football

Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is pop analysis: both the analysis of pop, and analysis that aspires to the status of pop. Hence the informality of the style, the (faux) confessionalism, the intermingling of sacred and profane, high and low. A “low culture manifesto” (as the book’s subtitle has it) is not quite so “low culture” both because of its self-reflexivity and because of its more or less knowing nods to the entire lineage of cultural manifestos.

If we’re going to have pop analysis (and why not, I suppose), personally I prefer Dave Eggers and Nick Hornby to Klosterman. Perhaps that just says that I prefer it when things are more obviously leavened with fiction, with a plot however baggy.

Moreover, Klosterman’s conclusions are too pat, too unsatisfying. The essay I like best is probably the one that actually refers to Hornby: a rant against football (sorry, “soccer”) as an un-American, indeed unsporting, sport because supposedly it’s too egalitarian: “it’s the only sport where you can’t fuck up. An outcast can succeed simply by not failing” (89). Even so, this is a nice conceit, but it doesn’t add up.

Klosterman has clearly never himself played football, let alone found himself subject to the classic humiliation of being the last to be picked for a playground team. Watching but one football movie (I happened recently to see There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble) should be enough evidence that suitably sporting hierarchies are as rigidly enforced, perhaps more so, in football as anywhere else.

Indeed, if anything it’s the other way around. It’s precisely the fluidity of football (which Klosterman translates as “running about and avoiding major collisions” [89]) that makes the comparisons all the more insistent.

Put this another way: as a non-native, I’m always struck by the specialization promoted in US sports. For instance, the fact that American Football has a completely different offensive line from its defensive line; or that the “special teams” only ever come onto the field for a few minutes of each game. Or in baseball, the phenomenon of the “closer,” who will pitch at best the last couple of innings; my thought is always that if he’s so good, he should be on from the start.

In British sports, such as football but also even cricket, the all-rounder is much more highly valued: the midfielder who can move up or play deep, the striker who can play with both feet, the batsman who can also bowl, for instance. Yes, there are still specialists (and even perhaps increasingly so: David Beckham became little more than a taker of free kicks), but the same players stay on the field the whole time. Even the very best fast bowler has to bat from time to time; there’s no equivalent of baseball’s “designated hitter.”

All the more so, then, in playground and high-school games in which the notional playing positions are all the looser: the fact is that in football, a player is at every moment at least potentially judged as part of entire team, rather than simply as one part in a fragmented team apparatus.

Meanwhile, this is probably a moment to give a nod to my friend Grant Farred, whose book on football, Long Distance Love, has just been published. And also to point out with some pride that I figure (albeit un-named) in the book’s very first paragraph.

common

I’ve been lax with the blog recently. For good reasons and bad. I do have thoughts for future posts lined up, however, so expect more diagram poems, and a critique of indigenism soon. Plus something rather more directly on hegemony and posthegemony. In the meantime…

I was at an interesting conference the other weekend, over on the island, on the Commons. George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici were speaking, among others, including local activists.

At the end there was a long, plenary discussion session. As always in such sessions, the talk rather went in circles, and mostly concerned what had been left out of the conference presentations, rather than the themes that they had in fact introduced. (And I was as guilty of making such points as anyone else.)

Vancouver 2010 LogoThen my friend Fiona suggested that the issue of the commons was a good one to rally around to protest the upcoming Vancouver Winter Olympics.

She pointed to the ways in which preparations for the Olympics involve a series of privatizations, backhanders to local developers, and attempts to “clean up” the city’s Downtown Eastside (Canada’s poorest postcode) by cracking down on the homeless, banishing them to the suburbs.

(It seems that the Olympics protest site, a parody of the official site, has been forced down, apart from a single page disputing the emblem chosen for Vancouver 2010. But see 2010 Olympic Games Watch, although these seem to be mainly a group of concerned NIMBY taxpayers. More along the lines of Fiona’s criticisms is Naomi Klein’s article, “The Olympics Land Grab”. See also this environmental protest against the highway development to Whistler.)

But as I said at the time, I’d argue that the Olympics, and the hullaballoo surrounding them, manifest a rather more complex inter-relation between common, public, and private than could be summarized in a simple cry that “we are the commons, you the privatizers.” I was roundly attacked for saying this at the conference, and I’m no simple-minded Olympics booster, but…

The driving ideology of the Olympic movement, after all, is of a transnational liberal universalism. And however much the Olympic organization fails to live up to their own ideals, that ideology continues to have its effects. It translates into a public service ethos that requires some attention paid to sustainability and even First Nations issues. Moreover, and more pragmatically, the Olympics are an occasion for massive public works projects, particularly improving transport infrastructure, but also housing as well as sports venues, that are on the whole arguably in the public good. Much more so, that is, than the activities of most private capitalist enterprises.

I further noted that in my own experience the various (failed) attempts by Manchester to secure the Olympic Games (though they did eventually end up holding the 2002 Commonwealth Games, as a sort of compromise) were in fact crucial to the renovation of a sense of communal and urban identity. Some of which, yes, led for instance to massive land speculation and milliion-pound flats in the city centre, while deprivation continued round the corner. But much of which was, truly, inspiring and invigorating.

Shambles Square, ManchesterAlongside the 1996 IRA bomb, which opened up parts of the city centre that had not been public space since the middle ages, and alongside the city’s cultural creativity (music, sport), Manchester’s (leftist) city council’s determination to host the games played its part in a post-industrial renovation and sense of civic pride which has mostly facilitated, rather than ennervating, a sense of the common.

Finally, I’d add the following: what makes the Games big business (for whatever profits local developers reap are by comparison peanuts) is that they enable global advertizers to sell global audiences via global television deals to global corporations: McDonalds, VISA, what have you.

And the interest that these global corporations have in the Games is precisely the fact that, in these days of market fragmentation and the decline of public service broadcasting, they are (like the Superbowl and the World Cup, but even more so) among the few things that many millions around the world have, well, in common. It’s true that Nike et. al. are trying to convert this common affect into something that can raise a profit, but why deny that brief glimpse of affective commonality?

In other words, why not rescue something of the (perhaps utopian) commonality that still resides in the Olympics, rather than, inaccurately, damning them as simply another set of enclosures?

citizen

Looking for a link for my last post, I note that just now John Latta has a picture of Bobby Sands on his blog, pictured during the Maze “dirty protest”. (Though the BBC, featuring the same photograph, identifies the prisoners as Freddie Toal and Hugh Rooney.)

This is something of a coincidence in that recently, as well as turning to Stanley Spencer, I’ve been thinking about Richard Hamilton’s famous picture “The Citizen”, a diptych inspired by the Maze protests. Half abstract composition in shit, half altarpiece.

The Citizen
I also remember taking the bus home from school late one night in 1984, and discovering that the top deck of the number 264 had been taken over by Celtic fans, in town to see a recheduled European tie against Rapid Vienna.

A wry account of the match, and the journey to get to it, can be found at Sidenetting. From my perspective, a schoolkid in full uniform, heading back to the suburbs but surrounded by a crowd of loud if good-tempered Glaswegians, the experience was electrifying. They sang songs in praise of Bobby Sands. I found it rather shocking and rather scary. But without doubt also exciting.

Bobby Sands Street signMore recently, it seems that the British have been leaning on the Iranians to change the name of Tehran’s Bobby Sands Street. Which is a street round the corner from the British Embassy.

Diplomats at the embassy of the Republic of Ireland in Tehran admit the street is something of a tourist attraction for Irish nationals visiting the 25-year-old Islamic republic, saying it drew large crowds during an Ireland-Iran World Cup football qualifier in 2001.

normality

Below is the front page of Argentine daily newspaper Clarín, from March 25th 1976, thirty years ago, the day after the coup d’état that ushered in the so-called “Process of National Reconstruction.” A “Process” in which some 30,000 would be killed.

Clarin 25th March 1976
At the bottom of the page, the news of Argentina beating Poland at football. (For fact fans, Ezequiel Fernández Moores tells us that the score was 2-1, with goals from Héctor Scotta and René Houseman.) Ariel Scher explains in “Fuera de juego”:

The most brutal of Argentina’s brutal dictatorships decided almost from the first minute of its reign that sport would play on its team. It tried to use sport and even mould it in its own manner. Just a few hours after the coup d’état of March 1976, at a time when Argentina could be summed up in terms of a collection of proclamations from the military junta all of which began with the words “It is prohibited,” the authoritarian leadership released communiqué number 23, the only one designed to permit rather than prohibit something. And what was permitted was the broadcast of the football game due to take place in Poland between the Argentine and the Polish national teams. And so it was: in the middle of all the crimes against humanity, proscriptions, kidnappings, disappearances, incarcerations, and with television showing otherwise only the national coat of arms, immobile, for a while you could watch the football. And that this happened is not just another anecdote or the result of some whim. Sport was always squarely in the gaze of dictatorial power.

Meanwhile, the message at the top of the page: “Total Normality.”

(For more, go here or, better, here [and thanks to Isis in the comments for the second link].)

Cross-posted to Long Sunday.