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Late Stage Capitalism and One-Dimensional Thought in the Modern World: From Football Shirts to Hollywood and Beyond

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As readers may know, collecting soccer/football shirts is one of my main hobbies; it gives me a souvenir to collect in the cities I visit as well as a way to intimately get to know every city I visit. Each polyester shirt serves mainly as a memory of a team, a neighborhood, a city, and a country. In that sense, the shirt can serve as device for building personal, local, and national memories. Unfortunately, modern shirts are become less and less about either personal or national memories and more about extreme capitalism. The German team Schalke 04’s new shirt will have a payment chip in it as part of a sponsorship deal. Fans will apparently be able to buy halftime beers and sausages with…their shirts.

 

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Just Lean Your Shoulder Towards the Register . . . Image Courtesy Of: https://www.wareable.com/smart-clothing/schalke-smart-jersey-pay-4516

 

While this is a troubling attack on what shirts should mean, the Americans have a different way of turning football shirts into vehicles for consumption in the age of late-stage capitalism. While in Europe shirts are being produced to allow people to consume more with money they may not have, in the United States the trend of “throwback jerseys” is creating a market for shirts that once existed; it is an odd form of double consumption. The throwback jersey encourages spending on pseudo-vintage items to the point where, according to Ebay at least, the new “vintage” item sometimes costs more than the actual vintage item itself! The U.S. soccer team LA Galaxy has done a Throwback shirt night at a game, while Sporting Kansas City brought back their throwbacks (from the Kansas City Wiz era) for one night only in April of 2016. Interestingly, USA Today originally labelled the Kansas City Wizards shirts as being too ugly to come back. Yet, in the age of late-stage capitalism, it came back. How did this happen? It is symptomatic of the world of extreme capitalism we live in: People will spend money on anything, as long as it appeals to some sort of human emotion—affection for the past is one such emotion. It is also an example of the one-dimensional thought (to borrow from Herbert Marcuse)  that characterizes the time we live in, a kind of thought that discourages all forms of creativity and different lines of thought.

 

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Old and New…New and Old? Images Courtesy Of: http://www.kansascity.com/sports/mls/sporting-kc/article69923152.html

 

The field of movies can provide us with a few more examples. Rather than develop new films and new storylines by encouraging creativity, the film industry has instead taken to recycling old ideas. Star Wars, which some cultural critics argue should have stopped at one film, and the recent fourth installment of Indiana Jones are two great examples. The latest culprit of rehashing is the Transformers franchise; the newest movie is apparently “racist” according to some critics, while others simply called it terrible.

Like most male children growing up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I loved Transformers; who wouldn’t love cars that transform into robots? It was, after all, far more interesting than what we see today—human beings transforming into…(i)robots—but I digress. In order to capitalize on the nostalgia of my generation, the purveyors of late-stage capitalism in the film industry have taken to re-making the films of our childhood in hopes that we, many of us now parents, will pass the interest on to our children! The re-appearance of Batman, Superman, the Ninja Turtles, and Power Rangers—just to name a few—are all further examples of this process. Along with the films come merchandise and toys; essentially money is being made on recycled ideas and there is little room for new ideas. Interestingly, some toys/franchises from the 1980s have not seen a revival. Among them are GI Joes and Barbies (perhaps because they push messages that run counter to the one-dimensional thought that dominates our current age of late-stage capitalism: American nationalism in the former case and cisgender normativity in the latter case).

 

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I’m Not Sure What This Is, Since It Bears No Resemblance to the Optimus Prime I Know. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cbr.com/the-last-knight-15-ways-it-killed-the-transformers-franchise/

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This Is More Like It. Can I Have My Childhood Back? Image Courtesy Of: http://tfwiki.net/wiki/Optimus_Prime_(G1)/Generation_1_cartoon_continuity

 

Interestingly, sometimes these remakes even end up changing the original to fit the needs of the dominant strains of existing one-dimensional thought: It is a world where Barbie’s beau, Ken, sports a man bun. It is also one where the new Spider man is black, Iron Man is now a young black girl (how the fictional character’s name is still Iron “Man” is unclear, but that is something the progressives clearly failed to acknowledge), and the superhero Thor is now…a woman (Again, the fact that Thor is actually a Norse God—and a male—was missed by progressive minds). We should not, of course, be surprised that cultural history is being re-written; American history itself is also being re-written, as evidenced by the war on Confederate monuments in the South. But we should be surprised that—in a cynical bid to make more money—the purveyors of extreme capitalism are pandering to one dimensional thought by changing the genders and races of comic book characters while they remake them and resell them to the general public and no one seems to care. Wouldn’t it be nicer if comic book executives came up with new  superheroes, and made them whichever race or gender they pleased, rather than succumb to tokenism by changing the existing superheroes in order to pander to the demands of one-dimensional thought? Unfortunately that would require something called “Creativity”, something that has been stifled in the brave new world we now live in.

 

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In This (Brave) New World, Ken Sports a Man Bun. Image Courtesy Of: http://barbie.mattel.com/en-us/about/fashionistas.html

 

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Also, Spider Man (Top) and Iron Man (Bottom) Have changed Races and Genders, Belittling the Causes of Race and Gender Equality Advocates By Becoming Symbols of Tokenism. Images Courtesy of http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/miles-morales-to-replace-peter-parker-as-first-black-spider-man-in-marvel-comics-10336153.html (Top) and http://www.breitbart.com/big-hollywood/2016/07/06/marvels-new-iron-man-teenage-black-woman/ (Bottom).

 

This kind of one-dimensional thought has become so pervasive that there was outrage when U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted an admittedly comical Gif of him body-slamming Professional Wrestling entrepreneur Vince Mcmahon with a CNN logo superimposed over his head. Instead of recognizing the humor, there was only outrage. Unfortunately, the outrage did not go far enough since few people batted an eye when CNN essentially blackmailed the creator of the Gif when they threatened to publically expose the individual’s identity. When a media company acts like the mob one would expect outrage. Instead, there is silence because the public has succumbed to one dimensional thought; the public refuses to recognize that the mainstream media is—and has been for years—essentially lying. When the New York Times calls globalism a “far-right conspiracy theory” you have to question the media’s legitimacy: Academics have been critical of globalization for years!.

Again, this refusal to question dominant narratives is not a new phenomenon. If the government said they would be taking pictures of everyone’s homes and neighborhoods and making it publically available, they would be outraged. But when Google does it people do not bat an eye. If the government told people that they had to “check in” and publically announce where they are during the day, there would be outrage. But when people voluntarily give such information on Facebook, or their online comments are stamped by the location of their phone or computer’s IP address, people do not bat an eye. It is, indeed, a dangerous world.

People would do well to break free of this type of one-dimensional thought fostered by late-stage capitalist society and encouraged by mass media and Hollywood celebrities. Society will be better—and more “diverse”, to use a liberal catch phrase—if alternative perspectives are allowed.

The media would be better if freedom of thought was encouraged. Academia would improve if freedom of opinion was encouraged. Movies and comic books would be better if creativity was allowed. We are tired of the same old things, the same old stories, the same old one-dimensional thought being re-hashed with only the goal of making money in mind. We want new things—and new ideas—to help us break free of the conservatism and rationality of the late-stage capitalist world.

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Politics Clashes with Sports in the United States Uncovering the Far Reach of Corporate Greed: The Perspective of a Marginal Sociologist

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These days it seems as if the culture wars are seeping into all walks of society. Previously I wrote about how political developments have affected sports in Turkey; now I am writing about how political developments are affecting sports in the United States. In the United States we are seeing how the entrance of politics into the world of sports (and wider culture) may be morphing into a fascistic movement without offering any real solutions. That sport is involved should come as no surprise; it represents—after all—a major part of culture in the United States and the world.

The biggest provider of televised sports in the United States, ESPN, has turned much of their sports programming into political programming, the fact that North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” is being debated on a sports program is (in my most humble of opinions) doing a disservice to all those who pay for ESPN in order to watch…sports (these policies have actually caused ESPN to lose money). While it is of course admirable that important societal issues are discussed on different platforms, it makes me (as a marginal sociologist) wonder whether or not we—as a society—are not muddying the waters. Could it be that sports are serving as a vehicle, by corporate interests, to intimidate people into making decisions? If this is indeed the case, what is the difference between sports organizations (like the NCAA and NBA) and the mafia man in the back alley threatening to break your knees with a baseball bat unless you do what you’re told? It’s a fine line, and one that I feel deserves some discussion.

The NCAA—the governing body of university sports in the United States—warned the state of North Carolina about HB2, which The Charlotte Observer says is “North Carolina’s newest law [that] solidifies [the] state’s role in defining discrimination”. One of the main points of the law is that “Transgender people who have not taken surgical and legal steps to change the gender noted on their birth certificates have no legal right under state law to use public restrooms of the gender with which they identify. Cities and counties no longer can establish a different standard”. Taken at face value, this is not very discriminatory; if one has not “taken surgical and legal steps” to change their gender, they cannot enter the bathroom of their choice. This keeps people from arbitrarily claiming that they can enter whichever bathroom they would like. Obviously the solution to the bathroom conundrum in the United States is complicated, but it is important that we realize that not everything is inherently discriminatory; somethings are merely the best attempt we can make to appease all facets of society, both “progressive” and “conservative” instead of one or the other. While, according to the Charlotte Observer “the national headquarters of the ACLU describes North Carolina’s HB2 as the ‘most extreme anti-LGBT measure in the country’”, they also use language that presents the situation as a zero-sum game, where those on one side of the debate are diametrically opposed to those on the other. CNN supports this kind of rhetoric, claiming that proponents of HB2 are subscribing to 3 myths:

 

1) Sexual predators will take advantage of public accommodations laws and policies covering transgender people to attack women and children in bathrooms; 2) Being transgender is not a valid condition. Transgender people are mentally ill and should not be afforded the same legal protections or healthcare guarantees as gay and lesbian Americans; 3) Children are too young to know if they are transgender, and supporting a child who identifies as transgender is child abuse.

 

Personally, I do not believe that any of these myths are true. However, I also recognize that some people might not be ok with the idea of people of another gender being in their bathrooms. As much as we need to respect transgender rights, we must also respect the rights of those who have differing opinions which might not be based on bigotry. If the United States is to be a free country, then people are allowed to have their opinions on an issue; they cannot be forced into accepting things they are not comfortable with accepting. Some states (as the map below shows) agree with allowing transgender people into the bathroom of their choice, while others do not. Isn’t the essence of democracy allowing people a choice? Notably, the sports world is seems to not agree with these basic democratic principles, which is worrisome.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/07/health/transgender-bathroom-law-facts-myths/index.html

 

On 23 March 2017 the NCAA, the governing body for Collegiate athletics in the United States, “issued a straightforward warning to the state of North Carolina on Thursday, the one-year anniversary of the controversial House Bill 2: Revise or repeal the law in the coming weeks, or don’t host any NCAA events between now and 2022” . In 2017 the NCAA moved games from Greensboro, North Carolina to Greenville, South Carolina because of the North Carolina law, while the National Basketball Association (NBA) moved the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte, North Carolina to New Orleans, Louisiana. This prompted the “North Carolina Sports Association [to send a letter] to the state’s House of Representatives and General Assembly in February warning that the economic impact of the bill could reach $250 million as the state continues to miss out on major sporting events”. In the face of this social (and economic) pressure the North Carolina Legislature decided to repeal the bill; but the power of sports wasn’t lost on some lawmakers: State Representative Carl Ford said “”If we could have props in here, I would take a basketball covered in money and roll it down the middle aisle there, because that’s what this is about, money and basketball”.

 

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Amidst the Controversy, Only Fans Lose…Regardless Of Their Gender. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2017/03/14/north-carolina-ncaa-tournament-games-hb2

 

Of course few people were happy with the decision on either side of the debate, while the HB2 issue is—according to CNN—“estimated to have cost the state millions of dollars through the loss of jobs, businesses and consumer spending, though by one measure, the losses only amount to about 0.1% of the state’s total GDP”. Here we see the results of polarizing rhetoric. Essentially North Carolina was blackmailed into repealing a law in order to not lose money. To an impartial observer, this seems dangerously fascistic. While champions of LGBT rights may celebrate this decision because it benefits them today, but what about the perils of allowing democracy to be subverted by financial concerns? What keeps members of the LGBT community from being discriminated against down the road if we allow the financial concerns to subvert the democratic process? And what about the state income that was lost when the NCAA and NBA decided to boycott North Carolina? Were people—transgender and cisgender—not both affected when jobs were taken away? Economic hardship—especially to the tune of 3.76 Billion USD lost—does not discriminate based on gender or anything else.

It is interesting that the sports world was quick to bully North Carolina lawmakers on this issue while—in the face of other social issues—the sports world has not been nearly as quick to respond. Recently, a passenger was forcibly deplaned from a United Airlines flight because it was overbooked. While the event has caused much controversy, the CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz, gave conflicting responses while refusing to step down. At first Mr. Munoz seemed to argue that the customer was in the wrong for being (justifiably) upset, before backtracking and offering a half-hearted apology.

Notably, no one from the sports world has responded to this heinous act of corporate violence with a threat of boycott (despite the fact that most sports teams in the U.S. use air travel to cover the great distances of the United States). Even (state) media in the United States, the Washington Post, discouraged any potential boycott in an 11 April, 2017 article entitled “Want to boycott United? Good luck with that”. Here the author, Christopher Ingraham, notes that “thanks in part to a rash of airline mergers and consolidations in recent years, major airports are increasingly becoming one- or two-carrier affairs. Today, United commands over 50 percent of the market share in some places where it served fewer than five percent of air travelers ten years ago”. Essentially, because of the slow monopolization of air-travel by corporations like United Airlines, the author believes that normal citizens have little ability to resist the disgusting behavior of United Airlines.

What are we to take away from these two issues? Is it that corporations—due to their financial might—can do whatever they want to paying customers because individuals cannot respond? And is it that state governments cannot respond to voters’ concerns because they will be bullied by business interests? In both cases the corporate side, the one with the money, is effectively over-riding public opinion.

Or is it that people in the United States only take a stand when it is a small group—in the North Carolina case transgender people—are affected? Is a general affront on humanity—like the United Airlines debacle—not enough to make people take a stand? Apparently, it isn’t. As days have gone by, the issue has become racialized: New Republic writer Clio Chang’s piece “Why it Matters That the United Dragging Victim Is Asian” is a notable example of this discourse; and it contains the statement: “…for Asian-Americans who watched this video, the victim’s race is an important part of this story. To treat it as an inconsequential factor seems, at best, an oversight—at worst, it’s an erasure”. I would argue the opposite. To racialize the issue makes it an “Asian” problem when it is not an Asian problem. It is a human problem. Everyone in the world faces an unequal fight against corporate greed and extreme capitalism; to racialize the issue only serves to divide rather than unite.

 

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Somehow, a Human Issue Becomes a Racial Issue. Image Courtesy Of: https://fortunedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/asian-american-protest-police-brutality-united-airlines.jpg?w=720

 

Needless to say, both of the aforementioned trends, where corporate interests over-ride voter concerns and where human issues become racialized issues, are worrisome trends that people—regardless of their sex, gender, race, class, sexual orientation, religion, or any other sociological variable you can think of—need to think about.

The Robots Have Arrived: A Marginal Sociologist’s Take on McDonald’s and the Rationalization of American Society in the Age of Extreme Capitalism (With Bonus Coverage of McDonald’s’ Love Affair With Industrial Football

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As an educator it is sometimes difficult to explain the intricacies of Sociological theory. Much of it is abstract and can best be understood only through real social interactions. Since too many sociologists (in the current context) shy away from actually interacting with their fellow humans (due to, mainly, political disagreements) I believe that it is important to put the subjects I teach in the context of real-life situations. A few nights ago, at the local McDonald’s, I was provided an experience that allowed me to better explain eminent Sociologist Max Weber’s concept of rationalization to my students. I shared it with them in class, and I believe it is equally relevant to the wider social world so I am choosing to share it in this context as well. After all, McDonald’s is one of the major corporations that sponsors football’s most visible competition, the FIFA World Cup.

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McDonald’s and the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Image Courtesy Of: http://bizztro.tumblr.com/post/88927751559/fifas-game-of-sponsors

 

Sociologist George Ritzer coined the term “McDonaldization” in his book “The McDonaldization of Society”. It was essentially an extension of Max Weber and his ideas regarding the development of a form of social control driven by a focus on efficiency and “means-end” concerns. This process involves a certain degree of homogenization and it is something that globalization itself perpetuates: Everything—down to our human interactions—must be rationally controlled; even the football stadium is not immune to this process. More and more new stadiums are being built in the interests of corporate profit and not the fans—what earns the the team money is the most important concern. This is why we have seen a backlash to industrial football among world football fans. The stadium has become a space for profit, not passion.  This process erodes human agency, and I saw—first hand—how this process works at my local McDonald’s.

 

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Marginal Sociologists Can Sometimes Transcend Their Own Marginality (Author’s Note: I Have Yet To Achieve That Level). Image Courtesy Of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_McDonaldization_of_Society

 

I dropped by the nearest McDonald’s for a late night snack the other day. Upon walking in I noticed that there were four (4) computer screens set up for ordering; there was just one human cashier. Since I am against the growing computerization (and mechanization) of society, I decided to wait in line so as to physically interact with a human being during my transaction. After all, the only way of telling corporations that human beings are better investments than machines is by supporting them. After waiting about three minutes I actually got the “privilege” of interacting with a human being.

 

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How Human Is The Idea Of Breaking Burgers Down Into Nationality For the World Cup? It Seems Like More Of  a Tool To Further Atomize–and Divide–Global Society In the Age of Globalization. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2014/05/taste-test-mcdonalds-2014-world-cup-brazil-and-australia-burgers/

 

I ordered one double cheeseburger (only onions and ketchup; no pickles or mustard). Assuming it would be a small purchase I presented two (2) American dollars as payment. The cashier informed me that the final price was two dollars and two cents ($2.02). I asked if $2.00 dollars was enough; it would save her the time of counting out ninety-eight cents in change and me the time of waiting. It made “sense” insofar as it reduced the need for “cents”. The cashier, for her part, did not budge. $2.02. She wanted those two cents. I searched on the floor for dropped change in vain. I pleaded for her to drop the two cents but she was adamant. $2.02. In effect, my human cashier had become as robotic as the machines that will soon push her out of a job. But, in the context of the rationalized world of extreme capitalism, she couldn’t understand that she had lost her human agency. If she had cut me some slack—as a human being could (and arguably should)—she would be held accountable by her manager for the missing two cents in her register at the end of her shift. And I get that. But I also get that it represents the kind of bureaucratic rationalization that Max Weber argues leaves human beings bereft of their own human agency. My cashier on this night might have saved the McDonald’s corporation from losing two cents, but that will not keep the McDonald’s corporation from laying her off in favor of a computer somewhere down the line. This particular cashier was all too willing to earn the company profit—which will likely not trickle down to her paygrade—at the expense of having a human interaction. In fact, for two cents, she even risked losing a customer (After all, I am not opposed to criticism of corporations who subscribe to the values of extreme capitalism, such as Starbucks).

 

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Again, in 2006, McDonald’s Was At the Forefront of Football Advertising. Image Courtesy Of: http://fifaworldcup.tk/fifa-world-cup/fifa-world-cup-2006-logo

 

In the end I decided to order a second double cheeseburger (since two are $3.20) so as to at least get more “bang for my buck(s)” (and to get less change). As I waited for the food, however, I became more and more incensed at the blatantly impersonal nature of the modern fast food restaurant. Eventually I lost my appetite. Rather than refuse the food (an action which I, for a moment, contemplated), I decided to take it and walked out hoping (for possibly the first time in my life) that one of the famous panhandlers in my city would accost me looking for money. When one did—asking for a dollar so as to purchase a bus ticket to a city more than five hours away—I made my own move: “I don’t have any money for you, but I do have two hot McDonald’s double cheeseburgers with only onions and ketchup—will you take them?” At that a smile crept across the gentleman’s face and I presented him with the food I had ordered. It was fitting that—in a dehumanizing world—we can still strive for humanizing experiences (even if extreme capitalism tries, at times, to suppress our own humanity).

 

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Like Starbuck’s, McDonald’s Might Attempt to Send a Multicultural Image (Look At the Clearly Inter-ethnic Display of the Four Children In This Advertisement) But That Doesn’t Mean They Don’t Pursue The Kind Of Global Homogenization That Globalism and Globalization Encourage; A Kind of Discriminatory Cultural Imperialism That Erases All That Is Local. Image Courtesy Of: http://bizztro.tumblr.com/post/88927751559/fifas-game-of-sponsors

 

 

Sports Stars and Extreme Capitalism from Necati Ateş to Stephan Curry: The Continued Atomization of Extreme Capitalist Society

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Necati Ateş in Action For Galatasaray. Image Courtesy Of: https://alchetron.com/Necati-Ates-145199-W

 

The other day a friend sent me a picture of himself with Turkish football star Necati Ateş. In and of itself, this small “event” is not very significant; a friend had a random interaction with a famous footballer in a restaurant—itself a democratic space since everyone has to eat. Yet, for me, it was indicative of the fact that extremely wealthy celebrities, like footballers, do not have to be distant from the very people that support them: the average fan. I was moved especially by Mr. Ateş’s smile; he seemed genuinely happy to be in a photo with my friends. For me a simple picture—while maybe not telling one thousand words—did show that 1) celebrities can be accessible and 2) that celebrities can also be normal people. That this kind of interaction took place in Turkey is not insignificant.

 

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Some Beautiful People in a Beautiful Picture. Mr. Ateş is Pictured Third From the Left (In the Middle, So To Speak). Image Courtesy of E.C.

 

The extreme capitalism of the United States is based upon a belief in the supremacy of the individual; in advanced industrial capitalist societies the individual is effectively subordinate to the system. As an American-born kid growing up in Turkey I was often asked if I saw famous people on a daily basis. Of course I didn’t, I lived in Providence, Rhode Island (a beautiful city yet hardly a destination for A-List celebrities). And even if I lived in New York City or Los Angeles, celebrities—in the United States—often frequent such exclusive places that a normal, middle class citizen would be unlikely to even interact with such people. The country is simply too big (and too stratified) to be conducive to such interactions. But in Turkey it is different—the country is smaller, and people are—generally—more ready to interact with their community than people in the United States. And that is one reason that Turkey is such a warm and inviting country.

Mr. Ateş seems to show, in this small interaction, that there can be a place for humanist interaction in societies that are negotiating the relationship between capitalism and “extreme” capitalism. In the United States, it is difficult to get the autograph—let alone a picture—of a star athlete. This difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that often-times athletes (and celebrities) come to believe (due to encouragement from the culture industry) that they are somehow “above” normal society—Beyonce’s self-beatification during the Grammys is a good example of this process.

 

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The Beatification of Beyonce; Celebrities as Above the People. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/beyonce-grammy-goddess_us_58a203d0e4b0ab2d2b17d4ce

 

Similarly, some athletes completely disregard the people that support them. NBA star Steph Curry’s comments regarding Donald Trump are an example of this process. After the CEO of the sportswear company Under Armour called President Donald Trump “An Asset to this country [the USA]”, Steph Curry (who is himself sponsored by Under Armour), said “I agree with that description if you remove the ‘et’”. While I would not go so far as conservative commentators who called for Under Armour to “rip up” their agreement with Mr. Curry, I would say that Mr. Curry’s comments are ill-informed; he evidently did not realize that many normal people—including parts of the middle classes in the United States—indeed voted for Mr. Trump precisely because they felt forgotten by mainstream America’s celebrity culture. It is a process that has characterized the neo-liberal era in the United States; even in 2000 a University of Wisconsin sociologist noted how ignoring middle-America was problematic. Evidently, no one listened.

 

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Steph Curry In Action for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. Image Courtesy Of: http://clutchpoints.com/steph-curry-deflects-question-about-kevin-durants-comments-about-his-defense/

 

A society divided between rich and poor cannot sustain itself and, sadly, celebrities are perpetuating this divide in the United States currently. While I agree that sports stars should speak their mind (since they are a large part of the public sphere), they should do so in an informed way. By succumbing to blind ideology, they send the wrong message to their fans. Mr. Curry would have been better off taking Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s path, who attempted to bridge the gap in American society rather than widen it further. In so doing, Mr. Johnson showed that he is more in tune with his society than Mr. Curry and—coming from a celebrity—this is something to be commended. Money, and the search for it, need not distance us from our own humanity. Unfortunately, extreme capitalism in the United States tends to glorify the celebrity. I appreciate Mr. Ateş’s actions for showing a side of Turkey that current news stories tend to miss: it is a beautiful country with extremely kind people, struggling to stand up to the ravaging forces of extreme neoliberal capitalism. If only more American celebrities could recognize the dangers of their own disconnectedness from wider society.

A Marginal Sociologist’s Take on Globalization as Seen Through The Hypocrisy of Starbuck’s Coffee: A Modern Day White Man’s Burden?

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All Aboard the Train of Cultural Imperialism? No Thanks, I’ll walk. Image Courtesy Of: https://news.starbucks.com/news/all-aboard-the-first-starbucks-on-a-train-with-sbb

 

Since I wrote about the sports world’s response to US President Donald Trump’s move to suspend immigration from seven majority Muslim countries the furor has not subsided. Indeed, in discussions with fellow sociologists, I have been able to see first hand the anger that Mr. Trump’s poorly-executed policy has spurred. Such discussions are usually fruitless since—as I have also written about in the past—many Americans do not have a clear sense of the world because they have not travelled. This kind of “international ignorance” may well be one of the biggest shortcomings of modern American society; it is a society that has continually fostered this kind of ignorance while not encouraging what I would call “international competency”. It is unfortunate, and the problems it creates are wide-ranging.

In the piece I wrote earlier I used Sociologist George Herbert Mead’s conception of the “self”: essentially one defines the “self” in relation to how one perceives others see them. It grows out of an acknowledgement of the “other”. Most Americans—having never left the country—do not have any conception of an “other”; this leads to the kind of extreme individualism that I wrote about in the context of American sports. Of course, emphasized individualism is a product of extreme capitalism since modern industrial society encourages individualism; having fewer communal ties makes one more likely to wholeheartedly accept the culture of competition which is necessary for capitalism to flourish.

This may be one reason that so many in the American public have been ready to make the immigration cause their own without thinking about other issues; in their mind “American” society is the best there is. Ready to encourage this kind of sentiment the media have featured South Sudanese NBA Star Luol Deng’s message prominently. Mr. Deng explains: “It’s important that we remember to humanize the experience of others. Refugees overcome immeasurable odds, relocate across the globe, and work hard to make the best of their newfound home. Refugees are productive members of society that want for their family just as you want for yours. I stand by all refugees and migrants, of all religions, just as I stand by the policies that have historically welcomed them”. Of course, Mr. Deng is right: we must humanize the experience of others and recognize that people are just trying to make the best of the perils that globalizing society has produced.

 

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Mr. Deng’s Words Should Be Recognized. Especially the Emphasis on “Humanizing” as opposed to Corporatizing. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/LuolDeng9/status/826186188650221568/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

 

Unfortunately, the media fail to realize one crucial point: The American model may not be the only model for world society; in fact, there are many functioning societies around the world that are much less individualistic than America’s and which still maintain their stability. We must keep this in mind, lest we push a form of imperialism that borders on societal engineering and is eerily similar to the “white-man’s burden” of colonial times. What works in America works fairly well—but that doesn’t mean it will work everywhere and it certainly doesn’t mean that it should work everywhere. The media fail to realize that all of the countries President Trump suspended immigration from have been victim to some degree of American intervention in the past (as the President himself admitted, the United States is far from innocent); the more this kind of imperialism is pushed the more unstable the world becomes.

Starbuck’s Coffee—themselves guilty of the kind of cultural imperialism that globalization encourages—decided to take action following Mr. Trump’s order. It amounted to an extremely hypocritical move. Starbuck’s announced that it would hire 10,000 refugees for its stores, sparking ire from Americans. Starbuck’s’ PR department seemed to have smoothed things over as their hometown newspaper the Seattle Times reported that veterans were already well-represented within the Starbuck’s community, and Business insider noted that “The coffee giant responded with links to a press release on its recent work to open stores in lower-income communities and a website on its veteran outreach” (Author’s Note: I have retained these links for readers who are interested). Even more hilarious is that Starbuck’s—despite their unending cultural imperialism—don’t even have locations in any of the seven countries Mr. Trump chose to temporarily stop immigration from. I wonder why?

 

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Locations of Starbucks Worldwide Are Colored In Green. I Guess The Seven Muslim Majority Nations Were Deemed Too Unsafe Even For Starbuck’s (!). And What About Africa? I Guess Starbuck’s Might Be A Little Racist Too (!). Image Courtesy Of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starbucks#Locations

 

The issue here is that Starbuck’s, in their bid to be “inclusive” and “progressive”, are merely painting over their own questionable past. Starbuck’s in Turkey (and I imagine it is similar in other countries that have an existing “coffee culture”) has emphasized a form of cultural imperialism; traditional coffee houses are pushed out by the ubiquity of Starbuck’s’ locations. In addition to their imperialism, the company also has put the demands of international capital before the concerns of human life. As someone who closely followed the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, I know that Starbuck’s closed their doors to protestors affected by tear gas and attacks from the police; it was such an affront that many in Turkey wanted to boycott Starbuck’s wholesale. Starbuck’s—again through the mouthpiece of a hometown Seattle news source—tried to cover up their deplorable actions and Christian Leonard’s piece for the Seattle Globalist carries the headline “Starbucks lends a hand (and a toilet) to Turkish protesters”. The truth is far from it; they in fact had closed their doors (and toilets) to protesters. This kind of “alternative reporting” is a result of Starbuck’s’ propaganda machine, as one Canadian source points out:

 

In a world where millions are instantly united by social media, political actions can be quick and effective in situations like this. Starbucks has been criticized by protestors, who claim that when the police tear gas attacks began, Starbucks was one of the only shops to close its doors and refuse to allow in those injured and seeking shelter. Starbucks has since been scrambling to regain its credibility amid calls for boycott: Tweeting images of its staff helping protestors, and posting notices around campus denying that it failed to provide assistance.

 

The aforementioned story is an example of Starbuck’s’ attempt to “regain its credibility”. Unfortunately for Starbuck’s, anyone who knows about the company should know that it is morally bankrupt.

Current CEO Charles Schultz sold the NBA’s  Seattle Supersonics, allowing the team to move to Oklahoma City and alienating many basketball fans in the process. The company also turned a blind eye to insults directed at NASCAR fans after the company attempted to enter the motorsports world. The company even sparked a controversy over Christmas (I italicize it because it is so ridiculous) in order to keep with America’s obsession with political correctness; for the company “Merry Christmas” was deemed offensive.

Those who think that Starbuck’s is standing up for refugees might want to look at the situation from a different perspective. They might be looking for cheap labor from desperate sources (if so they really represent one of the more reprehensible forms of extreme capitalism) or they may just be looking to glorify their own moral standing, championing the consumerism of America while reaching out to the “less fortunate”. In any case, those searching for virtue in Starbuck’s would best be “served” going elsewhere for both coffee and virtue.

Extreme Capitalism Comes Home

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They say that you can’t go home again. They say it as if the concept that is “home” disappears the moment you cross that county line (or state line or city line). Before the last few days, I never believed this could be true. Home is in your heart right? It is a place where emotions are entwined with memories and experiences connected to space…right? In short, things that cannot be fabricated or replaced; these are things that cannot be replicated. The concept of “Home” is made up of moments—taken out of time—that (partially) define who we, as human beings, are. Right? Well…unfortunately, today I learned that this isn’t always the case. In fact, “Home” can be stripped away, whisked out from under you like the tablecloth on a cartoon’s table. Unfortunately—unlike as is the case in the cartoon—the items on the table (of your life) do not just fall into place just as they were before. In fact…everything is replaced in a disjointed way. Sure the items are still there, they just aren’t there in the same way.

Like I did a few years ago, when I took a walking tour of Istanbul, I decided to take a walking tour of the seaside village in which I spent the summers of my childhood. Since I experienced many pivotal moments in my life in this village, the place has a special meaning for me. Sadly—through the eyes of a grown man—the place has, inevitably, changed. Not, I may add, for the better.

On my Sunday walk I realize that my first route is blocked. A new construction site has, somehow, been built over the road. As if building houses (valued at one million US Dollars each) over the land that—as a child—I had picked figs in necessitates building over a road (which was, I may add, resurfaced just three years ago). But apparently it does; it is always more profitable to destroy and rebuild, after all. As someone who has never understood business—the concept of selling things at a profit (or taking advantage of people) is foreign to me—I cannot understand the changes that surround my childhood home. So I walk on, through the middle of a construction site. The workers stare at me with strained eyes, their neon yellow construction vests almost blinding in the sunshine of an early summer day, in stark contrast to their dark sun-tanned faces. Their eyes tell a story: “I was sent here to build houses that I will never, ever, have the chance to live in.” I fill in the rest of the story: They came here from towns and villages in Eastern Turkey that are now under attack, part of the struggle between the Turkish state and Kurdish minority that has been ongoing since the founding of the republic (for more on this, readers can access this—somewhat hyperbolic—piece from the New York Times). But there is money to be made, and I am in no place to tell people that they should not feed their families, even if it feeds an extreme brand of capitalism that just cannot support itself for much longer.

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I continue my walk thinking about how the US dollar is now three times the value of the Turkish Lira; just a few years ago it was fluctuating between a (comparatively) healthy 1.5-1.7. How will people afford the housing? Credit? Mortgages? We…. all know how that turned out in the United States…and the Turkish economy can’t handle that type of shock, reeling as it is from the recent bombings and resulting loss in tourism revenue.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.xe.com/currencycharts/?from=USD&to=TRY&view=5Y

Once in the main village I pass by what used to be a small market; one where small rotisserie chickens were sold and where we—as wayward teenagers—would buy beers for long summer nights spent on the beach talking about the future. The space now belongs to a company selling construction materials. Soon, I realize why the man’s market couldn’t compete in the larger, capital “M”, Market. Five national chains have moved into the neighborhood, all within—at most—a fifteen-minute walk of the closed market. It is basic economics—the national chain can sell at a lower price than the local corner store. It is sad. But it is also true, when the world is all about the bottom line.

I walk the familiar old streets out to the marina, where the white yachts of the rich are docked, floating idly in the blue expanse. One of the proprietors of a fish restaurant solicits a friend’s attention but I ignore him. I don’t have much of an appetite after what I’ve seen. And what I see next doesn’t make me feel any better.

On the return I come to the crest of a hill overlooking the new construction and I remember, at the end of the summer two years ago, watching bulldozers uproot the forest I had walked through as a child. Now, only two trees remain and it feels like a bad joke. The asphalt is covered in mud from an earlier shower and I see that even the crystal clear sea of my childhood is gone. The mud from the construction site is running off into the water; it is not a place I would like to swim and I wonder if the soon-to-be owners of these houses would agree. Pay one million dollars and not have roads or a beach? Not a good return on an investment but…who am I to say that? I’m just a guy that writes.

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Currently:

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Two Years Ago, with Half the Forest Already Uprooted:

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I finish my walk and head home, ready to do some more reading, but not before facing the visual assault of a brand new four story housing development being built behind my home. An ancient stone wall—built rock by rock by the hands of the farmer whose horses I used to feed carnations to as a child—has been demolished to make way for a concrete wall the color I would call “New England Winter Sky”. Who gave them the right to build a high rise in the middle of a small village? Well…the government did, of course. Without the consent of the state, nothing is possible in the modern world. And if all the state wants is to line its pockets then…anything goes. Its appalling and disgusting and it makes me want to know why greed exists in the world, yet I know the farmer—so many long years ago, had the same thoughts I have now when his land was encircled by development. May he rest in peace. I decide that, instead of reading, I’ll head down to the beach with a cold beer and watch the sunset. After all, the new development—despite its four stories—wont be able to bask in the sunset light like I can.

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The next day a friend and I come upon a small kitten in the village. It seems to have lost its mother and—certainly—does not know what to do now that it is all alone in the world. We play with it and feed it, watching it explore nature. The joy of rolling in the grass, the pain of a rose bush’s thorns; we quickly learn the pleasures and pains of life. I can’t help but wonder what it will do when all of the nature is swallowed up by human greed. Later, that same friend sends me a news story as I’m sitting at home: six people have been wounded and two killed in an assault at a night club in town after a disagreement between construction workers working on yet another new commercial development and employees of the club. I sigh and look out the window, thinking of the kitten. I wonder how it is doing. I think I might buy some cat food tomorrow morning. After all, we all need a little help in the world as we stomach the loss of our innocence.

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Author’s Note: The name of the place in question has been purposefully left out since this type of development can—and does—happen anywhere in the world, and indeed in any context. Industrial Football, for instance, is the manifestation of this phenomenon in sports as stadiums slowly disappear. Thank you for reading.

Farewell to Boleyn Ground/Upton Park: Community and Modern Football

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I will preface this with an admission: I am not a “fan” of any team in the English Premier League, although I do have sympathies for certain teams. Among those teams is West Ham United, a team I saw play two falls ago on Green Street. As someone who appreciates fan culture, I enjoy the ritual of “bubbles” at Boleyn Ground/Upton Park. After the final match at the ground, with West Ham pulling out a 3-2 victory over Manchester United, I am left thinking “what next?”.

The pageantry of the celebration was amazing and did justice to the end of an era. But I cant help but realize that this end of an era is yet another manifestation of the modern football that many fans are speaking out against.

Slaven Bilic, the Croatian coach of West Ham United for whom I have great respect after his year in Istanbul with Turkish side Besiktas, made his own views clear on the move to the Olympic Stadium. He noted that “The Upton Park stadium was a first home. No matter where you move after that – if you move to a fancy apartment, a big house or to a mansion – your favourite one is always the first. You are losing something because it is impossible to make the Olympic Stadium a fortress”. His analogy is apt—even if the new surroundings will be posher, they cannot replace the memories (and atmosphere) of “home”. His assertion (referring to Arsenal’s ground change) that Highbury felt dangerous, while Emirates is for selfies, is also spot-on—new grounds have become tourist destinations.

Of course, not everyone agrees with me. Dave Kidd of the Daily Mirror seems glad to be rid of Boleyn Ground/Upton Park, where the author first “witnessed serious violence, hardcore racism, drug-taking, frightening levels of crushing and the warm feeling of having your leg urinated upon by a man who was never going to travel across a sea of humanity to the toilets at the sides of the North Bank.” While it is hyperbolic, I’m sure that all of the incidents mentioned have, indeed, happened inside the ground. But…then again…in what old ground have such things not happened? I still remember my first baseball game at the Boston Red Sox’s iconic Fenway Park; a drunk man vomited at my mother’s feet and the language was not something I should have heard at that age. That was, needless to say, the last Red Sox game for my mother. But that was the 1990s; since then rising ticket prices have been the preferred way to keep undesirable elements out of the stadium—without destroying it and building a new ground. While the pre-match violence was unfortunate, it is hard to believe that the move to a new stadium will stamp out this kind of behavior either. To blame the ground on the activities of patrons seems wrong to me, and I cannot agree fully with Mr. Kidd’s claims that the Boleyn Ground/Upton Park “should not be mourned” and that it is “not worth idealizing”. It is fan mentality—not a stadium—that incites violence.

It is not just for the fans that I lament. The effect of the ground’s closure is felt even harder by the small businesses that make a living on the game-day experience of football fans, the establishments that make game-days around the world. The BBC did a great piece on the future of Upton Park (the neighborhood), detailing the local issues. The owner of one pub estimated that he would lose two thirds of his income—almost 500,000 Pounds—while a restaurant owner claimed that a quarter of his earnings come from West Ham fans. The Mayor of Newham is more optimistic, noting that the families moving into the 800 new flats being built in place of the stadium will contribute to the local economy and that “only a few businesses” set up to cater to fans will suffer. While this may be true, it is certainly the end of an era. As the BBC notes, fans will no longer crowd the Upton Park tube station (as even I have).

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/36170590#orb-footer

As stadiums move—often in the name of money—from their traditional locations within the community to outside of the community, a piece of the game is lost. As this happens, it is important to remember that it is not just the fans that are affected. There are many others—from small-business owners to part time programme sellers—that feel this change not just emotionally, but financially as well. The old style football supporter—who was tied to the team because, perhaps, they could take in a match from their flat—is on the way out as well. For me, the disassociation of sport from place is what really hurts; sport adds meaning to geography. Unfortunately, in the world of modern/industrial football, it seems like money is the only thing that matters.

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Images Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3583769/UPTON-PARK-PICTURE-SPECIAL-West-Ham-bid-farewell-Boleyn-Ground-style-Winston-Reid-scores-winner-dent-Manchester-United-s-Champions-League-hopes-emotional-night.html

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