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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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A Marginal Sociologist on The Double Edged Sword of Technology

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While sitting at a local bar, I notice a couple uniformed police approaching patrons. Soon they are at my table, explaining that they are doing a “study” on drunk driving. I oblige, if only because I believe that social studies are interesting—and important—in terms of understanding our societies. Yet, I cannot help but wonder what will the data be used for?

Preventing drunk driving is, of course, a good use of data. Yet so many studies are done daily—and without our knowledge—in which data is continually mined. Facebook is just the tip of the iceberg in this regard; indeed Facebook and Google have collected unimaginable amounts of data on millions of people worldwide. Given that this questionable form of surveillance has affected people all over the world—regardless of their race, gender, class, sexual orientation, or whatever other intersectional identity that the Social Justice Warriors might invent—one could say that we all are equal in the face of corporate surveillance.

And that is just why this form of surveillance should be resisted. There was uproar when Edward Snowden announced that the U.S. government’s National Security Agency was surveilling innocent citizens. There were even nationwide marches against gun control when the citizens felt that their lives were endangered. Yet there has been no major response to the illegal corporate surveillance of innocent individuals. Perhaps, this is because we have come to believe that what is “convenient” in the modern world is good; we are unable to recognize that it is—in actuality—a thinly-veiled form of social control. And it is a form of social control which unites us all, regardless of our “identities”.

The use of social media for advertising is nothing new, and it has become a major discussion among footballers who are looking to capitalize on new avenues for profit. While scrolling through my Instagram account I found two ads come up: both asked me (rhetorically) “summer vacation in Algeciras?”. The red flag, for me, was this sales pitch; after all, anyone who has ever heard of Algeciras will know that it is a gritty port town. The only reason for visiting Algeciras would be to get out of the city as soon as possible, en route to the North African coast. I had a hard time believing that this would be the only advertisement offered to Americans hoping to visit Spain. After all, weren’t Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Granada or Sevilla more enticing tourist destinations? Of course they are…but this advertisement was tailored to me. I had been to Algeciras. Through social media—perhaps by crunching my data, sent via text or email—the system knew the places I visited and, indeed, those I would like to return to again.

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This is, of course, creepy. It is very creepy and it should make people uncomfortable that companies—not states, who are (at least ostensibly) beholden to the people—are watching individuals with the main goal of making money. Sadly, it seems that people are more content to go along with the status quo—like sheep—than they are willing to march against this postmodern form of surveillance. If this sounds absurd, it is because it is absurd.

For all the talk of “freedom” and “tolerance” that Silicon Valley (which has shown itself to be intolerant of American conservatives) spouts, shouldn’t they resist, rather than encourage, social control? Why should our travel—whether it be to Algeciras or anywhere else—be monitored? While we might regard internal passports as a remnant of the distant past (they were common in the soviet Union), we should be aware that this new electronic surveillance amounts to the same kind of social control. Our movements—domestic and international—are constantly being tracked. Perhaps the biggest threat to human freedom in the future is not state control, but corporate control. And this is one form of control which all of us, as humans, should be united in resisting.