Monday, June 21, 2010

Drawing lines

Okay, you know what?  Forget what I just said.  I actually do have something to say about soccer.  Or at least about the conservative rejection of it.  What conservative rejection?  Don't conservative parents bring their kids to soccer practice all the time?  Well, yes, but I'm talking about the rejection by opinion-makers like Matthew Philbin, Dan Gainor, and, of course, Glenn Beck, who said (via Think Progress):
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.
So where does this stuff come from?  Is it racism?  Is it just a right wing media outrage machine trying to find some talking point for the day?  Well, maybe, but I'm going to take the position that this is actual principled conservatism at work.

What do I mean?  Well, Bill Clinton gave a wonderful speech at the dedication of his presidential library in 2004, during which he tried to explain and validate both major American ideologies:
America has two great dominant strands of political thought... conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that are no longer needed or should never have been erected in the first place.
I think the soccer issue is one instance where conservative leaders are simply trying to draw a line.  They feel they've made enough accommodations to other countries and cultures.  They simply do not acknowledge soccer as an American pastime and feel they are justified in trying to exclude it from our main culture.  We cannot just keep adding things to our nation and assume that the nation will still stand for anything.  Lines must be drawn.  This far, no farther.

It actually reminds me of a story my grad school mentor John Zaller told me about a conversation he'd had with a conservative colleague back in 1982 after this person had seen "E.T."  Apparently, Zaller's colleague was furious with the movie because it represented Hollywood liberals admitting space aliens into the human family.  And yes, it kind of did that.  As Zaller summed up (and here I'm quoting from memory), "Leave it to liberals to admit space aliens into the human family, and leave it to conservatives to be offended by it."


marc said...

I think you're on to something here. I feel a bit of the anti-innovation strain of recent American conservatism at work too. Glenn Beck doesn't want the US involved in something that we didn't originate, or don't already have installed and working. Soccer = high speed rail: a thing people all over the world seem to love, and the US is behind on, but to which we would have something useful to add. It feels like "American innovation" conservatives have given way to "if it didn't exist in Mayberry, it's suspect."

What surprises me about conservative dislike of soccer is that it's an anti-business stance. Sports is a huge business, and getting into soccer is very smart capitalism. The US's MLS soccer league is fundamentally an entrepreneurial attempt to enter a proven, large global business. What's not to like for a conservative? If they were selling soap, Beck and the WSJ and the rest would call them model American entrepreneurs.

All that said I think it's mostly just xenophobia, and a distaste of anything that puts the mighty US on a level playing field, literally in this case, with someplace like Slovenia.

Jack said...

Let's not over-analyze this here. We can talk about how conservatives have a philosophical-existential aversion to soccer, or how it tickles their xenophobia because it's played by brown-skinned peoples, or it just "seems" like its something that Obama voters and media-based liberals are watching.

But maybe it's just the regular pandering to those who the Becks and the Philbins of the world see as their base. They could just be feeding the stereotypes that NFL and NASCAR fans believe about soccer - that nothing that Europeans love so much can be any good, that all soccer games end in 0-0 draws, and real men who play real sports wear helmets. Maybe there's no upside for them to have a good thing to say about soccer and plenty of upside if they say how much they hate it. In any case, they're not providing a critique based on any conservative principle. They're casting themselves on the side of those who wish ESPN would show Texas Hold 'Em Poker and World's Strongest Man competitions instead of the World Cup, and against those who are watching it. It a simple division of the society into tribes - and they're defining the soccer watchers as "the other".

I don't care what Glenn Beck thinks about politics, policy or culture. Why would I give a whit about what he thinks about the World Cup? In each case it is only a calculated gesture designed to bring more money to the cottage industry that is Glenn Beck.

Caetas said...

US has some 300 million people, which is a huge human potential for finding new athletes for any given sport.

Chances are that in the coming years US can find quality within the quantity of soccer players all over the counrty, thus increasing its possibilities to win a World Cup.

If someday this happens and US come to hold the badge of the "best soccer of the world" as they did in numberless other sports, perhaps the conservatives can change their mind.

palerobber said...

oddly though, soccer does not even come from a foreign culture.

it comes from the exact same anglo-western culture from which american baseball and football sprang. it's been played in america since the 1800s. our best World Cup showing was in 1930.

conservatives don't hate it because it's foreign, but because foreigners like it.

Seth Masket said...

I have no idea whether Beck's positions are sincerely held or just calculated to engage his audience, but he's capable of singling out far weirder things than soccer as liberal ploys. For some reason, he picked on this.

I think Marc is onto something with his level-playing-field argument. The U.S. can dominate the Olympics by having fantastically expensive training and by fielding a ridiculous number of athletes. We call the baseball championship the "World Series," although we only play against Canadians and usually prevail. But World Cup soccer is different. It's unpredictable. We may have to work our hearts out just to tie with a poor country that didn't exist 20 years ago. You can see how that might be threatening for the hegemony crowd.

sherifffruitfly said...

Despite what the bourgeois fantasy world of some of the Last Picked As Kids would have us believe, most Americans of every political stripe have zero interest in soccer.

From nutbags like Beck all the way over to good people those on the left.

palerobber said...

tv ratings contradict your assertion, sheriff.

Game 7, NBA Finals: 28.2 million viewers
Game 6, NBA Finals: 18.0 million viewers
USA-England World Cup: 12.9 million viewers
Game 6, NHL Finals: 8.3 million viewers

Seth Masket said...

A modest prediction: conservative opposition to soccer will vary inversely with Team USA's successes.

Marc said...

Agreed! Also, HOLY CRAP, WHAT A FINISH! I look forward to Glenn Beck explaining to us how the proper, patriotic response to what just happened in South Africa is...indifference.