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June 14, 2010

The Real Reason the Right Doesn't Like Soccer
Bonus: Stuff White People Say They Like

NPR thinks it knows the answer. Not really a surprise; it's their same answer for everything about the right: Racism.

Among adults, the sport is also growing because people from Latin America, Africa, and the West Indies have brought their love of the beautiful game to an increasingly multicultural United States. As sports journalist Simon Kuper wrote very adroitly in his book Soccer Against the Enemy, "When we say Americans don't play soccer we are thinking of the big white people who live in the suburbs. Tens of millions of Hispanic Americans [and other nationalities] do play, and watch and read about soccer." In other words, Beck rejects soccer because his idealized "real America" - in all its monochromatic glory – rejects it as well. To be clear, I know a lot of folks who can't stand soccer. It's simply a matter of taste. But for Beck it's a lot more than, "Gee. It's kind of boring." Instead it's, "Look out whitey! Felipe Melo's gonna get your mama!"

As for Liddy, let's be clear. There is not in fact hard anthropological evidence that early soccer games were played with a human head. Interestingly, though, there is an oft-told legend that the sport took root in England in the 8th century because the King's army playfully kicked around the detached cranium of the conquered Prince of Denmark. Notice that this tall-tale is about Europe not "South American Indians". I think we're seeing a theme here.

But maybe this isn't just sports as avatar for their racism and imperial arrogance. Maybe their hysteria lies in something far more shallow. Maybe the real reason they lose their collective minds is simply because the USA tends to get their asses handed to them each and every World Cup. After all, as G. Gordon asked, "Whatever happened to American exceptionalism?" When it comes to the World Cup, the exceptional is found elsewhere. Could Beck, Liddy, and company just have soccer-envy? Is it possible that if the USA was favored to win the World Cup, Beck himself would be in the streets with his own solid gold vuvuzela? I feel that to ask the question is to answer it. In fact, this is as good a reason as any to hope for a mighty run by the US team. It would be high comedy to see Beck and Friends caught in a vice between their patriotic fervor and their nativist fear.

Wow, for this automatic writing NPR pays people.

Here's a less hacky explanation. Or a series of them.

1. There isn't enough scoring for American audiences.


Americans are conditioned by the rhythm and pace of our two premier sports, baseball and football. We expect a score, on average, about every other inning, or every other set of offensive downs. On average, again; about that.

If we see more scoring than that, we call it a high-scoring game, and, most likely, we also call it "exciting."

If we see less scoring than that, we call it low-scoring, and, most likely, "boring," or a "snoozer." Oh, sure, we will often credit it as a "defensive struggle," but that's just being nice. We call a low-scoring game a "defensive struggle" in much the same way as we credit the plain-looking as having "great personalities."

That's what we've been conditioned to expect, and appreciate. If we lived in Europe or South America, we might have a different expectation as regards scoring; we might learn to appreciate the very-frequent "defensive struggles" of soccer.

But we don't. So while world audiences are fully accustomed to this slow pace of scoring, Americans find it glacial. And because scoring is so infrequent, certain scores come up an awful lot -- nil-nil, one-one, two-two. Ties, in other words, which baseball never has and football has so rarely it's always worthy of remark when it does happen. And sure, a tie is a "resolution" of a game, but, you know: They were tied at the beginning of the game, too.

Why did I just watch for 90+ minutes to arrive at the exact same place I started at?

I would not argue that football or baseball have the "right pace" of scoring, or "right" frequency of ties (which is to say, none or almost none). I could argue that, but I wouldn't.

I think it's just what you're used to, and Europeans probably find touchdowns in football too frequent and therefore too cheap. I don't dig basketball for a similar reason -- two or three scores a minute makes them seem a little easily-had for my taste.

But, again: It's what I'm used to.

I do not hold Europe's pacing preferences against Europe, but I also don't want Europe -- and they're quasi-American progressive booster club -- to hold my preferences and conditioning against me, either.

2. America's best team-sport athletes, by and large, do not rise through the ranks to play soccer; instead they play in games which are more popular, and, thus, pay a lot better if you make it to the professional ranks.

And, therefore, when America wants to watch its best team-sport athletes, it watches football or baseball. (I don't say basketball because that requires a specific physical type -- a forbidding tallness -- that basketball draws from pretty much its own discrete talent-pool, nearly exclusively. The number of pro-basketballers who could have excelled in another sport, and the number of athletes from other sports who could have excelled in basketball, is pretty small.)

This is not a knock on soccer per se. It's just how sport has evolved in America. Soccer is a smaller sport in America, and, alas, therefore tends to draw from a smaller pool of top-tier talent.

Let me put it another way: I'm sure that there are a lot of quarterbacks and pitchers who would excel in the Pro Bowling Tour, if they dedicated themselves to doing so, but for reasons it would be too cruel to specify they have chosen another path.

Our Olympic hockey teams probably include a lot of people who'd be damned fine curlers, if they trained exclusively in that sport, and yet, they concede the field to the bartenders, opthamalogists, and city planners who show up at the Winter Olympics every four years.

If things were otherwise -- if soccer, bowling, and curling were the sports this country goes ga-ga over-- we could expect a reversed situation, with our top athletes drawn to these sports and very good, but not the absolute best, athletes drawn to the minor sports of football and baseball.

But it's not otherwise.

You know how I know soccer is failing to draw our very top level of team athletic talent? Barely any black guys on the American soccer team, and they tend to do quite well for themselves in the bigger-draw sports, don't they?

One would imagine that if soccer were bigger, and had more of a truly competitive culture behind it (instead of being more of a pasttime for younger kids), American blacks would show up in the sport in the approximate ratio they show up in football, basketball, and baseball.

So that's why I don't like soccer: Because American soccer is inherently racist.

No, just kidding. I sort of like soccer and don't think it's racist. I'm just saying that there are good reasons American sports enthusiasts might gravitate towards the sports with the more magnetic attraction for top-level athletic talent.

3. Any sport is boring unless you devote enough time playing and watching the sport to really understanding its intricacies and subtleties; given that Americans have already (mostly) invested that level of commitment into understanding football, baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, and auto racing, which, in aggregate, offer round-the-year sports spectacles, it's questionable as to why someone would feel the need to invest the time and effort necessary to also learn soccer.

Anyone who's not really a big fan of auto racing will find it boring, as they don't really understand what a driver is doing if he's drafting up behind another car, or driving in a fairly deliberate manner to put off the need for a tire-swap or refueling.

To enjoy the drama and skill of what's going on, you need to know stuff beyond "the guy in front is winning."

This is true of all sports. To really get into baseball, you have to know why, if there's a man in scoring position, the play is at second if you lead 4-2 but the play's at home if you're tied at 3. To really understand football, you have to know where the offensive linemen can usually be found to really appreciate a well-done screen or sweep.

If you're just watching for the most obvious stuff -- homeruns, touchdowns, lead-changes -- you're not really watching the game at all, and you might as well just watch the two-minute highlight reel recap, because that's all you can understand anyway.

Now, I don't really know what's going on in soccer when they keep making abortive attempts to get across the midfield line, and then the other team stops them, and makes its own doomed attempt to advance the ball much past midfield. I assume there are intricacies going on there, positioning and set plays, and that if you're a genuine fan, you really get what they're doing out there.

All drama requires anticipation to be engaging. Drama is not just something suddenly happening -- in a movie, that's just shock. As Hitchcock said, a bomb suddenly going off in an office is just shock value; but if you show the two men talking casually about baseball, not knowing the bomb is there, the audience gets rattled with suspense and begins screaming to themselves, "You iditos! Why are you talking about baseball? There's a bomb under that desk!"

Drama is when you can see something coming, maybe, and are worried about whether it will come to pass or not, so when it does (or does not) actually happen, you have an amount of emotion invested in it, and you wind up either relieved or elated, disappointed or heartbroken.

If you don't really understand the plays and rhythm of soccer, then to you, goals suddenly just happen. It's shock only. You might appreciate the shock of the sudden goal that you altogether failed to see coming, but you certainly don't get the drama of it, as you were entirely unaware of this particular bomb being assembled at the thirty-five-yard line and then carefully delivered to its target.

Let me stipulate that if I, personally, were more aware of the intricacies of soccer, I certainly would be more of a fan of the game. I am sure such intricacies are in the offing. But the question I have is:

Why would I invest the time necessary to master them when I've already got too many sports to watch as it is?

It seems to me that culture-warriors like this NPR columnist think I have some affirmative duty to do the homework necessary to understand soccer.

Why? Is it really necessary that Americans cultivate additional passive television-watching habits?

Don't we have that adequately covered?

Progressive critics of America constantly rag on us for watching too much and living too little. For what it's worth -- they have a point, which is why conservatives make this exact same complaint, too.

Everyone makes this complaint. We all know we're too much of a spectator culture.

So why in this case would a progressive conservative-baiting liberal culture warrior at NPR make the implicit case that Americans really need to spend more time on our passive asses watching yet another sport?

I think I know the reason, and this is the political reason -- the real political reason -- the right rejects soccer.

4. Because many conservatives suspect that progressives elevate soccer above other sports for culture war-type reasons, we dig in our heels and say silly things about soccer just to repudiate the left's own attempt to fight the culture war via a silly pastime.

Soccer isn't uniquely a silly pastime -- all sports are, unless you're playing them. If you're just watching -- silly pastime.

So why the argument over this silly pastime in particular?

Because, of course, soccer is associated with the "multicultural, interdependent world," and of course So Darned Sophisticated Europe in particular, and progressives have a hard-on for such things. And conservatives don't.

My good friend Boston Irish said something to me one time that stuck with me, and, I think, pretty much summed up the major difference between liberals and conservatives. Boston Irish had, as you would expect, a Boston Irish accent, and never dropped it or modified it, or ran from it, or turned it to some other accent.

A guy we knew from Long Island (or someplace) began doing the Boston accent whenever we were in Boston. Boston Irish didn't like him for other reasons, but he also didn't like him for this one. "I don't like guys who change their accents depending on where they are or who they're with," he told me. And then he added, with partly mock seriousness, but only partly: "It shows weakness."

That's the big dividing line, culture-wise, between conservatives and liberals, isn't it?

Liberals credit themselves with being open-minded about foreign cultures and willing to sample them, and refusing to say that their own culture is better than another.

Conservatives knock them for being in a childish rush to re-make themselves as something other than they are, of being overly eager to adopt trendy and utterly superficial trappings of alien cultures, and being far too quick to say a different culture must be necessarily superior to their own, just because it is, in fact, not American.

Liberals knock conservatives for being too provincial and too proud of what are, often (but not always), arbitrary cultural leanings. In other contexts, they praise cultural pride (that is, the cultural pride of any other culture), but when it comes to conservatives expressing a pride in their local and national culture, suddenly it's all uneducated and xenophobic.

For purposes of getting invited to the cocktail circuit, I'll say that both are sort of right.

But let's look at soccer. Progressive culture-samplers denigrate conservatives for not wanting to sample soccer. They say we're too rejectivist and too rigid.

I'd ask in return: What makes you guys so damned eager to embrace soccer? Is it not just a sport like any other?

I am willing to say that soccer is just as good a sport as my sport of choice (football), and that my fondness for football is largely a product of conditioning and familiarity. That there is, in final analysis, nothing intrinsically, objectively "better" about touchdown-football than soccer-football, but just that I have acquired a taste for the former and haven't bothered to acquire a taste for the latter.

But are progressive hectors like the NPR guy willing to say the same in return? That touchdown-football is every bit as good a sport as soccer-football?

I don't think they are. I detect a lot of culture-warrior rejectivism going on among progressives, here, actively championing soccer not just because they simply like soccer better, but because they actively and affirmatively reject the culture they grew up with and seek, as they often do, an alternative that is both foreign and therefore "better," and which also, quite consciously, places them in position outside the American cultural mainstream.

And from that position, they are better able to do what they always wind up doing anyway -- mocking American traditional culture and positing that every other culture, no matter how stupid, primitive, or barbaric, needs be necessarily better than American culture simply because it's not American.

As progressives say, you shouldn't dismiss or demean a person or culture just because they represent "The Other."

You know what you also shouldn't do? Pick your enthusiasms of the week simply because they represent "The Other," either.

And that's what raises conservatives' hackles, here. It's not that soccer is innately a "bad sport" -- look, it's not; it's a great sport... for other people.

It's instead this hectoring and baiting by the transnationalist progressive left that our own sports, our own culture, must be deficient and retrograde simply because we enjoy them, and that we must become more enlightened by shedding our own traditional preferences and replacing them with the preferences of "the world."

Because, as usual, we suck, and they're awesome, and we know nothing, and we can learn everything from foreigners.

I don't have a problem with anyone who likes soccer. It's a good game, once you get into it. I just don't really have the time or inclination to do so, but I can't knock someone who does.

But I do have a problem with those so determined to castigate American culture that their entire personal culture is wholly reactionary, entirely a contrived, knee-jerk-predictable counter-culture in which everything non-American is to be embraced and gushed about to show off one's pretty peacock plumage of progressivism.

Let me just conclude this with a personal observation: Crying "Racism" is the polite way that progressives express cultural pride.

Here's what I mean: I have known German patriots -- German chauvanists, really, the "ugly Germans" who couldn't stop talking about how superior German culture was. And I've known French chauvanists too.

I got along with them. Which is less surprising than it might seem -- because while we were disagreeing about what to be chauvanistic about, we were all united in being chauvanists. I understood why the German was proud to be German, and the Frenchman French. I "got" it. And so we could throw barbs at each other's culture in good fun.

I was thinking this, the other day, when I was thinking about why Asian-Americans are so bafflingly liberal/progressive Democratic. In my experience (limited though it is), Asians tend to be damned proud of their own culture; some are even kind of racist about it. (A girl I knew whose dad was Korean put this in my mind, as she told me that her dad basically finished every thought by stating his belief that Koreans were the true master race.)

I think many Asian-Americans have channeled their cultural chauvanism -- which they've been taught is uneducated and racist and icky -- into an only-slightly-disguised cultural chauvanism in which, instead of saying "Korean culture is best!" they instead say "American caucasian culture is racist."

Same endpoint -- "We're better!" -- but a different, more socially-encouraged manner of getting there.

I really think the old way of straight-up chauvanism is better.

Crying "racism" or "We must be multicultural" is, I frequently find, a passive-aggressive and cowardly manner of expressing cultural chauvanism. Rather than come straight out and say, as my German acquaintance did, "Germany is the most successful and sophisticated country in the world!," the criers of racism/multiculturalism are often basically just expressing their own cultural chauvanisms, but they've learned that chauvanistic attitudes and patriotism and cultural pride are "right wing and uneducated," so instead they express it as in indictment of other cultures (especially American, of course).

I really wish they'd express their chauvanisms in an overt, direct, and positive manner -- "I love European culture!" -- instead of in the covert, passive-aggressive, and negative manner it's usually couched in, such as, "America is so boorish and reactionary it is never willing to try other cultures."

If you prefer European culture -- and it does have something to recommend it, after all -- why not just say so? Why always put your fellow Americans on the defensive by expressing your preference as an indictment of them?

With regard to my German friend, I never took his German chauvanism personally. He wasn't saying anything bad about America, really.

Had he cast his chauvanism in negative terms about America, he probably would have pissed me off.

It's this passive-aggressive and relentlessly critical stuff from our "progressive" friends that really rankles.

And, among the six bazillion other things they've decided to call us deficient in, they've chosen a failure to go ga-ga over the World Cup as reason number 8,334 as to Why We Suck.

But then you'll have this passive-aggressive prick from NPR writing a 700 word essay asking, "Gee, what makes Glen Beck so down on soccer?"

I always find it infuriating when the left disguises yet another culture-war/culture-baiting attack in the form of "Why are these stupid righties so damned eager to make everything into a culture war?"

Clarification: The linked Americans-are-racist piece ran on NPR's website, but it comes from its longtime partner The Nation.

Stuff White People Like: The Idea of Soccer. But only the idea.

Many white people will tell you that they are very into soccer. But be careful, it’s a trap.

If you then attempt to engage them about your favorite soccer team or talk about famous moments in soccer history, you are likely to be met with blank stares. This is because white people don’t actually enjoy watching soccer, they just like telling their friends that they are into it.

In fact, the main reason white people like soccer is so they can buy a new scarf. As you may or may not know, many soccer teams issue special scarves, and white people cannot get enough of them!

Most white people choose a favorite soccer team based on either a study abroad experience or a particularly long vacation to Europe or South America. When they return, they like to tell their friends about how great “football” is and that they are committed to ‘getting more into’ now that they have returned home.

Thanks to frank for that.

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posted by Ace at 06:01 PM

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