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The Grammys and the Pro Bowl: Two Cultural Spectacles Amidst the Attempted (Re)education of America

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Sometimes it feels as if the whole of American society is going through a sort of attempted re-education. I have already written about the sad state of American academia, yet the attempts at re-education are visible elsewhere as well. They are evident in attempts to re-write American history (also here), and they are apparent in the demonization of police and the rule of law. The common denominator in these attempts at re-education is their focus on division, rather than unity. Unfortunately, the culture industry is a major tool in this divisive re-education.

Sunday 28 January 2018 is a good example of how this divisive form of re-education takes place. On this Sunday there were two major events vying for airtime in the United States: the first was the NFL Pro Bowl, the all star celebration between the AFC and NFC; the second was the 60th annual Grammy awards. The solution was . . . playing the Pro Bowl in the afternoon so as to not compete with the prime time Grammys. Of course, that also meant playing the football game in conditions which, at times, bordered on monsoon level. Despite the hiccups, I can say that Pro Bowl 2018 was definitely a nice experience; I have no doubt that it was much more pleasant than the Grammys (to be discussed later).

The Pro Bowl is, admittedly, a manufactured experience, as SB Nation notes. It is, of course, a great example of the kind of commercialization of sport that the United States is famous for. Ironically, the Pro Bowl is American football without the violence that is so often criticized . . . which means that, in the end, no one watches it. The situation is emblematic of what might be American English’s few proverbs: you’re damned if you and you’re damned if you don’t. Despite the rampant commercialization, it was still a human experience. Like New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ display of proper parenting on national TV (something that is usually missing in the United States, due to the demise of the concept of “family”), the Pro Bowl offered me many opportunities to interact with some amazing people.

 

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The Pro Bowl had its Human Side As Well at Camping World Stadium. Image Courtesy Of the Author.

 

It was nice to see fans from all over the United States, donning the jerseys of their favorite teams, who had come to one stadium to quite literally hang out. I met a few Manchester United fans visiting from England who were able to point out the absurdities of the US: “So…the drinking age is 21 but you can go off to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan at 18?” . . . “Yep” . . . “Wait . . . you can’t bet on sports in the United States?” . . . “Nope” . . . and I had to add that, yes, few American football stadiums have covered stands when most top level European football stadiums—even lower tier stadiums—have at least one covered stand. It is the absurdity of America, it is also the uniqueness of America—uncouth and immature as it may be. I met a Denver Broncos fan from Cleveland who lamented the financial mismanagement of some NFL players, who manage to blow through millions of dollars without realizing that their careers are, quite dependent, on their own ability to stay healthy. Despite the over-commodified nature of the Pro Bowl, it was clear that—in American society—we can come together when we need to in the name of sports. As my British friends pointed out, in Britain the site of so many different jerseys would be enough to start a brawl.

What is shocking is that Sunday’s second event, The Grammys, was so different. It started with U.S. President’s Twitter spat with rap artist Jay-Z, whose criticism of Mr. Trump was met with a response that the unemployment rate for black workers is the lowest in 45 years. Unfortunately for Jay-Z, this was not his only embarrassment—despite being the most nominated artist at the Grammys he went home empty handed. Yet this feud was just a prelude to what the Grammys would become—a political s***(side?) show as music artists gave their political opinions one after another (a run down, which I will not deign go into here, can be found here).

 

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A Pretty Funny Tweet; Also Interesting That a U.S. President is Actually Interacting with a Citizen. Sadly, such Alternative Interpretations are Missing From Mainstream Media Since They Don’t Fit the Narrative. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2018/01/28/trump-rips-jay-z-for-remarks-on-african-american-unemployment.html

 

The irony of it all was, of course, that hyper-commodified music had become hyper-politicized. This is one reason I do not listen to new music; in a bid to follow the logic of late stage capitalism—where profit is king—most music has come to sound the same. It is emblematic of a society that has killed creativity. But it also begs the question: Why do we care what billionaire celebrities in a music business, that is less art and more money, think about politics? The last time I checked, neither Jay Z or Bono had been reading the latest theories in political science or sociology. They are not “left” in any traditional sense of the word; indeed Karl Marx is likely spinning in his grave after Hillary Clinton’s appearance on stage.  And that is why a technocratic government, propped up by the propaganda of the culture industry, is a very dangerous thing indeed. We are swiftly becoming two Americas: One that cares about mass culture, and another that does not. In order to bridge this growing gap, however, we will need new minds that can transcend the one dimensional thought emanating from the culture industry and academia. We are still human beings with an ability to think independently; I would say it is high time we recognize it in order to resist this cultural (re)education.

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Anderson Stadium at Providence College: New England Revolution-Rochester Raging Rhinos (3-0)

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Almost a month ago I attended a U.S. Open Cup match at Providence College’s Anderson Stadium between the MLS’ New England Revolution and the second-tier USL’s Rochester Raging Rhinos. Among the almost two thousand spectators cramming a college stadium on an early summer afternoon I could not help but realize that—in some small way—this match served as an allegory for wider U.S. society amidst its current polarization. It was a David Vs. Goliath match, with a much richer MLS side facing off against a second division opponent (realistically, the outcome was never in doubt). Since the result was so predictable, I turned my attention to the fans—the most sociological aspect of a soccer match.

 

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Early Summer In Providence. Images Courtesy Of M.L.

 

The U.S. Open Cup is one of the most storied cup competitions in the world, even if it takes place in a country that does not value football. This year there have even been a few Cinderella stories, like the amateur side Christos FC. Given the history of this cup competition, one that is over one hundred years old, the fans had come out in full force for one of the few matches that the New England Revolution have ever played in Providence, Rhode Island.

The “hardcore” fans, on the other side of the field from where I stood, were vocal in their support while also advertising their increased politicization (a subject I have written about in the past). Some fans were waving a rainbow variation of the “Flag of New England”, an interesting meshing of Revolutionary War America and current LGBT movements, while on my side a priest (likely from the Catholic Providence College) was taking in the match. In that moment, I wondered if the LGBT activist/fans on the other side of the field—and the Catholic priest on my side—had ever had a conversation with one another. The likely answer is that they have not, and that the two should watch the match from opposite sidelines was an allegory for some of the issues we see these days in the polarized climate of the United States. If people holding opposing points of view do not even speak with one another, then how can they empathize with one another?

 

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Soccer Brings All Walks Of Life Together. Images Courtesy Of M.L.

 

This lack of communication, of course, is not specific to the United States; it exists throughout the global “West”. We believe in the myth of globalization bringing us closer together by cutting down the cost and time of communication; in reality society is just as fragmented as ever—people at a dinner table prefer interacting with their phones to interacting with their fellow diners. In Europe—and to an extent in the United States—the idea is that “pluralism” will bring a more diverse society and thus bring us closer together. This myth has been debunked by the ghettoization of non-whites in the United States and Muslims in Europe; just because “different” people are made to live in separate areas does not make a society more “diverse”, it just means that the disparate parts of society are not actually talking to one another; they are in fact drifting apart, rather than coming together.

This kind of situation—where communication between different social groups is discouraged—fosters a society where individuals are not able to make the connection between personal troubles and societal issues that C. Wright Mills once explained. The only way to make such sociological connections is through communication, something that is sorely lacking in the technocratic world of the modern-day West. As I watched the sunset over Providence behind one of the goals I thought about something my dentist had told me, when I said I was studying Turkish soccer: she asked me if “I was afraid to go there because it is dangerous”…clearly, she had not communicated with anyone from outside of her bubble. It is not, of course, completely her fault. But it is a characteristic of the individualistic society that has taken root in Western cultures.

 

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Sunset Over Providence. Image Courtesy Of M.L.

 

In order to actually get to know others, we must—as I have argued before—first travel. Former U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel makes some great points along these lines in an article he wrote for The Players’ Tribune, when he describes playing for Galatasaray in Istanbul (I have bolded the pertinent parts):

 

For one thing, on the pitch it was just an incredible game. It was quick and intense and it pushed me as a keeper. We won the Turkish Cup that year and qualified for Champions League. Off the field, it was absolutely phenomenal. For a kid from Bay Village, Ohio, to go and live in a Muslim country was an eye-opening experience.

 Which brings me to the sheep.

 We were walking to a game right after Ramadan was over, and the fans were holding a sheep. On a list of things you don’t expect to see on the soccer grounds, I’m pretty sure a live sheep would be somewhere near the top, but there it was. I had no idea what was about to happen, while the rest of my teammates couldn’t have been less fazed. There was a lot of yelling and then the fans just slit the sheep’s throat — right there in front of us. Blood everywhere. They dipped their hands in it, and swiped it on their forehead as a sign of good luck. Then they asked us to do the same.

 This wasn’t something that most Americans would consider normal, but it was absolutely brilliant to be a part of. I had teammates who, during Ramadan, had to fast during daylight hours even as professional athletes. We’d be at training and a call to prayer would go off and certain players who were very religious would stop their training, go pray and come back to the pitch. Once you learn that that’s how things work, it’s not a big deal, but in the U.S. you can go through your whole life in a little bubble. But when you live in these places, you find out that these people are very good human beings. It was incredible. It was understanding other cultures. It was a phenomenal thing to see.

 

Friedel goes on to explain, “I had two choices: Learn Turkish or don’t understand a word that anybody was saying. So three days a week, I took Turkish lessons”. Mr. Friedel should be commended for his willingness to communicate with—and assimilate into—a culture that was so different than his own. It is a lesson that all of us—whether football fans or not—would do well to heed. There are a lot of perspectives out there, the only way we can begin to understand them is by communicating with those who we might—at first—not think we have anything in common with.

 

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Brad Friedel Appearing for the United States National Team. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.theplayerstribune.com/2016-6-26-brad-friedel-soccer-copa-america/

 

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Brad Friedel (R) In Turkey (Please Note the Classic Adidas Shirt Designs). Image Courtesy Of: https://onedio.com/haber/galatasaraylilarin-duygulanarak-bakacagi-nostalji-goruntuler-512738

Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA, USA: New England Revolution-Houston Dynamo (2-0) Matchday

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A few shots of the New England Revolution-Houston Dynamo match at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The stadium’s capacity is 67,756 for American football and 20,000 for soccer (or just football). The stadium itself is easy to access, half-way between Providence, RI and Boston, MA, and as a bonus parking is free for soccer games. The write up for the match is here.

 

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