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Gianluigi Buffon’s Battle with the Culture Industry as Emblematic of the Postmodern World’s Double Standards

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Buffon: A Legend, Who Is Not Afraid to Talk About Depression Or Anything Else. Image Courtesy of: https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/qkqy7m/gianluigi-buffon-from-darkness-into-light

 

Author’s Note: This Post Was Originally Written as an Assignment for a Qualitative Methods Seminar. Please Excuse the Excessive Use of Academic Citations.

 

Paul Atkinson’s Thinking Ethnographically explains one facet of the modern world well: Citing Harold Garfinkel, Atkinson explains that “degradation requires a ‘perpetrator’ to be denounced before some witness or audience, and for there to be agreement that there has been a serious infraction of collective values, in such a way that displays the true character of the perpetrator, and is not a minor blemish. Nowadays such degradations and character threats are likely to be seen in mass media and social media” (Atkinson 2017: 89). Atkinson ties these “degradation ceremonies”, as he calls them, to labelling. For Atkinson “labeling implies attribution. In the course of labeling our fellow actors, we attribute to them particular kinds of motives, characters, and other attributes” (Ibid.: 90). Here we see that the label is tied to the individual’s character, which carries with it a strong moral connotation.

 

Ostertag and Ortiz’s 2017 article regarding bloggers writing about hurricane Katrina touches on the same moral point, as they note that bloggers “communicate personalized stories packaged with emotional and moral messages (Ostertag and Ortiz 2017: 63). In fact, the authors quantitatively point out just how often “moralities” are mentioned in the blog content they analyze, showing that “blogging served [for Katrina bloggers] as an outlet to direct their emotional energies and voice their senses of moral indignation” (Ibid.: 70). Unfortunately, I believe the authors miss the mark on their analysis when they claim that this stress on “morality” facilitates “the development of social ties rooted in trust, compassion and companionship” (Ibid.: 76). Quite the contrary, I believe that the stress on morals—which carries with it an implicit character degradation (in the manner that Atkinson discussed it) of all who might disagree—means that the bloggers are only erecting boundaries between their own (moral) selves and the amoral “others” who may not agree with their writing. It is in this sense that we can clearly see that social media can, sometimes, merely serve as an echo chamber.

 

Wendy Griswold’s (2013) chapter does a good job of showing that the culture industry plays a major role in defining—and even encouraging—the division of society along (perceived) “moral” lines. Griswold, citing Hirsch, explains that “the culture industry system works to regulate and package innovation and thus to transform creativity into predictable, marketable packages” (Griswold 2013: 74). Indeed, “morality”—or at least the perception of it, given its short supply in the hyper-consumerist society of postmodern Western civilization—is a “marketable” commodity. As Griswold notes, “once an idea has been put into words or symbols (a manifesto, a peace symbol), it is a cultural object” (Ibid.: 82). In this sense, morality is just another “cultural object” in the post modern world. The Katrina bloggers Ostertag and Ortiz write about—knowing full well that moral indignation gains more followers—play a role in turning “morality” itself into a “cultural object”. This is how the culture industry gradually homogenizes culture itself (Ibid.: 75); by adhering to what sells—what brings home emotional or financial capital—would-be opponents of the culture industry end up succumbing to its effects. Put another way, Griswold explains this process by pointing out that “if cultural creators can frame their product or message so it resonates with a frame that the audience already possesses, they are more likely to persuade that audience to “buy” (an idea, a product, or a taste)” (Ibid.: 88). For many cultural creators—like the bloggers studied by Ostertag and Ortiz—it is “morality” that is the frame.

 

Griswold shows us that there are two competing schools of thought regarding the interpretation of culture: The first is mass culture, which posits that culture overwhelms recipients. The second is popular culture, which sees individuals as “active makers and manipulators of meaning” (Ibid.: 90).  I would say that the truth lies somewhere in between; it is a mix of both mass culture and popular culture theory which explains the emphasis on “morality” in modern culture. Although, as popular culture theory posits, we might make our own cultures (and meanings), it is only a matter of time until the mass culture appropriates those meanings and sells them back to us, leaving us bereft of any other interpretation. Whatever meaning we, as individuals, might make, it will always be subject to the logic of producers and consumers and thus subject to homogenization.

 

I will provide an example of this process by discussing the case of Italian footballer Gianluigi Buffon. Although Buffon is a legend in Italian—and world—football, his career has not been one without controversy. At the beginning of his career, Buffon was criticized for choosing the number 88 (because some deemed it an anti-semitic number) and for wearing a t-shirt with a slogan which had been used by Italy’s fascist leaders (Brodkin 2000). Of course, due to this perceived amorality, Buffon was vilified. And the culture industry of the media ran along with it. Fast forward almost two decades later, and it is a very different story. Indeed, Buffon was praised by the culture industry for his enthusiastic rendition of the Italian national anthem before a football game (Lloyd, n.d.) as well as for is “class” in applauding the Swedish national anthem when some Italian fans booed it (Polden 2017). What, then, is the true story of Gianluigi Buffon? Is he a fascist, or a neo-Nazi as some tried to brand him for donning the “88” shirt? Or is he just an Italian patriot, who supports the patriotism—and national anthems—of other nations as well? I would interpret him as the latter since there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that Buffon is a bigot. Unfortunately, however, the soil of his previous experience with what Atkinson called “degradation ceremony” remains. The controversy—immortalized as it is by the internet—cannot be escaped.

 

Here we see the hypocrisy of the culture industry. The culture industry, in praying on the general search for “morality” in the wider public (which itself lives in a postmodern world devoid of morals), will vilify—or sanctify—in accordance to popular demand; if what is being sold resonates with the frames possessed by the masses it will sell. While it was easy to degrade Buffon as a “fascist” or “anti-Semite” when he was an up and coming player, it became harder to do so after he established himself as one of the best players of his generation. This is why the media narrative did a proverbial 180; it was not selling anymore because Buffon had become a national hero. Unfortunately, what Atkinson does not recognize, is that “degradation ceremonies” are part of the tool kit of postmodern fascism; they can be used at any moment to attack the “morality” of an individual and sully a reputation in an instant. It is just one danger that the independent thinking individual faces in the hyper-commodified hyper-consumerist society we now find ourselves in.

Why Should We Listen to NBA Players About Anything?

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As readers will know, I am all for individuals from the sports world voicing their political opinions. After all, athletes are citizens and they have every right to express themselves regarding their opinions on the state of their (respective) nations. However, it is important to engage in such protests while still respecting the nation that one belongs to so as to maintain a basis for implementing the social change being protested for. Similarly, we should recognize that there is a difference between the organic protest of sports figures and that which can be used for propaganda, as we have seen in Turkey.

Unfortunately, in the United States, the media has become more and more involved in actively searching out political opinions from sports figures in what amounts to the perpetuation of a propaganda campaign. It should go without saying that these are hardly “organic” opinions, rather they are opinions that are being searched out in order to further certain political positions. Recently, ESPN reporter Cari Champion rode around with NBA stars Lebron James and Kevin Durant in a perfect example of the kind of “searching” I am talking about. In the interview Mr. James says, without mentioning the President of the United States by name, that the “appointed person [is] someone who doesn’t understand the people, and really don’t give a f— about the people.” Again, Mr. James’ poor grasp of the English language (something I have criticized previously) comes through in this statement.

 

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Mr. Durant (L) and Mr. James (R) Are Apparently Political Scientists Now, According to The Washington Post. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2018/02/16/lebron-james-and-kevin-durant-discuss-how-trump-doesnt-give-a-f-about-the-people/?utm_term=.d531f33d0c39

 

What’s worse is that Mr. James’ political opinions can have little effect on the majority if he uses terms like “appointed person”; by furthering the divides in his country Mr. James is not really voicing his own opinion, instead he is merely parroting the opinions of the main (lame?) stream media. In effect, Mr. James is being used by the culture industry. That, in itself, should be food for thought, but you won’t hear this opinion in The Washington Post. Indeed, their columnist who specializes in “identity politics” criticizes Mr. James’ detractors by connecting it to (predictably) race. I would argue that it is more racist to use an athlete for propaganda purposes, but I am not The Washington Post (thankfully).

Throughout the controversy, I am left wondering: Why should I care about an athlete’s political perspective? Why should it be a topic of conversation in a national news outlet like the Washington Post? What makes Mr. James’ perspective more valuable than my own, other than the fact that he is supported by the culture industry? Indeed, if we were to take the opinions of NBA players as “truth” we would be in big trouble. In February 2018, NBA star Kyrie Irving repeated his support of the “flat earth theory”, which he first came out in support of in 2017. Shockingly, a former NFL quarterback also seemed to support Mr. Irving’s “theory”.

 

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Mr. Smith Is Certainly Correct When He Reminds Us To “Have An Open Mind”, It Would Just Be More Useful To Have An Open Mind About More Immediate Questions. This Is How the Culture Industry Re-Directs Our Own “Open-Mindedness” (For Lack Of A Better Term). Image Courtesy Of: https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/geno-smith-i-may-be-with-kyrie-irving-on-this-whole-flat-earth-vs-globe-thing/

 

It is absurd that we are being told to take athletes’ political opinions seriously when these same athletes are also coming out in support of outlandish theories that dismiss gravity itself. Despite the absurdity of it all, we must all recognize that these events are indicative of wider societal issues. Due to the internet and increased social media usage, there are a multitude of opinions proliferating all over the internet. Unfortunately, many of these opinions have little basis in reality and are merely used to distract us all from the real questions that need to be asked. In this sense, people are encouraged to have “different” opinions only when they are clearly absurd. People can question the idea that the world is round, yet they cannot question the relevancy of an NBA player’s political opinions. People would undoubtedly be better off questioning the progressive fascism happening all around them—furthered by the culture industry—than questioning things that were settled a long time ago. 2,000 years ago, to be exact.

 

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If We Want The World To Stay Around–No Pun Intended–It Would Be Best to Address The Immediate Problems We See In Our Own Societies, Like Progressive Fascism. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.popsci.com/best-images-earth-from-space#page-6

Racism In Progressive Society: A Short Example From the Sporting World and Why We Need More Communicative Action

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A few weeks ago on 12 February 2018, NBA head coach Gregg Popovich candidly stated that, in the United States, “we live in a racist country”. As someone who studies both sports and society, this was—of course—fairly obvious. Yet, it was not obvious in the sense that Mr. Popovich may have meant it to be. While he might compare the current state of the United States to “the fall of Rome”, the road to that trajectory was paved by the 44th President of the United States of America, Mr. Barack Obama. Indeed, the racism goes much deeper than the surface level change in the White House which Mr. Popovich seems to allude to.

This kind of racism was clear on 8 Februrary 2018 when House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D of California) uttered these words regarding her six-year old grandson speaking with regard to his Guatemalan friend “Antonio”:

This was such a proud day for me because when my grandson blew out the candles on his cake, they said, ‘Did you make a wish?’… He said, ‘I wish I had brown skin and brown eyes like Antonio.’ So beautiful, so beautiful. The beauty is in the mix.

To me, as an American, the odd veiled form of racism contained in the above statement made me cringe; indeed it made me embarrassed to be an American. It was uncouth to say the least. Yet, sadly, this kind of veiled racism—disguised with the rhetoric of “tolerance”—is, sadly, everywhere in American society. It is this tendency to blindly subscribe to “tolerance” without actually believing it which has made so many Americans into what they should never be and, indeed, what they claim to fight against. Many Americans have become—unwittingly—racists, sexists, and bigots. It is a twisted and remarkable story.

I was reading an article for a graduate seminar last week and was struck by a passage written by the author, Ellis P. Monk, Jr. In his 2015 article “The Cost of Color: Skin Color, Discrimination, and Health among African-Americans”, the author has this to say:

 

I find that medium-tone blacks actually perceive significantly less discrimination from other blacks due to their skin color than both the very lightest-skinned and very darkest-skinned blacks (both self-rated and interviewer-rated skin color measures produce this result, although I only present the self-rated skin color findings in table 4). Moreover, I find that both very light-skinned and very dark-skinned blacks report significant amounts of discrimination due to their skin shade within the black population (table 4, models 3 and 5).

Monk (2015: 422)

 

As I read this passage I was repulsed. How was it, I wondered, that in 2018 we were discussing something as banal as gradations in human skin color? I found it to be the epitome of racism; indeed, I thought to myself that 100 years from now (if the world still exists, of course) sociologists will look back at our era and comment on how backward—and indeed racist—our society really was.

It is my hope that, as individuals, we will be able to get over our collective hyper-sensitivity to all that is different and which has poisoned our society due to the emphasis on identity politics. The signs of this kind of hyper-sensitivity—which encourages division over unity—are visible all over the town I currently live in, from a sticker on a trash can which reads “this oppresses women” (how a rubbish receptacle can oppress an entire gender I will never know) to a ludicrous poster in the window of a local bar. I would never have thought that all races, religions, countries of origin, sexual orientations, and genders would not be welcome at a bar—until, of course, I saw this particular poster. Acting as if the default—that is, inclusion—is not actually the default, that it is somehow an exception, is not doing a service to wider society. Indeed, this kind of absurd virtue signaling only serves to further divides within society by erecting boundaries where there are none and–in turn–furthers the other-izing of marginalized populations.

 

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A Few Absurd Images From Around the Town I Live In. Images Courtesy Of the Author.

 

I, for one, see the Besiktas ultra group Carsi as one example of how football fans can collectively poke fun at the small absurdities we see around us every day in order to combat these divisions. We cannot deal with a social problem like racism by further concretizing our differences; quite the contrary, we can only move forward and truly “progress” by abandoning the neo-fascistic ideology of modern progressivism which tends to concretize marginal identities in the name of “oppression”. That is why Carsi’s banners—which address social problems through humor—are so refreshing. During a match in 2009, the fan group acknowledged Michael Jackson’s death with a banner in the stadium which read: Rest in Peace Michael Jackson, the Great Besiktas Fan Who Lived Half His Life Black and Half His Life White [note: Besiktas’ colors are black and white].

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.haberaktuel.com/carsidan-michael-jackson-pankarti-haberi-205645.html

 

Carsi’s ability to shed light on social problems through humor with banners like “Carsi is against nuclear weapons”, “Carsi is against racism”, “Carsi is against terrorism”, or even “Carsi is against itself” allows for at least a semblance of communicative action (in the Habermasian sense) in Turkish society; this is how the group has become such a successful social movement. Unfortunately in American society, there is currently little dialogue since the real racists are hiding behind a neo-fascistic form of progressive ideology which only serves to mask a dangerous tendency to “other” everyone, whether they agree or (especially) if they disagree with the dominant strains of thought.