Thursday, June 17, 2010

Football as an Ideological Tool

Terry Eagleton on football:

 If every rightwing thinktank came up with a scheme to distract the populace from political injustice and compensate them for lives of hard labour, the solution in each case would be the same: football. No finer way of resolving the problems of capitalism has been dreamed up, bar socialism. And in the tussle between them, football is several light years ahead. Modern societies deny men and women the experience of solidarity, which football provides to the point of collective delirium. Most car mechanics and shop assistants feel shut out by high culture; but once a week they bear witness to displays of sublime artistry by men for whom the word genius is sometimes no mere hype. . .  
In a social order denuded of ceremony and symbolism, football steps in to enrich the aesthetic lives of people for whom Rimbaud is a cinematic strongman. The sport is a matter of spectacle but, unlike trooping the colour, one that also invites the intense participation of its onlookers. Men and women whose jobs make no intellectual demands can display astonishing erudition when recalling the game's history or dissecting individual skills. Learned disputes worthy of the ancient Greek forum fill the stands and pubs. Like Bertolt Brecht's theatre, the game turns ordinary people into experts.
 Read more here.

It is well-known that dictatorships of all types of political persuasion used football to distract people from what was going on around them and made them feel patriotic towards a country that at that very moment was posing a mortal danger to every one of its citizens. Stalin allowed football fans to participate in an extremely mild form of anti-KGB sentiment through the choice of a team everybody supported and that was the main rival of the KGB-sponsored team. During the Dirty War in Argentina, people managed not to notice the dead bodies washed up on the banks of the River Plate every day, the humiliating Falklands War, their relatives and neighbors being taken away at night to be tortured because of their national team's success. In Franco's Spain, screaming during a football game was the only way to express the rage that was burning people from the inside.

So should we agree with Eagleton? Should football be sent to the trash heap of history because of its inherently conservative nature? One thing that Eagleton is forgetting to mention in his analysis is that football is a beautiful game. And it is possible for people who have no use for "collective delirium," who feel very much a part of the "high culture," whose aesthetic lives are rich and whose jobs make all kinds of intellectual demands on them to enjoy football.


robert said...

It's a really frustrating piece and one ultimately I disagree with. It would seem that TE has missed how football has long been an area for potential political activism - see the history of FC St. Pauli in the German League. Even in (my home town) Cardiff there is a section of the local supporters group who recently marched against right-wing groups in the city alongside the local socialist and communist partys.

Yes it's bad: wholly commercialised and totally complicit with some of the most horrible aspects of, what some might call, neo-imperialism. But to say that it preculdes the possibility of radical change would seem to over egg the pudding.

One could make a very similar argument for cinema or publishing, but I'm guessing TE doesn't feel the same way about them.....

Clarissa said...

Thank you for a great comment.

And too bad on the US-England game. I was rooting for England the entire time.

Good luck with Algeria tomorrow!!!

human said...

No, I think he's wrong about the solution.

He's right that football gives people a way to feel solidarity. But that's a good thing. It's good practice! If the alternative is people who've never felt solidarity before, they won't know it and they won't know what to do with it when we try to organize them.

Football: solidarity training ground.

I think it has promise!

robert said...

@human 'solidarity training' is a great phrase. I think I might start refering all group activities as this :)

@clarrisa - thanks! I think we'll need a little. Algeria are going to park the bus in front of goal.

V said...

I am really worried about those North-Koreans though... They are probably going to end up in a labor camp ... Except the one who scored the goal...
Have you heard that the supporters of North Korea turned out to be Chinese whom North Korea gave the free tickets?

Anonymous said...

"Football is a beautiful game."

Bah... you're such a formalist:)

Anonymous said...

So... Eagleton is not a huge fan of Manchester United?


Anonymous said...

Solidarity training ground, I agree with that.