Thursday, July 01, 2010

Book - "How Soccer Explains the World"

Title: How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization
Author: Franklin Foer
Publisher: San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2004, (288 pages).

This is surprise find! Especially with the 2010 World Cup Soccer going on in South Africa right now, it could not have been a better time for me to read this book. Written by a football fan, Foer navigates the world through the eyes of soccer, and asserts that the culture of soccer transcends many places and people groups. He uses soccer to explain the gangster behavior, the pornography of sects, Jewish, Hooliganism, survival of the upper echelons of society, black carpathians, new oligarchs, Islam and ends with what I believe is the author's main interest: "American culture wars."

Foer aims to look at globalization from the eye of the sport he loves, soccer. Soccer has more to do with a way of life rather than a type of sport. Through soccer, we learn to understand more of the cultures around the world, that gives the global sport a new identity of cultural analyst. The book is broadly divided into three parts. The first part talks about the failure of globalization to unite the world. The second part deals with economics from the perspective of soccer influencing understanding of cultures behind the economics. The third part is a way of defending 'old-fashioned nationalism' versus the 'return of tribalism.'

Contrary to what the Left predicted, that globalization will destroy local cultures, soccer has helped strengthened loyalties. Instead of capitalism providing positive results, it has entrenched corruption.

  • GANGSTERISM: "Deprived of traditional work and knocked off patriachal pedestals, these men desperately wanted to reassert their masculinity. Soccer violence gave them a rare opportunity to actually exert control." (in Serbia, 13-14)
  • RELIGIOSITY & TRADITION: "It's easy to link support for a soccer club with religiosity. But in an important way, Rangers has actually replaced the Church of Scotland. It allows men like Findlay to join the tradition and institutions of their forefathers, to allay fears about abandoning history without having to embrace their forefathers' eschatology." (in Scotland, 56)
  • JEWISH QUESTION: "Jewish teams cloak themselves in Jewish, not Hungarian or Austrian or German, nationalism, literally wearing their zionism on their sleeves and shirts. . . An entire movement of Jews believed that soccer, and sport more generally, would liberate them from the violence and tyranny of anti-Semitism." (in Europe, 68-9)
  • SENTIMENTAL HOOLIGAN: as a reaction ". . against globalization. . , the McDonald's-smashing French farmer Jose Bove, and countless others: multinational capitalism strips local institutions of their localness, it homogenizes, destroys traditions, and deprives indigenous proletariats and peasants of the things they love most." (in England, 96)
  • TOP HATS SURVIVAL: How soccer legends like Pele help revive falling political careers among the power mongers; "Despite the persistence of corruption, Brazil's mania for soccer has hardly abated; its natural soccer resources don't seem close to exhausted. It's too essentially a part of the national character." (in Brazil, 140)
  • BLACK CARPATHIANS: "To many Ukrainians, their country still felt like a colony of Russia. . This despair played out in soccer too. Ukrainians imagined that they were once a great soccer natin. Now they needed to import Nigerians to become great again." (in Ukraine, 157)
  • NEW OLIGARCHS: "There was also a populist brilliance to his use of soccer as a metaphor for society. It gave him a vocabulary that resonated with the lower middle class, the group that he wanted to cultivate as a political base." (in Italy, 185-6)
  • BOURGEOIS NATIONALISM: Instead of soccer violence, "Barca redeems the game from these criticisms, by showing that fans can love a club and a country with passion and without turning into a thug or terrorist. . . . Put it more strongly, Barca doesn't just redeem the game from is critics; it redeems the concept of nationalism." (in Spain, 197-8)
  • ISLAM's HOPE: "Iranians crave international soccer because the game links them to the advanced, capitalist, un-Islamic West. . . . The burgeoning youth population of Iran looked West and toward soccer for inspiration." (in Iran, 230, 232)
  • AMERICAN CULTURE WARS: "Soccer's appeal lay in its opposition to the other popular sports. Soccer is the province of the working class." (USA, 237-8)
My Comments
In trying to show globalization from the eyes of soccer, I feel that the author may have become overly skewed about the role of soccer in interpreting the impact of globalization in the world. No doubt, soccer is a major influence in many parts of the world. Having said that, soccer only explains some, at least according to the selected interviews of various personalities in the countries represented. That provides a somewhat slant perspective. While Foer makes some good observations of certain impact, I feel that the content of the book fails to adequately answer the title of the book. At best, I tend to say the effects are peripheral, meaning that Foer's thesis fail to address core questions like the extent of influence, real statistics of soccer, and other variables.

That said, it is still a fresh way of thinking that will perhaps be improved with more examples from other countries mentined. What about Asia?

Rating: 2.5 stars of 5.


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