Soccer and the vuvuzela

Yesterday afternoon I watched the World Cup for the first time, namely the match between England and Algeria. The vuvuzela was as bad as everyone has said, and, to my mind, even worse: a subhuman manifestation that drowns out the human. That the World Cup authorities allow this intolerable noise to go on through the match is damning to them, and, as Patrick H. said the other day, exemplifies and symbolizes the surrender of liberal society to savagery (which of course takes much worse forms than the vuvuzela).

However, it occurs to me that the domination of the World Cup by the vuvuzela is also oddly fitting. Watching the game, with all that meaningless back and forth going nowhere, I felt what I have always felt for my entire life when watching soccer: absolute boredom, absolute meaninglessness, a depressing feeling of existence being turned into a bleak desert. And what is the vuvuzela about? The obliteration of all articulate sound, of all differentiation, of all meaning. So, if soccer is meaningless, the vuvuzela, the obliterator of all meaning, represents the completion and consummation of soccer.

* * *

Conservatives lately have been talking a lot about American exceptionalism, and I have often wondered exactly what they mean by that. But here is one meaning of American exceptionalism that we can all applaud and that truly makes us better than the rest of the world: Americans (or at least white Americans) do not like soccer. And, even better, we persist in not liking it even though the entire liberal mind-control apparatus keeps telling us that we do like it and must like it.

- end of initial entry -

Ingemar P. writes:

To round out the meaningless game, with the sound of the horns that obliterate all meaning, the England vs. Algeria match ended with a score of 0-0, which makes you wonder why they did anything at all.

James N. writes:

I would have watched the match, but I scored a last minute chance to watch some paint dry instead.

Daniel H. writes:

I didn’t see the England-Algeria match. It indeed sounds like it was a boring contest. But of course, boring contests can happen in any sport.

To the untrained eye, an American football game (a sport I love) looks like a bunch of bodies scrumming around randomly, though any Giants fan can tell you it’s far more planned and intricate than that. Likewise a baseball game seems like incomprehensible arcana and arbitrary decisions by masked men, signifying nothing, which would come as a surprise to Joe DiMaggio. I suggest to you that the apparent meaninglessness of soccer is merely a function of you being a non-initiate to the sport. It is a complex game, with meaning inherent in every shift, flow, and movement of the players on the pitch. These moves are planned, practiced, and strategized. The opponent notices them and makes adjustments accordingly. To a spectator they can be compelling drama, and even contain intellectual content (albeit of a trivial nature).

Now, I am not trying to suggest that you like the sport. I also find the efforts of everybody and his brother to make people like something they simply don’t like, to be silly and arrogant. So please don’t get me wrong. Far be it from me to assume to tell someone else what his tastes should be. I also strongly agree that the vuvuzelas are a disgusting drone and serve to dehumanize the texture of the game.

Nevertheless, as someone who does understand the meaning of a soccer match (such as it is … of course, even that “meaning” is ultimately just a game, just like a tennis match or a round of golf or game of basketball), I must say your attempt to link general meaninglessness with soccer in particular is a bridge too far. I give you my personal assurance that the ebb and flow of a soccer game—though boring to the uninterested—is anything but meaningless.

Patrick H. writes:

A fine post, though I do like soccer. They need to have fewer players on the field, ten or even nine, to open up the game and get more scoring. Otherwise, it’s a back-and-forth game the way basketball and hockey are, and I don’t think they’re meaningless sports.

June 20

Peter B. writes from England:

I have watched soccer most of my life, am an “initiate to the sport” as James N. put it and a keen England supporter. Having said all that, your phrase “meaningless back and forth going nowhere” describes the England vs Algeria game perfectly. I’ve never been so bored.

I am sure that the vuvuzela has something to do with the appalling quality of play at this world cup. The roar of the crowd is one thing, but that din must be really distracting. Whatever happened to just sitting down and enjoying the game? It isn’t supporting the team. Cheering and screaming encouragement is a human response and I’ve seen a crowd get behind a team that was underperforming and really help them to lift their game. That atonal honking doesn’t give any emotion or encouragement to the players. There’s no atmosphere—just noise.

In addition, I wonder why American liberals like soccer. It’s a working class game and left/right distinctions aside the main supporters here are exactly the kind who inhabit what liberal elites in America call flyover country.

LA replies:

American liberals like it because the rest of the world likes it and most Americans don’t like it. It’s the same as with the metric system, socialized medicine, social democracy, and anti-hate speech laws. The rest of the world (or at least Europe) has these things, America doesn’t. The liberals seek to eliminate American distinctiveness by imposing on America the metric system, socialized medicine, social democracy, and anti-hate speech laws. But ultimately they don’t just seek to eliminate American distinctiveness; they want to destroy Western distinctiveness as well. Liberalism is about turning humanity into a single blob.

Also, even if American liberals don’t identify with the British working class, they do worship at the altar of the Third World, and the Third World loves soccer (football).

Peter B. replies:

You’re right.

I’m willing to bet that if America ever won the World Cup the liberals would be bemoaning American triumphalism and claiming never to have liked the game within hours. Please, please, God, let America beat South Africa at some point in this competition (unlikely now).

June 21

Clark Coleman writes:

What is your reaction to a hockey game that goes for a whole 20-minute period, back and forth, the possession of the puck changing hands almost constantly, with no scoring? I have seen it happen multiple times.

Does anyone feel motivated to write columns attacking hockey because of it?

The anti-soccer rants at VFR, by you and your readers, have been infantile and quite disappointing. In order to watch a sport, one must understand it. There are many sports in this world that I don’t really understand. Cricket is an example. Lacrosse is another. The lack of understanding comes from two sources: I did not play them or coach them or have any gut-level understanding from actual experience, and I did not ever decide to really study these sports, either. I don’t even know the rules very completely for either sport. If I see them on television, it is just hard to follow with no real experience of either.

I remember when bowling was a pretty big television sport in my childhood. That was due to the fact that a lot of Americans were in bowling leagues and so on. You have to enjoy and understand a sport viscerally in order to want to watch it, unless there is something really visually spectacular about it (which does not describe bowling!) As bowling has declined in its mass participation, it has declined as a television sport. If someone has no idea how hard it is to make a certain split, for example, it will not impress them to see someone attempt it on television.

Most of us (myself included) played football and basketball and baseball when we were growing up. I had barely heard of soccer when I was a kid. But I learned the game later, then really studied it and coached it and watched it up close, and I understood the difficulty of each technique and could see the patterns of motion on the field. It became a joy to watch a really high level game.

Because I realize my lack of understanding is the issue with sports like cricket or lacrosse or rugby or several others, I don’t feel the need to write criticisms of these sports. What would be the point? What would you think if you read a music critic in the New York Times criticizing a recent symphony, and then at the end he confessed he does not like classical music, has never studied it or played it, and really only likes rock music? Who would publish his opinion on something he does not understand?

If VFR readers don’t understand and appreciate soccer, they can decline to watch it. Why do they have to run their mouths about it?

LA replies:

Your general point that one must understand a sport to appreciate it, is valid. But your criticism of the criticism of soccer at VFR misses a crucial point. I haven’t written about soccer before. Why am I doing so now? I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to express my dislike for soccer. Rather, this is happening in the context of orchestrated soccer mania. The June 14 Time magazine (I couldn’t find the article online) literally declares soccer to be the emerging religion of global humanity, with the top players as its “gods,” a word the article unabashedly uses over and over. We are also being told that soccer is now taking over in the U.S. and is part of the transformation of the country into a different and better country, more attuned to the world, less stuffy, less exclusive, more Hispanic, more democratic. I happened to see one game, the England-Algeria match, and I described my honest, deeply felt, welling-up-from-the-depths reaction to it. It was, obviously, my reaction, my opinion. But it happens to be an opinion that is more or less shared by an awful lot of Americans, many of whom are probably more knowledgeable about the game than I am, and whose lack of interest in game is not based on ignorance, but on knowing the game and not liking it.

Finally, to end this exchange with a little tit for tat, I could say about your criticism of my criticism of soccer the same thing that you say about my criticism of soccer: if you didn’t like it, you could have declined to read it, you could have declined to talk about it.

LA continues:

Also, your complaint with me is built on an incorrect premise, that if Americans only knew soccer, they would like it as much as the rest of the world does. This is reminiscent of the liberal idea that if we only knew more about foreign cultures, we would like them and want to embrace them, instead of being so prejudiced against them. At bottom this is the quintessentially liberal idea that all differences between people can be overcome by education. But this idea is wrong. Sometimes the more we know about a foreign culture or people, the more we dislike it or them. In the same way, it’s entirely possible that even if Americans understood soccer well, they would still dislike it, because (in my view) there is something about the game that is antipathetic to the American spirit.

So, while you are entitled to your opinion—and maybe your opinion is correct— that my criticisms of soccer are nothing but the gaseous effusions of ignorant prejudice, I think it’s at least equally likely that my statements express a truth about soccer and a truth about the American character in its rejection of soccer.

Clark Coleman replies:
A few simple and obvious replies:

1) I referred not just to your comments, but the comments from your readers (which you chose to publish in several blog entries). That is a bigger collection of comments than just yours. [LA replies: Well, I couldn’t reply on behalf of other people, but only on behalf of myself.. Also, by far the most sweeping criticism of soccer was my own, at the beginning of this current entry.]

2) If you want to object to what Time magazine says about soccer, it does not require that you criticize soccer. Soccer should not suffer guilt by association. [LA replies: this reminds me of the argument that I shouldn’t criticize the hype put forth by science journalism and self-promoting scientists about the latest scientific discoveries, since that does not represent science. Sorry, but the public presentation, promotion, and propaganda of a thing are a major part of that thing.]

3) Your opinion is shared by many Americans, but they are not generally more knowledgeable about soccer than you are. That was my point. Most of us (myself included) did not grow up with soccer. That includes most Americans, hence America has trouble supporting a professional league. [LA replies: the reason I doubt this is that I, unlike most Americans, pay little attention to sports (or at least that’s the case over the last 20 years or so, as I’ve previously discussed); most Americans watch sports a good deal, watch ESPN, and a good many of them must see some soccer matches on ESPN occasionally and know a good deal more about soccer than I do; yet they feel the same about soccer as I do.]

4) Commenting after watching one game (England-Algeria) without even inquiring among soccer fans as to whether that is a typical game is just another example of pointless commenting. Are there any bad baseball games? Basketball games? Football games? I think you understand the problem with using a single data point, but you are lowering your standard of logical discourse because of the Time magazine propaganda and similar articles. [LA replies: This is a hair-splitting and silly argument. Data point? Logical discourse? Come on. I was simply expressing my personal reaction to what I was seeing.]

5) Your final comment is simply a bad analogy. I said that those who do not understand something should decline to watch it and decline to post criticisms about it. That does not apply to the situation in which I responded to the VFR comments about soccer, because I understand the comments. [LA replies: I reject your premise that I had no right to express my reactions to that soccer game—a reaction I have had my whole life, a reaction of indescribable boredom and ennui—in the absence of a sophisticated knowledge of the game, its rules, its strategies. For heaven’s sake, the game is about getting the ball into the opposing team’s goal. Perhaps my reaction is nothing but that of l’homme moyen sensuel (the average, sensual man) who knows nothing of the sophisticated things he rejects. But if so, then, to paraphrase President Nixon on his selection of Judge Haynsworth (or was it Carswell?), there are an awful lot of hommes moyens sensuels in America, and they deserve to be represented too.]

Clark Coleman continues:

You wrote:

“Also, your complaint with me is built on an incorrect premise, that if Americans only knew soccer, they would like it as much as the rest of the world does.”

Where did I state this incorrect premise? More faulty logic on your part. I said that understanding is usually necessary to appreciation, but I did not state that it was sufficient. I understand some sports that I don’t really care to watch any more, basketball being one example. Necessary and sufficient are distinct logical requirements. [LA replies: more logical hairsplitting and excessively exacting requirements on your part. Clearly you were suggesting that if I knew more about the rules and inner strategies of the game, I would not have a such a negative reaction to it. And clearly that is not necessarily true.

[A further thing you don’t grasp is that I find the game so uninteresting and depressing to watch that I have absolutely no desire to know more about its rules and strategies. Compare to baseball and football. It is my observation that when people who aren’t familiar with those games are introduced to them, they immediately become inquisitive about the rules of the game and why these various odd things are happening on the field, and that as soon as the rules are explained to them, they become interested in and excited by the game. I don’t think that this is the case with soccer.]

Americans will not be likely to ever embrace soccer as one of the country’s major sports, but that has to do with American exceptionalism, which is a different topic than the one I addressed (although it is an interesting one). Understanding soccer will not be sufficient to overcome American exceptionalism, hence I never claimed that understanding the game would cause Americans to like the game as much as the rest of the world does. They won’t. [LA replies: Well, if you feel that way, why couldn’t you have simplified (or rather rendered unnecessary) this whole discussion by simply seeing my comments as an expression of American exceptionalism rather than as an expression of American ignorance? The odd answer is that, in your view, it’s ok and to be expected if most Americans persist in rejecting soccer, but that before they reject soccer, they must first acquire an expert knowledge of the game! And you are again missing the fundamental point that in order to want to learn about a subject, people must first feel some attraction to it. But most Americans don’t feel an attraction to soccer, so they’re not going to want to learn more about it. Which means, Clark, that you are stuck with the reality that most Americans are going to continue to reject soccer without having the advanced knowledge of the game that you feel they are obligated to have before they have the right to reject it.]

Daniel H. writes:

Thanks for posting my earlier comment about soccer. I read with interest your further remarks and those of your other readers.

Though I am, as you know from my earlier comment, a lover of soccer, I think you and Peter B. are absolutely right when you descry an anti-American agenda in the liberal embrace of soccer. When I mentioned to people that I was eagerly awaiting the World Cup this year, I got one of two reactions. Most people shrugged and smiled politely; these are the vast majority of Americans who just don’t care. The second reaction I got very occasionally was, “Oh yes, me too!” Curiously, this second reaction was often followed with “Who’s your team?”

I’m a regular, white American born and raised in the States. No one would ever mistake me for a foreigner. And yet, as a soccer-lover, my patriotic loyalties are immediately thrown in doubt. The question is asked openly and without irony. Fellow World Cup lovers honestly have no idea which country I might be cheering for, because loyalty is an alien concept to 95 percent of these people. I have quite perfected a sort of incredulous, recriminatory-if-jovial expression that I use when asked this question by a fellow American. “Really?” I ask, and pause…. “Who’s my team? Really!?!?” This usually gets the sheepish response I aim for, upon which I pump both fists and shout just a little too loud: “USA, baby!” I’d venture to suggest that most soccer fans in the States find cheering for America to be somewhere between vaguely distasteful and distinctly distasteful.

This naturally makes it all the sweeter to meet other true fans. In a country full of two kinds of people, those who don’t care about our sport and those who don’t love our country, it makes for a refreshing esprit-de-corps when gathering in small, ragged bands of true blue USA Soccer fans (keep in mind, also, that we are usually underdogs on the world stage). I readily admit this has increased the appeal for me.

Finally, I happen to live in liberal Seattle where the local professional soccer team, the Sounders, is far and away the most popular in the country despite only being two years old. Attendance at the games is regularly in the tens of thousands, and the people are loud. There is a huge amount of Euro-posing going on here. But I have an odd kind of faith. These are people who are embarrassed to love their country and—when the sport is an “ugly” American one like baseball or football—embarrassed to cheer on their hometown. But exuberant joy at a soccer game is not nothing. Perhaps one or two of these people will find their way through ironic love of the team to real love of the team, and from real love of a soccer team to real love of their city and country, and from real love of their country to the sweet, graceful, and unironic positivity that Chesterton called the Patriotism of the World. Which universal gratitude of course is the polar opposite—through a mirror brightly, if you will—of the soccer fan’s typical joyless “cosmopolitanism.”

Apologies for the rambling. I get excited on this topic … is the foam showing about my mouth?

Yours truly,
Daniel H.

PS to Kristor: Here I am quoting Chesterton as if he were already old hat to me ;-)

LA replies:

Kristor won’t see your comment, at least right away; he told me he’s away on vacation this week.

Josh F. writes:

Clark Coleman may be right if he thinks one needs to KNOW the game of soccer to appreciate it, but the spectator HAS NO DIFFICULTY in assessing the ATHLETICISM of the players. And this is where soccer is a big fail.

Has anyone ever seen so many MALE athletes curl up in the fetal position after getting kicked in the shin?

Has anyone ever seen so many MALE athletes protest the yellow card with all the dramatics of a drag queen?

Has anyone ever seen so many MALE athletes that look positively feminine (petite with long flowing hair)?

Soccer is in many ways a “universal” sport where barriers of entry based on money or gender are considered nonexistent. Soccer costs nothing to play and it has to be one of the few team sports where CO- ED competition is a real future possibility, to the glee of the equalitists.

As you say, this liberal love affair with soccer is largely politically motivated. And just as the increased fanaticism for professional basketball and football is largely driven by a desire to prove black “supremacy,” the increased fanaticism for soccer is largely driven by the desire to prove the “supremacy” of girly males.

LA replies:

I have not noticed that the soccer players seem girly. To the contrary, they seem like athletic, masculine men. I just find them and the sport unbearably boring and uninteresting, and all the excitement put into it an exercise in emptiness. I also think that their emotion when they score a goal is excessive and silly.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 19, 2010 03:26 PM | Send

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