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world cup: i am watching, but mostly because i’m a bandwagon-hopper.

June 15, 2010

excuse the played-out meme, but the vuvuzelas! their effect needed to be acknowledge in this post.

If I’m honest, I am really only a fair weather sort of sports fan. I watch college basketball: during the UNC-Duke games, and during tournament time, until UNC wins or is eliminated. And while I can get into the games and feel the thrill of victory or sting of defeat as much as anyone, I’m not in it for the actual sports so much as I’m interested in the collective experience, the social dynamic of being part of something way, way bigger, of smiling at random people on the streets and celebrating with them just because they’re wearing the same colors as you. Getting caught up in this stuff is a way to participate and connect with other people (Plus I’ve found that you are sort of a social non-entity if you can’t at least offer a few casual remarks about the basketball team, so I do what I must to survive). Which is why I am trying to keep up with the World Cup this year. I watched the England-USA match, and was thrilled when I IMed a friend, halfway across the world, and said, “are you watching the game?” And it was THE game. The game that everyone was watching. No need to clarify which game.

I am interested in the commentary about why and whether and to what extent Americans are interested in the World Cup. I am tickled by how much of this type of musing is being done, in relation to just plain old straight-ahead sports coverage, and how meta and hand-wringing a lot of it is.

I think we’re all impressed with ourselves for mustering the collective energy to care, at least a little, about the World Cup this year. Here’s some of the stuff I’ve been reading:

USA: No one rates us and we don’t care

The loneliness of the American soccer fan

The True Story of American Soccer

Sunil Gulati: U.S. Are Creative, Gosh Darn It

Nation’s Soccer Fan Becoming Insufferable and The Onion Sports Introduction to World Cup Soccer

Conservatives Explain Inherent Socialism, Anti-Americanism Of Soccer (for the lulz)

et cetera.

My own ridiculous what-does-it-all-mean idea: Is our rising interest in soccer ( the world’s game!) tied–however tenuously– to our waning hegemony (and to the rise of the Millennial generation, who are described in this new Pew center report as “confident, connected, and open to change”, and therefore, more open to the rest of the world)? I don’t know, it’s just wild speculation, but until the US is really, truly, deeply in decline, or until the multi-polar moment really takes full effect, Americans have had and will have the luxury of easily being able to ignore everything else in the world, if they want to. Witness our  cowboy unilateralism; our obstinate resistance to the metric system; or the rest of the world’s more-than-passing familiarity with our language and culture and history, while most of us can’t really tell you much about the rest of the world. That’s not really ideal, but it is understandable because of the outsize influence the US has had on the world. But as we slide toward greater parity with other countries, I think we’ll have to adjust a little, we’ll have to maybe learn other languages, get sensitive to other cultures, other political dynamics; we’ll have to start caring about what the rest of the world thinks. Enter soccer.

According to some estimates,  80 per cent of the world’s population– EIGHTY PERCENT OF THE WORLDS POPULATION–will watch the World Cup. (I guess that other 20% is made up of Americans and people too busy eking out their existence in extremely war-torn and otherwise ravaged or remote areas.)  Isn’t it a little bit exciting to be swept up in something with the whole rest of the world? To be watching the same game at the same time with people on different continents, around so many different tv sets, talking trash in so many different languages?

I think I will be hanging out in Warsaw’s airport during the US-Slovenia match on Friday. I aim to find an airport lounge or bar with a TV, and rep hard.

OH, and in closing. MY FLIGHT LEAVES IN TWO DAYS OH MY GOD. I went to a party in Raleigh this weekend and struck up a conversation with a stranger, a Warren Wilson student. As you may or may not know, James Franco, the actor, does creative writing. One time he spent winter break doing poetry at Warren Wilson. The WW student said James Franco is not that cool, but. This guy, if he’s to be believed, has gone shoe shopping with bell hooks. (I would be intimidated to go shoe shopping with bell hooks, lest she judge my taste in shoes and find it wanting.) America, man. I tell you what.

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