Monday, June 14, 2010

Yellow Cards for Stupid

The USA's right-wing punditry is predictably calm and thoroughly reasoned in its reception of the World Cup:

"Barack Obama's policies are the World Cup." 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."
or, to put that more explicitly:
Discussing soccer's popularity in the U.S. on his June 10 program, G. Gordon Liddy asked, "Whatever happened to American exceptionalism?"
And, lest we forget the conspiratorial and racist elements:
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."
To review, soccer is a man-made plague insidiously worming its way into the United States by riotous hordes of dark-skinned savages who never wear USA flag lapel pins nor go dewy-eyed at the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

So it goes. A certain cohort of Americans will accept that frame, or one like it, and lurch forward with it. Meanwhile, for those of us willing to entertain the possibility that the rest of the world might have its reasons, Marc at Pandagon offers a question-answer frame through which to appreciate soccer, a thoughtful effort (not to say the final word), one that speaks directly to one of the common plaints of American sports fans:
Major American sports are defined by a never-ending stream of recordable micro-events: balls and strikes, first downs, rebounds, completed passes, double plays, blocked shots, and so forth. Box scores for every sport regularly spawn additional columns to satisfy our stats- and fantasy-obsessed fans. From this perspective, watching soccer can seem boring or frustrating - without a bunch of tangible events to track in-game, how can we even be sure something is happening?
Americans do say things like this, but I think people who cherish 'stats' in sports are either just grasping at terms to anchor something less clearly definable about the experience; or they use stats as a proxy for a long-running engagement with the game and an appreciation for its history, which begs the question of what, exactly, is interesting to watch in the ebb and flow of the sport.

The question-answer frame is a useful one, but for me, the compelling thing about soccer is precisely in the way the game can be determined by so few events -- a single breakaway attack, a lone blunder by a goalie -- and how the determining event can come at any moment. That's drama, and while billions can indeed be wrong, the world beyond these borders is not wrong to appreciate it.

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