A Defense of Indifference to Soccer

I enjoy soccer live, though I admit I follow it only intermittently. But the burning question is: why don’t Americans like soccer? [who gives a f*ck? — ed.] A Brit named Duleep Allirajah does, you dyspeptic twit.

Here is Allirajah’s spirited attack on football-ignoring Americans (thesis), and his spirited defense of same (antithesis):

It is an undisputed fact that most Americans don’t really like football. This failure to ‘get’ football is often interpreted by Brits as a sign of American insularity and philistinism. Exhibit A, m’lud, is that the Yanks don’t like draws. They want to see a winner. They want shoot-outs to settle games. Exhibit B is that Americans don’t like low-scoring games. The only thing that Americans hate more than 0-0 draws is Osama bin Laden. So short is the average American’s concentration span that, unless there’s a goal every two minutes, they’re trotting off to the catering stall to buy another chilli dog. Exhibit C is the fact that they insist on calling it ‘soccer’. M’lud, I rest my case.

If we look beyond this kind of crude anti-Americanism we find a rich and sophisticated sporting culture in the US. American sports fans are every bit as knowledgeable and passionate about the sports they follow as European or Latin American football fans….

This week … a ‘personal invitation’ from Alan Hansen appeared in my email inbox to subscribe to the Daily Telegraph’s fantasy football league. These leagues, which have turned a generation of British football enthusiasts into stats-obsessed nerds, were originally invented by US baseball fans. Americans are also ahead of the curve when it comes to writing about sport. Long before Nick Hornby penned Fever Pitch, American writers such as Philip Roth, Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer and Don DeLillo showed that serious writers could ‘do’ sport. Americans also make far better sports films than the Brits. They can produce works of cinematic splendour like Raging Bull while we just make rubbish like When Saturday Comes.

For the synthesis, go read the whole thing. You will, in fact, be rewarded by Hegelian sentences such as "The fact is that a football culture cannot be mechanistically transplanted or imposed on to other societies; it has to develop organically."

Amis Insulting People

For purposes of clarity, Martin Amis, back when he was young, could insult with the best of them (in context, his quotation is a mea culpa for this phase).  Two examples, from a 1986 book of essays about the U.S. called The Moronic Inferno:

"Pretty Nancy Reagan sat down beside her husband. As I was soon to learn, her adoring, damp-eyed expression never changes when she is in public. Bathed in Ronnie’s aura, she always looks like Bambi being reunited with her parents." (p.89)

On William Burroughs: "Most of Burroughs is trash, and lazily obsessive trash too — you could chuck it all out and not diminish what status he has as a writer. But the good bits are good. Reading him is like staring for a week at a featureless sky; every few hours a bird will come into view, or if you’re lucky, an aeroplane might climb past, but things remain meaningless and monotone. Then, without warning (and not for long, and for no coherent reason, and almost always in The Naked Lunch), something happens: abruptly the clouds grow warlike, and the air is full of portents." (p.144)

And for good measure, the Lonely Planet Guide to Germany calls Heino a "tranquilised albino Ken-doll."

Speaking of Germany, you may be asking yourself, ‘hey, isn’t this blog supposed to be about Germany?’ Well yes, but really there’s not much interesting going on in Germany these days, if I do say so myself. Coming up: a review of a Slovenian novel, and perhaps a few comments about Greece. Then back to Germany, I promise!

Americans as Unwilling Diplomats

Der Spiegel has a story on American exchange students (G) in Germany who’ve had the same experience I have: being forced into ultra-tedious conversations about U.S. foreign policy everybloodywhere they go.  The story of one lad, Edward Janssen (my translation):

Edward Janssen describes the typical conversation with a German classmate. First question: What’s your name? Second question: Where do you come from? Third question: Did you vote for Bush? And then he’s right in the middle of a discussion of the Iraq war, the death penalty, gun laws, and environmental protection.

A German professor of American studies argues that the discussion culture is different in Germany, politics are the stuff of everday conversations, and direct questions about political views should not be seen as attacks.  An American college student who goes to schools to talk about the U.S. as part of a ‘Rent-an-American’ program has a slightly different take.  Noting the smug self-righteousness of the students she meets, she describes younger Germans as opinionated and knowing ‘exactly what’s right and wrong.’

I’ve got my own strategies for avoiding yet another conversation about politics (yawn) with a finger-wagging German, and I’ll share them when I get back into regular blogging rhythm (late July). In the meantime, have fun with the article.