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Football Vs. The Hyperreality: FC Basel and FC Young Boys Bern in Switzerland

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On 2 December 2018 FC Basel faced FC Young Boys Bern in the Swiss Super League, and both sets of fans put on a good display. It was a great example of why football is good in the stadium; sport offers a space for human expression in the real world.

 

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Emotion in Reality. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.ultras-tifo.net/photo-news/5501-basel-young-boys-02-12-2018.html

 

Indeed, the tifo put on by FC Basel’s fans shows just how much importance they put on the match day experience in the space of the stadium. The fact that this needs to be emphasized is, sadly, a sign of the times. This is because the first time these two teams met, on 28 September 2018, the focus was on protest. In the September match, the ultras of Young Boys Bern protested the growth of “eSports” by raining tennis balls and Playstation controllers onto the pitch while unfurling a giant banner of a “pause” button in the stands. While some commentators, like Jack Kenmare of Sportbible.com, could not understand why the Young Boys Ultras were protesting the growth of eSports, other commentators did a little more homework.

 

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Tennis Balls and Playstation Controllers are Emblematic of Protest in the Postmodern Age. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2018-09-24-swiss-football-fans-throw-controllers-on-the-pitch-in-esports-protest

 

Indeed, Forbes.com’s Steve McCaskill’s piece focused on the difficulty of “mixing eSports and sports”. Mr. McCaskill points out that, in this instance, the Young Boys’ Ultras were protesting the increased commercialization of football—a classic case, indeed, of industrial football. Mr. McCaskill goes on to point out that

 

FC Basel supporters have been especially vocal in their opposition to the plans, making their discontent about the club’s eSports operations well known. They believe the club’s resources should be devoted to football rather than the ‘brand’ […]

‘Many clubs in Switzerland’s first division now have an eSports player, but their fans are not protesting as often as Basel fans,’ adds [Oliver] Zesiger [a Swiss football scout]. ‘I think there’s a certain dissatisfaction among Basel-fans with their club being marketed as a product, rather than a football club. This doesn’t necessarily include only the “against modern football” crowd. Basel fans don’t want to be called clients for example’ […]

 

Here we clearly see that the FC Basel fans are making a very real point. Why divert resources from the reality of football—as seen and experienced on the pitch and in the stadium—in favor of the hyperreality of football—neither experienced or, truly, even seen—on a screen? Indeed, this is a valid question (and not to mention one that would have sounded absurd just a decade ago). The entire notion of trading football as it has been traditionally experienced for over a century for a digitized simulacrum of the game itself is, of course, a losing proposition. After all, eSports are—ostensibly—only as good as the players on the pitch, since the ratings of FIFA’s players are based on real-life performance….thus the two are intimately connected….right?

Unfortunately, it seems as if the modern world has become all-too accustomed to finding digital “solutions” to the real world. After all, Google seems to believe that if something is offensive, the solution is censorship (It is also something I have written about). I even know from my own experience with this very blog that—sometimes—traffic is actively diverted when the topics discussed diverge from the dominant narrative of progressive thought. This in and of itself is something worth thinking about. Regardless of if we are talking about sports, interpersonal relationships (online dating and Tinder, for instance), or even basic communication (social media), at what point does our reliance on technology start to mean trading reality for a hyperreality? While the social engineers might think that the hyperreality is preferable—since it eliminates the chances for irrational and emotional human behavior deviating from the expected “norms” generated by algorithms—the truth is that this will, inevitably, lead to an “iron cage of rationality” far more pervasive than any that Sociologist Max Weber could have conceived of.

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Black Friday: A True Representation of Jean Baudrillard’s “Hyperreality”

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The French sociologist/philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s concept of the hyperreality is—ironically—quite real in 2018. We have, indeed, accepted the symbol as more real than that which it symbolizes. Surrounding the holiday of Thanksgiving—what was once the most wholesome and anti-consumption of American holidays—three news stories caught my eye. All three show quite clearly that Baudrillard was right: We are living in a hyperreality.

On 21 November, USA today chose to report to the American public with the headline “Why women and girls bear the brunt of the romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak”. The absurdity of this headline manifests itself on multiple levels. The most dangerous consequence of irresponsible reporting like this is that it infuses identity politics into a situation which—quite clearly—affects all reaches of American society. Yet, in the hyperreality of modernity, the main (lame) stream media is telling the public that they should see a nationwide problem in terms identity politics; rather than questioning why our lettuce is infected with bacteria we are told to question the sexism of…the lettuce itself. Quite clearly, this is an absurd attempt to reframe the issue at hand and avoid asking the difficult questions.

Yet even this poor reporting might not be as absurd as the consumerist phenomenon that is “Black Friday”. The United States, over the course of the past thirty years (which correspond with the rise of globalism), has become a country where the holiday of Thanksgiving has transformed from one celebrating family and friends to a sideshow consisting of the kind of consumerism that Christmas has devolved into. While, in my childhood at least, Thanksgiving was seen as a holiday just like Christmas, it has now become a glorified pre-game show (to use sports terminology) to the consumerist “show” that Christmas has become. In what other country would we see people celebrating “thankfulness” and “family” before, a few hours later, fighting over television sets at a Wal-Mart? Indeed, this is an absurdity of the hyperreality we live in, and—sadly—it is being exported to other countries. This example alone should show us that Baudrillard was right when he pointed out that globalization does not bring us together in any “real” sense; rather it connects us in the superficial ways which befit the post-modern hyperreality.

 

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Black Friday Comes to…Brazil? If This is the Face of Globalization, Then Who Could Want It? Image Courtesy Of: https://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/black-friday-2018-chaotic-scenes-at-stores-worldwide-as-shoppers-dash-to-snap-up-deals-a3997806.html

 

The most interesting thing to think about is that—amid the hyper consumerism of black Friday—there are a few companies that are not doing so well. One of those is the U.S. lingerie label Victoria’s Secret, whose sales have been declining since 2016. While these figures may just seem like the bottom line of a corporate giant, to me they suggest something deeper. One clue might lie in the fact that the millennial generation is having less sex than any generation in 60 years. As one quote from Melissa Batchelor Warnke’s 2016 article points out:

 

many young people speak disparagingly of the messy emotional state love and lust can engender, referring to it as “catching feelings”.  […] Noah Patterson, 18, has never had sex. “I’d rather be watching YouTube videos and making money.” Sex, he said, is “not going to be something people ask you for on your résumé.”

 

 Both of these quote point to a closing off of emotion in favor of rational concerns like “making money” and having a good “resume”. Of course, if these are the most important concerns for modern society, then spending money on expensive lingerie would not be a priority; this would explain the drop in sales for Victoria’s Secret. But there is a larger consequence of this eschewing the emotional in favor of the rational: It denies all that which makes humans “human”. As human beings, what distinguishes us from animals is our ability to appreciate aesthetic beauty, whether that be another human being, a piece of art, or a beautiful sunrise. When we start to ignore these things—or seek to commodify them (by turning them into a vehicle for making money)—we start to rationalize the emotional. It is a very good example of what German sociologist Jurgen Habermas called the colonization of the “life world” by the “system”. Sadly, this process can also begin to slowly chip away at our own emotional sense of what it means to be “human”.

Taken together, all three of these news stories show that postmodern life has become a hyperreality, one where the rational supercedes the emotional. It is something which is ultimately very dangerous, since it threatens the very ties which bind us to on another on this earth. When we begin to see the contamination of lettuce in terms of identity politics, and not as something that threatens all of humanity equally, we are falling into a hyperreality. When we celebrate the virtues of “thankfulness” and “family” yet, a few hours later, engage in fistfights with strangers over electronics we are falling into a hyperreality. And when we begin to preference rational concerns over human concerns—and stop appreciating beauty (in all its forms)—we fall into the hyperreality. At least the football fans—as those pictured below at Partizan Belgrade—can provide us with a more real intrpretation of Black Friday.

 

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I’ll Take This Black Friday Over the Commercial One Any Day. Image Courtesy of @Balkanskinavijaci on Instagram.