to work. Because if you’re talking about “we” as in “Americans”, we do in fact love fucking World Cup. (Believe me—Jesse was in NYC this weekend, and we tried to find a bar in Brooklyn to watch the England-US game, and it was hard, since every single bar was packed to its gills.) Can’t argue with the numbers:
“If you ranked World Cup viewing by countries going back to 1998, the U.S. ranked 23rd,” said Kevin Alavy, director of Initiative Sports Futures, a London-based analysis firm. “In 2002, the U.S. jumped to 13th, and in 2006, it jumped again to 8th place. And we expect America to keep on jumping.”
In 2006, the ESPN-ESPN2-ABC broadcasts of the World Cup reached 70.2 million viewers while Univision reached 29.5 million, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Marketing the game has worked, whether Beck likes it or not. And it works for the very reasons he hates the game—because American audiences are increasingly open to the message that World Cup is the thing to do. Younger Americans are simply more diverse, more global in their orientation, and more open-minded to foreign imports. And these attitudes are showing up in the growth rate of World Cup’s popularity.
This isn’t really a “rah rah” World Cup post, because please god I don’t want another lecture about how I didn’t look at the god-save-me-from-the-word-problematic aspects of soccer culture. But it’s a good indication of why the term “culture war” is such an apt one when talking about movement conservatism. It’s not just the narrow culture wars over sexuality that we usually are thinking of when we use the term. They see themselves as warriors in an all-out battle to stop the country’s cultural direction towards not just a more feminist, liberated culture, but also one that’s more open-minded and globally minded. Which is funny, because watching the World Cup isn’t really a political act so much as a fun past time, but if conservatives keep banging on about it like this, that might change.
For those who still find the excitement over this game baffling, Marc has another primer post up. This time it’s on why low scoring doesn’t automatically mean boring. And I’m forced to point out that if football didn’t give you 6 points for a touchdown but only gave you one or two, then that would also be a low scoring game.