" Bread, circuses and football fever: do I care about the World Cup? | Madam Miaow Says

Friday, 11 June 2010

Bread, circuses and football fever: do I care about the World Cup?

Football as gladiatorial combat, World Cup 2010
Football — the continuation of war by other means.

The trouble with football (collapsing a whole long list into a handful of bugbears) is that its mindset bears an uncanny resemblance to the belief in "my country/party right or wrong". It appears designed to programme the collective brain out of thinking and nuance, making those same synaptic connections that can only deal with black and white, binary three-minute hate. Us (good) and them (bad).

Coming out of the Second World War, which devastated huge swathes of the globe, we valued our intellectuals and artists for helping to make the world a better place. Nowadays, changing social conditions means social engineering, militarising society and the creation a nation of gladiators. From Sky to Skynet, turning you into a combat machine. Prepare to be assimilated.

It's like living in Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Existence reduced to sex and death as we close ourselves down. All hail the sacred ground where you mash the opposition into the dirt, whether on the field, in the ring or at the dispatch box.

Laurie Penny writes a very funny miserablist piece on the upcoming World Cup in the New Statesman — Why I Despise The World Cup — and makes the point that, while we're staring at the bread and circuses spectacle of the World Cup (on at a television near you from today), this is the reality for those of us who swallowed the red pill.
Young people are in crisis, poor people are in crisis, unemployment stands at 2.5 million, the Labour movement is still leaderless and directionless, and there's a brutal train of Tory public service cuts coming over the hill.

To those who cry that this is a proletarian pastime, whatever it was, it ain't now.
... football is no longer the people's sport. Just look at the brutal contempt that the police reserve for fans, or count the number of working-class Britons who can afford to attend home matches, much less the festivities in South Africa. Then there's the uncomfortable fact that the World Cup is only and always about men.

Er, and the WAGS. Don't forget the frocks and the shopping, a crucial component of any major footballing event.

Do I really want to identify with massively overpaid narcissists and their big-buck masters? How does victory for one set of businessmen over another set improve my life?

I love the artistry of great footballers. Watching George Best run rings around his opponents like he was occupying a different time and space was a joy to behold. But the small local football team that was part of the community is a myth, destroyed when British soccer emulated the American sports system and became a money-spinning industry, making your passion something that could be bought and sold. It bears the same relationship to the beautiful game as porn does to sex. So your team can spend millions on a talent from Nowheresville, Abroad? Well done. That means you are the best because some oligarch had deep pockets.

An irate Nick Cohen quoted Orwell at me (cheeky!) because I said I wanted both sides to lose this Saturday when England plays the US, accusing me of being ashamed of being English like the typical lefty wot I yam. But he misses the point. Which England does he mean? The England having its safety net dismantled by the Tories and Ramsay McClegg? Or the England that produced some of the best art and culture in the world with the post-war democratising of the state?

I cheer England on in athletics because it isn't about two sides crushing each other. It really is the best man or woman winning through skill and it is possible to appreciate the accomplishments of the winner even if they aren't on your team. Same with British culture when we do something great in film or music.

There's no point admonishing detractors of the sport for somehow not being patriotic.

To riposte with an Orwell quote of my own: "If we really want to punish the people who weakened national morale at critical moments, there are other culprits who are nearer home and better worth chasing."

I'll probably succumb, though, and watch the bloody thing out of curiosity and an indulgence of my own pack instincts, despite Loved One insisting the only thing worse than watching a team sport is playing one. For those about to die over control of the TV remote, I salute you. I wonder who'll win.

Republished at Liberal Conspiracy.

8 comments:

Gwei Mui said...

Scorchio..oooooo! I think sometimes there is definitely more Oi! for England in football than any other sport - and you're right football has ceased in my mind to be a sport well at this level it has. It's more about the money, the merchandising, the stars and less and less about the artistry of football. Having said that no doubt I will succumb and end up watching at least one or two games

harpymarx said...

Teehee... at work we had a World Cup lucky dip and I picked..... Honduras... Well, in the ratings they are beating En-ger-land and that cheered me up...

But indeed the pomp and celebrity serves as a distraction from the misery and the poverty (poverty of the game as well as it squeezes out working class people as it has become elitist and expensive form of entertainment to watch... Season tickets are unbelievably expensive and if you have kids....more expensive).

The other thing is South Africa and its capitulation to neoliberalism. Again, the World Cup hides the try level of poverty and oppression in South Africa. Apartheid may have fell but now there's massive inequalities and poverty that exist. I remember an activist based in SA saying to me that at least with apartheid you knew who the enemy was but fighting poverty is totally different.

Another thing about the World Cup is that domestic violence increases...During the last World Cup, there was a surge in attacks on the day of each of England's five games. Reported attacks soared by an average of a quarter, and on one match day - when England beat Paraguay - the police reported a 31% increase.

Czarny Kot said...

For various reasons, including some of those mentioned above, I am slowly but surely falling out of love with football, despite being a lifelong fan and, normally, a World Cup anorak.

However, I live in Poland, whose team have not qualified. This means that the worst excesses of marketing masquerading as patriotism are absent. Instead the matches are shown with a minimum of fuss, which is perfect for purists like me.

C'mon Paraguay! And Spain. And England of course..

bristolred said...

Totally agree with your post and the comments above. Swore I wouldn't watch the thing at all, but after a rather miserable day succumbed and switched on the Engerland game, though with the commentary turned off and some pleasant music playing in the background. And I was rewarded with THAT goal, watching the ball slip through the Engerland keeper's hands. Much jubilation in the Bristol Red household! Watching Engerland fuck up is almost worth the hype of the event. Almost...

Madam Miaow said...

Well, guys, I ended up watching it after all. We were at a friend's birthday party surrounded by football loathing musicians but we all succumbed. We thought it started at 7:45 so missed the first goal, but were so surprised that Ingerland had got off to a good start that we turned off the music and watched properly (apart from those who held their moral ground but were driven out into the next room).

I ended up being the noisiest supporter of plucky little England and howled at Butterfingers Green at That Moment. Well done, Bristol Red, for holding the line. You are a better man than I.

Paul said...

'Well, guys, I ended up watching it after all. We were at a friend's birthday party surrounded by football loathing musicians but we all succumbed.'

That's actually funny and more than a bit fickle. Britain did produce good art after 1945. But we were more militarised as a society in 1945 than now by a country mile. Still I bloody hate football, always have. Rugby now that's a game.

Madam Miaow said...

HI Paul. Yes, I knew I wouldn't resist.

Re culture, Britain practically invented the Sixties and influenced much of the planet in music, fashion, design, theatre and art.

I agree that we were more militarised after the war but the point I'm trying to make is that there's a move to return us there, and I think it comes through clearly in TV and movies with so much emphasis on a binary tooled-up Us vs Them.

Gregor said...

'An irate Nick Cohen quoted Orwell at me (cheeky!) because I said I wanted both sides to lose this Saturday when England plays the US, accusing me of being ashamed of being English like the typical lefty wot I yam. But he misses the point. Which England does he mean? The England having its safety net dismantled by the Tories and Ramsay McClegg? Or the England that produced some of the best art and culture in the world with the post-war democratising of the state?'

Well said. To be fair though re football, my fellow Scots do tend to be rather obsessive about it, though we are pretty good at giving the Tories a hiding.

ShareThis