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Bread and circuses and me … June 16, 2006

Posted by smiffy in Uncategorized.

No po-faced lefty blog would be complete without the obligatory post denouncing the World Cup for its pernicious influence on society. So, with all the scorn which paid-up members of the Dublin 4 (mind-set, not postal district) Liberal Elite reserve for the interests of the working-classes, I present mine.

I could start by looking at the tournament in terms of Chomsky's analysis of professional sport, the corporate media and power structures in society:

(The media) tries to entertain (the population) through means which will intensify attitudes that support the interest of elites. For example . . . let me give some cases. Take the emphasis on professional sports. It sounds harmless but it really isn't. Professional sports are a way of building up jingoist fanaticism. You're supposed to cheer for your home team. Just to mention something from personal experience – I remember, very well, when I was I guess, a high school student – a sudden revelation when I asked myself why am I cheering for my high school football team. I don't know anybody on it, if I met anybody on it we'd probably hate each other. You know, why do I care if they win or if some guy a couple blocks away wins. And then you can say the same thing about the baseball team or whatever else it is. This idea of cheering for your home team -which you mentioned before – that's a way of building into people irrational submissiveness to power. And it's a very dangerous thing. And I think it's one of the reasons it gets such a huge play.

Yes, it's an interesting and not unattractive thesis: these big 'plebdazzle' events are held to ensure that ordinary people spend their free time and intellectual powers analysing one arbitrary groups of men's prospect at beating another arbitrary group of men at an essentially pointless activity. It does seem a little optimistic, though. If there was less football on the television, would people really be rushing in their masses, desperate to get hold of a copy of The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists?

Equally, it's a somewhat patronising view of people, denying them any agency and seeing them as little more than mindless automatons, happy to accept without question whatever the idiot-box in the corner churns out at them.And given that I'm a little disappointed that Grace, rather than Nikki, was evicted from Big Brother tonight, I doubt I'd be on very sure footing if I attempted to make such an argument.

An alternative line of attack might be to point out how the World Cup, perhaps more than any other international sporting event, tends to enflame national feeling in participating states, often creating an almost hysterical jingoistic fervour (which, as every good internationalist socialist knows, serves only to elide class difference and serve the interests of the ruling elites).

On the other hand, though, maybe there's a positive aspect to the whipping up of 'national pride', in terms of promoting multiculturalism (whatever that actually is, rather than the strawman version racists, fascists and other assorted crackpots would like it to be) and tolerance. If members of a minority ethnic group are visibly part of a country's football team, might that make it easier for others to see the ethnic group as part of the 'nation', rather than as immigrants or outsiders, loosening the grip ethnicity can hold over national identity, if not entirely breaking the link between the two.

To make this argument, though, one would have to (a) have some evidence to support it and (b) actually know something about football, and the makeup of different teams. I fail on both counts.

It seems, therefore, that my only alternative is to release my inner Roisin Ingle, and come up with some kind of generalised moan about how boring and ubiquitous the whole thing is, and the terrible suffering endured by the minority of football-averse men every time the tournament comes along. Admittedly it's not the greatest adversity man has ever faced, but it can get somewhat grating having to explain (almost apologise for, at times) the fact that you're really not interested when someone tries to make small-talk by inviting your opinion on 'the game'.

There are the small mercies to be thankful for, such as Ireland's absence from the current tournament. Four years ago, suggesting that you had little or no interest in the person of Roy Keane, or that you wouldn't actually be watching the match anywhere, was tantamount to suggesting that your questioner's mother was a poorly-paid, though highly experienced, streetwalker.

For those football-haters who seek a quiet life, it's probably best to avoid most pubs (apart from those honorable exceptions which don't have a television), don't get your hair cut (particularly if you haven't booked a holiday this year – you'll have nothing at all to talk about) and whatever you do, don't get a taxi. There's no silence more awkward the journey home after telling the taxi driver that you don't follow football (no, not the G.A.A. either) especially if you feel he's a bit hostile to the gay, or student, or gay student you so obviously must be.

However, one can only avoid the subject for so long. If pressed to give some kind of opinion, therefore, one could do worse than look to Gary Younge's 'Ethical World Cup' column, running daily in the G2 section of the Guardian. Younge selects a match taking place on a given day and, with tongue nudging against cheeck, suggests which team might be the ethical choice to support. Today's piece gives a nice flavour of what the concept's about:

The impact of international football on nationalism is clear; it inflames it. Its impact on domestic politics is less so. Victory should favour the incumbents. But in Mexico, where the incumbent is resigning and leftwing presidential candidate Luis Obrador leads in the polls, it is difficult to predict whom a Mexican victory would benefit. As members of the UN security council both Mexico and Angola stood firm against US pressure to endorse the war. Safest, then, to back the Angolans, emerging from years of civil war with a life expectancy of 41 – just a year older than the tournament's oldest player.

If that doesn't sate your appetite for a middle-class, Arts graduate, bobo opinion on football, you might want to check out Dave Eggers' by turns bizarre and fascinating piece on 'The True Story of American Soccer'. In it Eggers informs us that, among others thing, the reason why so many Americans lose interest in soccer when they give up playing it at the age of twelve or so is because 'people of influence in America long believed that soccer was the chosen sport of Communists.'.

The essay is taken from The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup, which looks from the table of contents to almost be interesting enough to buy.

Almost, however, but not quite. Thinking? Maybe. Fan? Definitely not.


1. Neo-Conor - June 17, 2006

Dude no way. Grace was totally two-faced!!


2. joemomma - June 20, 2006

May I commend you on your use of the term ‘plebdazzle’. Am I correct in attributing this to TV Go Home, or does it have an earlier origin?


3. smiffy - June 20, 2006

It does have a certain ring, doesn’t it? To the best of my knowledge, though, it’s a Brooker original.


4. PJ Callan - June 20, 2010

Greetings from Tokyo,

The place is gone soccer mad here, what with Japan having qualified. There is also great support here amongst the Korean population for the DPRK’s World Cup effort. I was in a Korean community pub the other night when they scored against Brazil, twas as if they had won the finl itself.

BTW “Get your hats, flags and colours” here –



5. CL - June 20, 2010

I think it was Harold Wilson who said that the Conservatives were bad for England’s prospects in the World Cup. Is Cameron’s austerity producing a paucity of goals from the English team?
Its not always easy to distinguish politics from sport. There was a Soccer War in Central America, and closer to home there is the ongoing Orange/Green, Rangers/Celtic tribal clashes.


6. Crocodile - June 20, 2010

Saturday night my Dublin cabbie was a bit gloomy: ‘We got knocked out of the World cup today.’ ‘We’ are Cameroon. His explanation? ‘We used to be good when the players were paid nothing and played because they loved their country. Now they’re all in France and Italy and spend their time complaining about how little they’re paid to play for their country.’
Good to see the blight of overpaid, pampered footballers has spread to Africa.


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