Football or Soccer: Post-Consumerism in the Globalization era

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Let’s create a seductive & self-serving personal narrative, shall we? First, let’s point to two interesting trends across the Atlantic. Many Americans are turning their gaze to the English Premiership. In part, soccer, the sport itself, draws a crowd with dynamic play. However, another factor is unhappiness with the status quo’s alternative sports. In particular, many Americans are disenchanted with the commercial-laden National Football League. TV timeouts ruin the flow of the game. Do we really need to have our heads polluted by Bud Lime immediately after each and every punt? By comparison, the Premier League’s 45 minutes of uninterrupted play is a pristine ocean. For Americans, soccer is the “new punk.” Arsenal are “The Clash” and London is calling.

However, across the Atlantic, many Brits turn to the amateur ranks and even the bundesliga. They view the EPL as a McDonald’s franchise. Some great blogs focus on the lower level leagues, and their readership swells by the day.  Folks are drawn to these less commercialized alternatives, seeking a more “pure form” of footy. In the Guardian, writer x reflects on the eternal struggle between noble amateur spirits and the cannibalistic capitalist entrepreneurs. Right? Right?

Or maybe, just maybe, this discourse overlooks a few important points.

The US and UK populations mentioned above share a common theme: they desire to leave the overly commercialized & known world for less materialist pleasures. This creates a dilemma I refer to as the Modest-Mouse-Complex (MMC) – once a large enough critical mass fills the college town dive bar to listen to “The Cold Part”, the industry executive gets wind and offers the record label deal. At that stage, “pop” singles become inevitable. Thus, this series of individual decisions adds up to effectively commercialize the product that was originally sought for not being overly commercialized.

But is the MMC theory really true? In a sense, depicting these individual consumers as entirely innocent is disingenuous. First, if we can glean anything from the indie rock pitchfork scene, it’s that insecure individuals will cling to knowledge as a refuge of exclusivity and superiority.  “Wait, you haven’t heard Sufjan Stevens’ B-sides from his high school garage band that were leaked six hours ago on Kazaa? Sheesh.” Should the knowledge within the soccer blogosphere be treated in a similar fashion? Underneath this view of knowledge lies a hyper-competitive individual seeking to assert superiority by consumption of increasingly esoteric tastes.

Thus, we would love to paint ourselves in the innocent light as consumers walking around a desert of materialism, looking for an oasis of meaning but being followed by vultures. The reality is that we are the vultures. The individuals who seek esoteric consumption are merely the vanguard, the advanced scouts, and they enjoy the first pick at the fresh carcass before everyone else arrives.

What I’m saying, then, is that in the age of instant information transfers and widespread internet we have no escape. In 1970, Albert Heischman wrote a treatise on consumer preferences. He articulated three options when faced with a certain good: “Exit, Voice, or Loyalty.” The GPS, cellphone camera, and netbook have killed the “exit” option – we can no longer cannonball into an unknown swimming pool of amateurism. So what can we do? What should we do?

First and foremost, an honest self-assessment: you are a consumer. Look at yourself in the mirror. Smile. Look at those teeth. Look at those eyes. Look as those ears. You live in a material world. You consume material things. Second, after accepting this fact, you must examine your motives. Is knowledge a means to stroke your ego? Or something to be shared and spread with those less fortunate? Third, you must acknowledge consequences. When you venture into new, uncharted waters, a crowd will follow. Will you just keep sailing?

Solutions abound. Loyalty and voice can combine to fight back the obnoxious elements of over-commercialization. Don’t like the bud lime ads? Change your consumer preferences to a TiVo and zip past them.  You can even explore altruistic methods – while I mercilessly mocked supporters’ trusts last year because they are not a panacea to club driven debt, a more active role in your consumption of football may be warranted. Be more than an idle spectator.

The temptation is to paint globalization in broad brushstrokes and lament the loss of “local customs.” From an economists’ perspective, some customs are simply superior to others. Also, customs are neither static nor eternal. Football is a microcosm of this. The interchange between Spaniards and Englishmen has left the Spanish much more direct & assertive in the offensive third – adding an aerial threat and cutting edge to their native intricate midfield play. Thus, globalization does not wipe away local customs – it mixes them in a pot with other customs. And you, as an assertive, informed, (and inevitable) consumer, can exercise your preference for the local way. Or not. But remember: what you decide has consequences beyond yourself.

So the next time you feel that you’ve discovered the next “great sporting thing,” the next amateur league or foreign professional campeonato, accept the truth. You may have entered a pristine nursery…but you just left the sanatorium. Cover your mouth when you cough.

Digital Image Impression: the amazingly talented artist Erik Ebeling. Check out his other work at ErikEbelingArt .

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