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Football Fans Take Part In Anti-Capitalism Protests in Hamburg Surrounding the G20 Meetings as Absurdities Abound

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U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Poland ahead of the G20 summit in Hamburg set the tone for the absurdities which would follow. Chris Cilliza, an employee for CNN (one of the major news networks guilty of publishing polarizing stories recently) tweeted a report that the Polish First Lady, Agata Kornhauser-Duda, snubbed Mr. Trump’s attempt to shake her hand during the latter’s visit to the Eastern European country. Of course, Mr. Cilliza’s poor excuse for journalism soon turned out to be “fake news”; Ms. Kornhauser-Duda did in fact shake Mr. Trump’s hand, it just did not appear in the four second video Mr. Cilliza Tweeted—perhaps it was a case of premature tweeting–and Polish President Andrzej Duda Tweeted a call to “fight fake news”. Regardless of one’s political inclinations, this event should remind everyone that they must carefully interpret what they see on the internet, lest they get sucked into the alternate reality of one-dimensional thought which is being pushed on the entire world.

 

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Tweets Fly With Abandon..Even When They’re Fake. Image Courtesy of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4675312/Polish-head-blasts-critics-said-wife-SNUBBED-Trump.html

 

Unfortunately, many people bought the “fake news”, despite Mr. Duda setting the record straight. This might be, of course, because Mr. Duda is derided by media outlets (like The Guardian and CNN) for being “rightwing”. Indeed, the rightwing identity is one that the media loves to paint Poland with. Journalist Christian Davies wrote a damning portrait of Polish football fans in March of 2017, seemingly painting the whole of the country’s fans as “xenophobic white-supremacists”. Mr. Davies’ article explains the situation as such:

 

In the run-up to the Uefa European Championship in Poland and Ukraine in 2012, Poland’s then Civic Platform-led government (which was headed by Donald Tusk before he became president of the European Council in 2014) clamped down on organised hooliganism. It was feared that violence or instances of racism could disrupt the tournament and damage the country’s reputation abroad.

That provided an opening for far-right and right-wing politicians to adopt the nationalist fans’ cause, portraying them as ordinary patriots enduring harassment from a liberal government hostile to “traditional” cultural values. Their cause has also been adopted by hardliners within the Polish Catholic Church, who share PiS’s [Author’s Note: the acronym for the ruling Law and Justice Party] view that the country’s values and identity are under sustained attack by decadent, Western cosmopolitanism and the racial diversity imposed from above by Brussels.

 

Clearly, Mr. Davies’ sweeping generalizations are an example of bad journalism, similar to fake news. As a scholar of football fan culture, I am left wondering: How many Polish football fans did Mr. Davies actually speak too? My hunch would be that he did not speak to many; after all, the money in journalism comes from stating what people already believe and pandering to the readership, not from challenging existing beliefs and risking the loss of said readership. Is it true that there are xenophobic and racist football fans? Of course it is! Anyone familiar with football fan culture will know that there are more than a few fans that believe in negative ideologies. But this does not mean that all fans are conned by such violent ideologies.

After all, I would say that anything “imposed from above by Brussels”—such as “racial diversity”, to quote from the above article—is something that the citizens of Poland have a right to be miffed about, especially since Poland was once conned by internationalism and multiculturalism imposed from abroad (does anyone remember the Soviet Union!?). If people would like to defend their own countries and cultures from the meaningless mélange of globalization, then I would say they are right to stand up for nationalism. Of course, we don’t know what the football fans really think because Mr. Davies didn’t talk to them, he merely succumbed to the trend of one dimensional thought.

The same absurdities abound in the form of protests surrounding the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. The protestors say they are fighting “capitalism” and globalization”… yet they are also protesting against leaders like Mr. Trump, who himself espouses an anti-globalism and pro-nationalism point of view! It truly is an absurd situation. To make matters worse, these protestors are actually hurting local businesses. One shopkeeper whose business was destroyed, Cord Wohlke, was quoted by ABC news as saying, “I just don’t know why people would do this … It wasn’t the people who live here. They’ve done about 400,000 euros in damage. This is just criminal, not a protest”. Mr. Wohlke—like so many Hamburg residents—have every right to be upset at the violence, which doesn’t even compute ideologically. If these thugs really wanted to combat globalization they could have supported local businesses, allowing them to benefit from the G20 summit financially. Instead, they chose to destroy the city. It seems to be a dystopia indeed, just not in the manner that Croatian philospher Srecko Horvat thinks it is (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/06/hamburg-protest-g20-dystopian-nightmare-security-disunity-politics . Mr. Horvat calls German leader Angela Merkel a “leader of the free world”, ignoring that she is a globalist through and through! Mr. Horvat criticizes the G20 for implementing the Washington Consensus (perpetuating American control over the global economy) while the Guardian seemingly laments America’s “abdication” of its position as a global power (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/06/g20-summit-could-mark-end-of-us-as-global-leader-but-what-is-next at the same time. It truly does not compute, and this is where football comes into play.

 

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Hamburg is Burning and Football Fans Are Taking Part. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-09/g20-protesters-bringing-violence-to-hamburg-put-locals-off-side/8691894

 

Fittingly, Hamburg is home to St. Pauli FC, a football club known for its left-wing stance. The club is characterized by its ties to underground punk rock music and a staunchly anti-neo Nazi position; these are of course very positive and they have gained the club a cult status among world football fans. I myself find St. Pauli FC to be one of the more interesting clubs in a football scene that is being homogenized by the forces of globalization and extreme capitalism, in the form of industrial football. Unfortunately, I fear that many of the football fans who were involved in the protests—and even the St. Pauli executives, who opened the stadium doors to protestors and allowed them to camp there–are unaware of just how capitalist even an ostensibly anti-capitalist football team can be. It is a relationship that the media—purveyors of fake news and distorted facts—does not want fans to know about.

In the January 2012 issue of the academic journal Soccer & Society (Volume 13, Number 1), scholar Gerald Grigg wrote an interesting article entitled “’Carlsberg don’t make football teams . . . but if they did’: the utopian reporting of FC St Pauli in British Media”. Mr. Grigg provides a great summary of what St. Pauli FC is, while also pointing out that:

 

the real extent of such a group’s [the FC St. Pauli fans] cultural resistance may remain open to question. After all, as a professional football club, FC St Pauli still plays in a high-level organized league, pays professional players and, as a business venture, mirrors many of the same practices exhibited by other teams (Grigg, 2012: 77).

 

Although the team certainly does represent an admirably anti-racist and anti-homophobic stance, Grigg points out that the media also glosses over the less admirable qualities of the team:

 

Specific realities which may question the strength of the nostalgic and alternative picture portrayed in the reporting can also be found within the published articles, but in the main there is something of a ‘glossing over’ of the potential significance of details such as:

Signs that the modern business of football is catching up.

Sponsors [injecting] around 40 million Euro (34.6 million GBP).

They are now moving to new training facilities in 2012. 

Customers queuing up to buy merchandise … which includes toasters, rugby shirts, baby clothes, and ashtrays—all with the familiar skull-and-crossbones logo.

A rebuilding plan that will eventually see the whole stadium modernized.

Many of these facts may well represent the modernizations that occur or have already occurred across major leagues in western Europe and indicate that FC St Pauli may have more in common with their league counterparts, such as Bayern Munich and neighbors Hamburg, than it would first appear. It is interesting that the reporting which comments on such facts massively plays down their potential implications. The Times reports upon the development of the new stadium, but states that when it is completed, ‘it will never be confused with Hamburg’s UEFA five-star venue”. (Grigg, 2012: 78).

 

Grigg closes his article with a call for more first-hand studies of FC St. Pauli, to provide a fuller examination of the team in the face of the rather utopian rendering of the team by the media. For scholars of football everywhere, it is certainly a call worth heeding. By studying the absurdities of our time (like the G20 protests and the involvement of football fans in them) we can avoid the traps the mainstream media sets for us by independently analyzing situations. To show just how dangerous these traps can be, I will quote from the Guardian (one of the worst culprits of poor reporting) and present a selection from a recently published piece by an African-American writer who claims that the American flag makes him feel “afraid”:

 

As a black man post-election, I felt even less certain of what threats I might face outside my front door. Should I slow my stride so as not to startle the white woman up ahead? Should I give up my space on the sidewalk to the oncoming white man and his dog? Does my outfit identify me clearly enough as a recreational jogger and not a criminal?

 

This kind of poor reporting is, unfortunately, a clear example of racism. Yet, the author is celebrated—rather than criticized—for judging people based on the color of their skin! It is absurd that someone should be able to get away with clear racism in a mainstream news outlet, but that is the state of the world we live in. It is one dominated by the one-dimensional thought that is pushed through the media, presenting just one side of a multi-dimensional story. Is FC St. Pauli a unique football team, with a unique fan base that takes a positive stand on social issues and combats the negative elements within football fandom? Of course it is! But is it—like any football team—also a business (which also commodifies its own “alternative” image)? Again, of course it is! This is why we need to seek out an accountable media that tell us the whole story, not just part of it. Otherwise we end up with “anti-globalization” mobs protesting nationalism while, at the same time, ruining the livelihoods of their fellow citizens–the local shopkeepers–who are far from the corporatized global elites un-affected by violence in the streets.

 

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Cheers To The FC St. Pauli Fans For Staying Unique. Here Is To Hoping They Can Resist Their Own Commodification! Image Courtesy Of: http://www.footballparadise.com/punk-rockers-of-football-a-story-of-pirate-flags-and-the-anti-nazi-st-pauli/
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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

 

 

Turkish Football Is a Major Money-Maker for Pro-Government News Outlets At The Expense of Player Safety

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The Ziraat Turkish Cup is Turkey’s second-biggest football competition, providing a space for lesser-known clubs to shine. While not quite the FA Cup, the Ziraat Turkish Cup does provide smaller clubs with useful income: Entering the group stages nets clubs 50,000 USD, with an extra 40,000 USD for each win and 20,000 USD for each draw; qualifying for the last 16 by finishing in the top two provides another 100,000 USD. But the Ziraat Turkish Cup is not only a money maker for football clubs—it is also a money maker for the pro-government ATV Television channel, which holds the rights for broadcasting cup matches (a typical match day program can be seen here).

The owner of ATV (and its sister channels ASpor and A2, the latter which was created in 2016 seemingly exclusively in order to broadcast cup matches) is the Turkuvaz Media Group, which also owns major newspapers like Sabah, Takvim, and sports daily Fotomac. The CEO of Turkuvaz is Serhat Albayrak, the brother of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak. TV revenues are ever-increasing in the age of industrial football, and the case of ATV and the Ziraat Turkish Cup represent an interesting example of how industrial football can be used by the government. The Turkish cup used to be a standard knock out competition until 2012-2013, when the group stages were devised. Clubs qualifying for the group stages play home and away series with each team in the four-team groups, Champions League-style. Unlike the Champions League, however, these games take place between the end of November and the middle of January during the league season. This means that in some weeks teams play three games—during the coldest time of the year in Turkey. I emphasize this last point because it means that players are exposed to a greater risk of injury due to a combination of fatigue, cold temperatures, and dangerous playing conditions.

As a football fan, it is worrisome to see this type of greed which seek to increase profits with seemingly no concern for the well-being of players. The fact that this revenue is designed to bolster a pro-government media group is even more worrisome. In the end it means that fans are left to watch matches that are less football and more ice hockey. The match program for the Cup’s third match day on 28-29 December 2016 reported that six of the eleven matches were to be played in snowstorms. Four matches were even slated to take place in below-freezing temperatures, with the low for the Atiker Konyaspor-Gumushanespor match predicted to be -6 degrees Celsius! While sports fans in the United States are used to unnecessary games being played for the sake of making money (why does the NBA play an astounding 82-game regular season, for instance?), in Turkey criticism has come mainly as a result of Turkuvaz Media Group’s involvement. Below are some of the more ridiculous images from this season’s Ziraat Turkish Cup so far.

 

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On 20 December 2016 Besiktas’s Match With Boluspor was Stopped Multiple Times Due to Blizzard Conditions. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.ajansbesiktas.com/yogun-kar-yagisi-maci-duraklatti-2929h.htm

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Besiktas Eventually Muddled to a 1-1 Draw With Boluspor, While Boluspor’s Coach Said “It would be Wrong to Expect Anything Resembling Football In These Conditions”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2016/12/27/ziraat-turkiye-kupasi-nda-kar-tehlikesi-1269188
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On 21 December 2016 Gaziantepspor Hosted Kirklarelispor in a Match Where the Lines Were Barely Visible and Referee Murat Ozcan’s Hair Actually Froze. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.cnnturk.com/spor/futbol/zorla-mac-oynattilar-hakemin-saclari-dondu?page=1
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On 15 December 2016 Gumushanespor and Kizilcabolukspor Played on What Was Basically a Sheet of Ice While the Referee Struggled To Keep His Footing. Images Courtesy Of: http://spor.internethaber.com/buz-ustunde-oynanan-macta-kayan-kayana-1739134h.htm

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On 14 December 2016 Turkish Giants Galatasaray Faced 24 Erzincanspor in Sub-Zero Temperatures on a Pitch Unfit for Football. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/spor/futbol/2016/12/14/galatasaray-24-erzincanspor-maci-oncesi-zemin-korkuttu
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On 20 December 2016 Atiker Konyaspor and Gumushanespor played out a 1-1 Draw on Another Frozen Tundra. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2016/12/21/gumushanespor-atiker-konyaspor-mac-sonucu-1-1-1268240

 

While everyone has focused on the poor playing conditions on the field, there have been other developments off the field.  On 18 December 2016 President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened the new Akyazi Sports Complex—and Black Sea club Trabzonspor’s new stadium—alongside the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Tani. Mr. Erdogan used the event to inaugurate other state-led development projects in the Black Sea region, including 423 housing units, a dental health hospital, seven schools, 3 university dormitories, a stray animal shelter, and two Koran course buildings among other things. While these latter construction projects have nothing at all to do with football, they represent part of what stadium building means for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP): A modernization project fueled by construction and designed to bolster a faltering economy. The result of such projects is likely to be similar to the restructuring of the Ziraat Turkish Cup. Construction provides short-term economic gains that are not sustainable in the long term, just like increasing the number of cup matches may provide short-term income boosts for pro-government entities but the diminishing quality of the football overall will only serve to lower interest in the Turkish Cup in the long run.

The Chapecoense Plane Crash As Collective Effervescence: The Response of the Football World Shows the Human Side of Football In The Face Of An Inhumane Industrial Football (and Extreme Capitalism)

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A Tragic Disaster That May Have Lasting Consequences. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-38152105

 

Monday’s tragic air crash, which killed 71 of 77 passengers, has grabbed the world’s attention. Since football is the global game, it has allowed us all—as football fans—to have a rare moment of “collective effervescence”, a sociological concept defined by Emile Durkheim as an event that can bring people together by unifying a group. In this case, the group is—quite literally—global society. The outpouring of support from all walks of society, regardless of nationality, has been refreshing to see in a world that is becoming more and more fragmented. But some speculations as to the cause of the crash are worrisome, as they reveal a systemic failure where the desire to make a profit was put above the duty to preserve human life.

The introduction to Routledge’s Soccer and Disaster, a book I have used in my own research, explains this kind of mourning:

The links between sport, social identity and community have been a central focus of much sport sociology and history, and these links have often been thrown into sharp focus at the time of air crashes and other incidents that have resulted in the untimely deaths of football players and managers. The deep, emotional connections that football supporters have with ‘their’ teams ensure that when tragedies befall team players and other club representatives, fans often feel an acute sense of shared loss. In the wake of many of the air crashes that have blighted football, supporters and wider communities have gone into deep mourning, expressing their connection to those that have died (Darby, Johnes, and Mellor, 2005: 3).

Perhaps the only positive to result from this unfortunate disaster is that the outpouring of support—for a South American air disaster—has come from all over the football world, showing that a tragedy in the global South is recognized in the global North; the economic and cultural lines that divide the world have been transcended by this horrific accident. Again, Routledge’s Soccer and Disaster notes how this has not always been the case:

Images of some crowd disasters, such as Hillsborough (1989) where 96 Liverpool fans died, were broadcast around the globe and have become lodged in the game’s public history; yet others that took place outside the western world, like the Lima tragedy in 1964 or the disaster in Buenos Aires four years later, are remembered far less widely beyond those immediately affected (Darby, Johnes, and Mellor, 2005: 2).

Below, we see how truly international the response has been, encompassing both the local and the global. Brazil’s famous Corinthians Tweeted their condolences while also encouraging “all clubs [to] unite and pray for people’s lives”:

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/29/football/chapecoense-forca-chape-neymar-social-media/index.html

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/chapecoense-tributes-pour-football-world-161129091628532.html

 

As Chapecoense’s fans prayed in the churches of their home town, their rivals in Colombia also sent messages of condolence. Atletico Nacional called for Chapecoense to be named champions of the Copa Sudamericana, the cup they had been traveling to play for, while fellow Colombian side Millonarios also sent a message:

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-38151694

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/29/football/chapecoense-forca-chape-neymar-social-media/index.html

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/chapecoense-tributes-pour-football-world-161129091628532.html

 

Throughout South America similar feelings poured in. Both the Argentine FA and Mexican FA sent similar messages while flags flew at half mast outside the South American Football Confederation’s headquarters in Paraguay:

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/29/football/chapecoense-forca-chape-neymar-social-media/index.html

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/chapecoense-tributes-pour-football-world-161129091628532.html

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-38151694

 

In Europe too, the support has been steady. In England Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney all sent messages. Liverpool fans, perhaps due to their own experience with collective trauma, commemorated the Chapecoense disaster during a match:

 

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Images Courtesy Of: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/chapecoense-tributes-pour-football-world-161129091628532.html

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-38151694

 

In Spain, Real Madrid held a collective minute of silence ahead of a training session while Barcelona and Sevilla both sent condolences as well. Individually, former Sevilla coach Unai Emery and Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas also Tweeted their support:

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-38151694

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/chapecoense-tributes-pour-football-world-161129091628532.html

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/29/football/chapecoense-forca-chape-neymar-social-media/index.html

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/chapecoense-tributes-pour-football-world-161129091628532.html

 

Elsewhere in Europe there was support from Portugal’s Benfica (who played the last match with Italy’s FC Torino before the Superga disaster in 1949), from top German sides Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and Bayer Leverkusen, and Turkish side Galatasaray.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/chapecoense-tributes-pour-football-world-161129091628532.html 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/29/football/chapecoense-forca-chape-neymar-social-media/index.html

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/chapecoense-tributes-pour-football-world-161129091628532.html

 

Even the new Wembley Stadium, the epitome of football’s extreme capitalism and erasure of the past, lit the arch in Chapecoense’s colors. So what does this kind of unprecedented international support for Chapecoense mean? To me it shows the transnational force that football really is, an opportunity to create some sort of meaningful connection in an increasingly fragmented world that has continually pressured local and national voices into silence.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-38151694

 

But there is also another side that shows the effect of this transnational extreme capitalism. After news broke that the plane may have run out of fuel, fans were understandably angry. Part of the reason is that like any other part of culture, sports is not separate from the political; as the Guardian reports:

The tragedy came at the end of what has been a horrendous year for Brazil, as bad news and political upheaval followed tragedy. An epidemic of the Zika virus has been blamed for an outbreak of the birth defect microcephaly, but nobody understands why it is concentrated in Brazil’s poorer north-east. Economists are struggling to understand why South America’s biggest economy refuses to grow out of its worst recession in a century.

Public life has been darkened by a sprawling bribery and kickbacks scandal at state-run oil company Petrobras that has led to the jailing of dozens of politicians, executives and intermediaries. The scandal helped drive the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in August – though she was never accused of graft – and allegations now threaten her successor and former vice-president, Michel Temer.

The Chapecoense air disaster might become an introspective event for Brazilian society, much like the 1987 Alianza Lima disaster was for Peru (also see Panfichi and Vich in Soccer and Disaster). One very readable story on the Economist’s blog gives us a few clues as to why this disaster connects capitalism, sports, and society. Focusing on reports that the plane ran out of fuel, the Economist focuses on why? The plane was scheduled to stop in northern Bolivia for fuel but never did, and “According to O Globo, a Brazilian news outlet, the first leg of the journey from São Paulo to Santa Cruz de la Sierra was delayed by around one hour. That meant that the refuelling stop in Cobija was not possible, as the airport there shuts down at night. So, the pilot opted to fly directly from Santa Cruz de la Sierra to Medellín”.

The Economist further explains that the range of the plane was less than the distance between the airports of São Paulo and Medellín;

The range of the plane model, a British AVRO RJ-85 jet, is 2,965km with a full tank of fuel, according to JACDEC, an air-safety website. That is less than the distance between the two airports. Global civil-aviation regulations state that any plane flying internationally must carry enough fuel to make it to an alternate airport, and enough to fly for 30 minutes after that. And yet somehow, the plane was on course to arrive safely. Mr Quiroga had requested for priority to land with air-traffic control, but he was rebuffed: another plane had a fuel leak and needed to land first. Only after that, when the jet had already begun to descend, did he declare an emergency.

It is not clear how or why the last-minute change in flight plan was approved. According to El Deber, a Bolivian newspaper, airport officials in Santa Cruz de la Sierra raised several questions about it. Mr Quiroga reportedly made various verbal guarantees that the plane had enough fuel for the trip.

This is macabre news indeed, and the Economist further uncovers things I have not seen in the main-stream (state) media:

Other considerations may have been on the pilot’s mind. Mr Quiroga was a co-owner of Lamia airlines. As such he had a unique set of incentives in this situation. Postponing a chartered flight in a time-sensitive industry is not good for business. Once in the air, telling officials that the plane is running out of fuel is less than desirable: the penalty for any firm being caught flouting regulations is huge. It is too early to say whether such factors played a part in his decision-making.

It is also unclear why a top-tier football team was flying to a major sporting event with an airline like Lamia in the first place. The firm was founded in 2009 in Mérida, a small city in western Venezuela. Last year Lamia Bolivia, a separate business entity, was set up. The airline claims to specialise in chartered flights, particularly for football teams. The only functioning plane it has ever owned is the 17-year-old jet that crashed into the muddy Colombian mountainside.

The players of Chapecoense were not the only footballers to fly with Lamia. Few airlines provide chartered flights in Latin America, and none does it cheaper. “A flight that another company charges you $100,000 for, Lamia offered for $60,000,” an industry insider told La Nacion, an Argentine newspaper. Among Lamia’s customers were Atletico Nacional, Chapecoense’s would-be opponents in Medellín, and Argentina’s national football team. The squad’s luminaries, including Lionel Messi, perhaps the greatest player of all time, boarded the doomed Lamia plane just two weeks before the crash, flying from Buenos Aires to Belo Horizonte for a World Cup qualifier.

The influence of extreme capitalism—through industrial football, in this case—is not hard to see and it is tragic given the importance of the Chapecoense team to its community. After all, football should be about the community and not money. The pilot did not want to hurt the business he owned—since the bottom line was more important than human life—and therefore chose not to report the gravity of the situation. This—if true—is just personal greed. As for the Chapecoense team choosing to fly with Lamia? This, again, can be chalked up to economics. A savings of $40,000, as reported above, is significant for a team that has to make money in the world of industrial football. Do I think that cutting corners on air travel—to save money for the club at the expense of human life—is acceptable? Of course not, it is reprehensible! But do I understand how it could happen? Unfortunately, in the era of industrial football (and extreme capitalism), where money is one of the few guiding “principles” humanity has left, then I do understand why a team can make such a choice resulting in this kind of heinous tragedy.

It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and even leads me to believe that Ronaldinho’s offer to play for the club is just a publicity stunt to get him back into football. I hope he proves me wrong, but in the era of industrial football nothing will surprise me. I hope that this collective effervescence can spawn a new resistance to industrial football, but given the results of Hillsborough—which only increased the rationalization of stadiums in the name of “safety” that served to increase the accumulation of capital, I am not so sure. As Darby, Johnes, and Mellor explain:

It took the 1989 disaster at Hillsborough for the country’s [England’s] top stadia to be totally overhauled. The move to all-seater grounds in the English game’s top two divisions may have been underpinned as much by the desire to eradicate hooliganism as it was to ensure the safety of fans but it had a radical impact on not only the game’s built environment but also the whole culture of fandom. Ticket prices escalated and leading stadia became more sanitized, maybe even quieter (Darby, Johnes, and Mellor, 2005: 5).

I hope Brazilian and world football take a lesson from this tragic event and put a stop to the trend where money is coming to be valued over human lives. I stand in solidarity with the Chapecoense club and mourn this (seemingly) preventable disaster.

Rest In Peace.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-38152105

RB Leipzig and Zenit St. Petersburg Take Different Approaches to Industrial Football and Extreme Capitalism in the Post-Communist World

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Karlsruhe Fans “Voice” Their Disapproval”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.goal.com/en/news/1717/editorial/2015/04/07/10495172/the-next-chelsea-or-anzhi-red-bull-gives-leipzig-wings-and-funds-

 

When RB Leipzig went top of the Bundesliga last week, becoming the first newly promoted side to remain undefeated after 11 weeks in the league’s history, one would have thought it would be a cause for celebration. After all, everyone likes an underdog, right? Just think of Leicester City’s fairy tale season last year in the Premier League. Despite love for the underdog, RB Leipzig’s rise to prominence has divided football fans with the Daily Mail calling them “the most hated club in Germany”. The cracks were there in September, when fans of Borussia Dortmund refused to travel to an away match in Leipzig. The leader of the protest, Jan-Henrik Gruszecki, said “Of course Dortmund makes money, but we do it in order to play football. But Leipzig plays football in order to sell a product and a lifestyle. That’s the difference.” This simple response shows why RB Leipzig’s rise is so repulsive to many fans; the team embodies the extreme capitalism that has characterized globalization in the last twenty-plus years, a poster child for the “Industrial Football” that has slowly taken the beautiful game away from fans and put it squarely in the pockets of big business.

RB Leipzig, on paper at least, should be celebrated as the first team from former communist East Germany in seven years to appear in German Football’s top flight. The reality is much different. As the Guardian explains:

Until 2009, RB Leipzig was a fifth-division club called SSV Markranstädt that few had heard of even in its native Saxony. Then the Austrian energy drink manufacturer Red Bull bought the club’s licence, changed its name, crest and kit, and promised a transfer budget of a rumoured €100m (£85m).

 Money was all that mattered, and the team had it. They also had the clout (or cunning) to skirt a rule that prohibits German teams from being named after sponsors so “the new club was christened Rasenballsport Leipzig, meaning lawn ball sports’”. Fans in the USA and Austria are, no doubt, familiar with similar “Red Bull teams” like Red Bull New York (who destroyed the legacy of the young—but proud—New York/New Jersey Metrostars and Red Bull Salzburg. It was not the naming of the club, however, that irked most people.

Rather, it was the fact that the club took control away from the fans in true corporate/extreme capitalist fashion. This was especially irksome in Germany, since the teams tend to value their fans: “The statutes of the German Football Association deter big investors from taking over its clubs. According to the so-called ‘50+1’ rule, clubs must hold a majority of their own voting rights. Only investors who have been involved with a club for more than 20 years can apply for an exception to the 50+1 rule.” It is a good rule that gives fans a say, but RB Leipzig has made being one of those “owners” prohibitively expensive: The Guardian reports that “while membership at Dortmund costs adults €62 per annum, being a ‘gold’ member at Leipzig will set you back €1,000 a year – and that still only makes you a ‘supporting’ or non-voting member,” and, therefore, RB have only 17 members—all of whom are either employees or associates of Red Bull.

There has—predictably—been a backlash to this from other fans. One fan of RB’s local rival Lokomotive Leipzig says “’My club was founded in order to play football, RB Leipzig was founded to make money. To sell an energy drink.” Indeed, in a cup match this season with Dynamo Berlin, opposing fans threw a severed Bull’s head onto the side of the pitch. While it is important to note that it is not all doom and gloom—RB have a great youth setup and tend not to invest in players over 24—there is still something unsettling about the corporate outlook that has overrun the East German side.

 

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Horse Head In Your Bed? Dynamo Dresden Fans Respond to RB Leipzig’s Policies. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/sep/08/why-rb-leipzig-has-become-the-most-hated-club-in-german-football

 

Fortunately, there have been pockets of resistence to this trend. Union Berlin, another of East Germany’s (formerly) famous sides, saved themselves by selling shares to fans—not corporate interests—in 2012. (They also wrote an article about bull farming in their program for the match against RB Leipzig in lieu of writing about their rivals).

 

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Union Berlin Chose Not To Give Their Rivals Any Press In Their Program. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3599158/Why-RB-Leipzig-hated-club-Germany-Owned-Red-Bull-crafty-sponsor-s-outpriced-fan-power-aiming-Bayern-Munich.html

 

Elsewhere in Eastern Europe, Russia’s famous Zenit St. Petersburg turned down a lucrative offer from American fast-food chain Burger King to rename the club “Zenit Burger King”. While this is not the “McDonaldsization” of the world but an attempt to “Burger King(ize?)” the world, the response by Zenit fans was amazing—Russia Today found it (predictably) “hilarious”. For my part, I was left wondering which genius at Burger King thought that this attempt at cultural/economic imperialism could have ever been successful but that is beside the point; after all I’m just a marginal sociologist making much less than a big-wig in Burger King’s corporate structure.

 

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The Letter in Question. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/european/zenit-st-petersburg-burger-king-offer-57m-offer-change-name-a7221766.html

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Zenit Embrace The Past. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.rt.com/sport/358140-zenit-st-petersburg-burger-king/

 

Zenit’s social media presence has been a welcome breath of fresh air, resisting the corporate imperialism of globalization. They shared a picture of the team that harkens back to the artistic history of their city—a solid rebuke of the homogenizing trends of globalism—and even engaged in a humorous polemic with the English newspaper The Daily Mail for insulting their logo that I found to be very funny. The attempts of global (extreme) capitalism to steamroll the world into submission are being resisted in pockets of the world such as Berlin and St. Petersburg but are being accepted as a matter of course in Leipzig. The fact that we see the conflict play itself out in football is indicative of the power of the world’s most popular sport to accept—or challenge—global trends that extend way beyond the football pitch.

 

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Zenit’s Social Media Team Working Hard–At Least It Made Me Laugh (Out Loud). Image Courtesy Of: https://tr.sputniknews.com/spor/201609051024704838-zenit-burger-king-cevap-kral/

What Industrial Football Can Tell Us About the U.S. Presidential Election and the Precarious Political Situation in Turkey: A Marginal Sociologist’s Take

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As an American and a Turk, I am used to constantly comparing and contrasting both countries; I observe the political situations in order to find patterns and—sometimes—identify parallel and divergent trends in both. This might be the most crucial period for either country in recent memory; Turkey is struggling with the aftermath of a failed military coup in July and the United States will experience its most contentious presidential election in (arguably) the country’s history on 8 November 2016. The uncertain situation in both countries is not just a local issue; since both states are geopolitically important the repercussions of events in either are felt far beyond their respective borders.

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Two Countries That Are Strangely Connected. Image Courtesy Of: http://turkicamerican.org/networking-for-success/

In the era of globalization and late-stage/extreme capitalism, we are seeing a growing dissatisfaction with the system of governance (and its companion, neo-liberal economics) all over the world. Economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen was one of the first to note how deeply the American political system was tied to economics. This is explained in The Social Scientist as Public Intellectual:

Veblen did not treat business and government as separate entities but framed them as components of an integrated institutional order […] the rising complexity of industry and its subsequent growth in productive capacity demanded new regulations to ensure the security of investment capital. The state became the proper means through which to achieve this goal and maintain the stability of traditional economic arrangements” (Gattone 2006, 36).

This system, characterized by an intimate relationship between state power and business interests, has defined the American political system since its inception and—after WWII—was exported to the rest of the world. Following the Cold War and the end of the communist/socialist alternative represented by the Soviet Union and its allies, American style capitalism became the pre-eminent world economic (and thereby political) system. Now, we are beginning to see some of the faults of this global interconnectedness—the state is no longer independent, and it is the rich states who exert a powerful influence on the poorer states; essentially, there is an unequal lack of independence. No state is completely independent, and it is the poorer states that are less independent than richer states in this economic system.

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A Rudimentary Map Explaining the Global Divide. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.bartlett.ucl.ac.uk/dpu/news/Thinking_across_boundaries_RGS

Recent events in Turkey are a perfect example of this trend. After a deadly blast in southeast Turkey following the arrest of several prominent Kurdish leaders from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Kurdish protests have broken out in Istanbul. The perpetrators of the blast are not known, but BBC reported that ISIS/ISIL/DAESH claimed responsibility; the Kurdish Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) were originally suspected. Regardless of who the culprits are, it just shows how Turkey—and the Turkish state—is not independent. They have been pushed into the Syrian crisis along with (and perhaps at the behest of) the United States, and now no one knows how to get out of it. Since the 15 July attempted coup, Turkey has slowly spiraled more and more out of control. The BBC asks “is Turkey still a democracy?”, Newsweek is saying “Turkey is Headed for a Bloodbath”, while a Washington Post opinion piece by Asli Aydintasbas laments the downfall of Turkish “democracy”:

The story of Turkey is fast becoming a heartbreaking saga of a budding Muslim democracy tossing out a historic chance at progress, only to settle for a familiar pattern of Middle East despotism by succumbing to a retro personality cult. A decade ago, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was applauded by the world for the pace of its reforms and advances toward European Union membership. I myself was writing in praise of the ruling party AKP’s brand of “Muslim democrats,” which at the time seemed like a hopeful alternative to both the hard-line secularism of Kemalism and Islamic radicalism. A decade later, Turkey is barely able to hold civilized relations with its western allies, experiencing a rapid decline as rule of law, and has become a thorn in Europe’s side.

Ms. Aydintasbas’ retrospective account uses many of the adjectives we have come to associate with liberal, progressive, democratic regimes in the globalist era of neo-liberal economic development: “Progress”, “Advancement”, “Hope”, “Change” and “Reform” are the keywords bandied about in a way to convince people that what is happening is unquestioningly good—both morally and politically. But is all that glitters gold? In order to answer that question, it is first helpful to look at recent events in the world’s number one exporter of democracy—the United States of America—before returning to Turkey.

On 10 October 2016 journalist Mary Forgione’s story appeared in the LA Times with the headline “Detained in Turkey for a visa violation, all alone. Would I ever get home?”. At first glance, it is one of those eye-catching headlines that harkens back to the era of Midnight Express. Of course, there is an element of this—but the real consequences of such reporting go far, far deeper. Ms. Forgione recounts her story of being detained at the airport in Istanbul after returning from Europe because she did not have an exit stamp from Turkey in her passport; either she—or more likely the operators of the cruise ship she had departed Istanbul on—failed to procure an exit stamp upon leaving the port in Istanbul. As the story notes, Turkey is concerned with their border security because of the ongoing Syrian civil war. This is, of course, a normal precaution for a state to take, but in the globalized era that encourages “open borders” as the panacea to all ills these kind of policies are not always shown in the best of lights and this article is an example of that. Interestingly, the last line of the story sums it up well: “And if I ever again run into a visa problem while traveling overseas, I’ll know not to turn to the State Department, which usually doesn’t help with such issues”. At the end of the day, it is the incompetence of U.S. diplomats that is highlighted…but in the headline, Turkey is the place that gets slammed, making it part of a media “narrative”. This is a perfect example of media framing, and it is part of the media bias in the United States that is threatening “democracy” and the flourishing of a larger democratic society.

In coverage of the upcoming U.S. elections we can see this kind of bias everywhere. All sorts of media outlets are rushing to endorse one of the candidates, making sure to tell their readership that this is an “unprecedented” step. This is not a problem in theory since an independent media is one prerequisite for democracy; it becomes a problem when the endorsements are—unquestioningly—in favor of one candidate while shaming the other. Foreign Policy’s recent endorsement of U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is a good example of this process. Their note is couched in language that glorifies the tenets of democracy, designed to disguise the bias:

In the nearly half-century history of Foreign Policy, the editors of this publication have never endorsed a candidate for political office. We cherish and fiercely protect this publication’s independence and its reputation for objectivity, and we deeply value our relationship with all of our readers, regardless of political orientation. It is for all these reasons that FP’s editors are now breaking with tradition to endorse Hillary Clinton for the next president of the United States.

A closer reading of the endorsement, however, shows that many of the points brought out are in fact subject to debate. One such point is that which claims Ms. Clinton’s rival, Republican nominee Donald Trump, “has alternatively forgiven then defended Russia’s invasion of Crimea and employed advisors with close ties to the Russian president and his cronies”. The story cited claims that Mr. Trump did not know about the situation in Ukraine, yet it is clear from other news stories that the United States administration run by Ms. Clinton’s party had a hand in the Ukrainian “regime change”. Indeed, one conservative outlet asks the rhetorical question “is the U.S. back in the coup business?” Leaked transcripts of state department calls cited by the BBC also support the notion that there was U.S. involvement—Russia has repeatedly claimed it, mostly to absolve themselves of guilt in the eyes of the international community.  Given the possibility of U.S—particularly Hillary Clinton’s—involvement in July’s attempted coup in Turkey through the reclusive Islamist cleric Fethullah Gulen (possibly to secure Turkey’s position in the global economy given President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism), I am not so sure that the United States is completely innocent in Ukraine, either. And that is enough to tell me that maybe the US does not need a President pushing for coups and “regime change” around the world; even if it were true maybe its better that Mr. Trump doesn’t care about Ukraine since it would mean less meddling in foreign countries. Just don’t tell Foreign Policy I said that.

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Mr. Trump Has Business Interests All Over the World–Including Istanbul. Perhaps, This Means an Unstable Turkey Would Affect his Bottom Line, and Therefore he Might Encourage Stability in the Country Rather Than Instability…Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/br_uk/status/708263154770448384

This is just one example, from the foreign policy realm, of how media in the United States is continually framing issues and threatening true democracy. The Huffington Post even runs a “Editor’s note” complete with hyperlinks following every story regarding the election that reads:

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistmisogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims ― 1.6 billion members of an entire religion ― from entering the U.S”.

Even to the uninitiated, this screams “media bias”. But that is not surprising, since liberal investor—and renowned champion of global homogenization George Soros—has influence over of much of the U.S. Media. It is certainly a worrying trend for American democracy—and indeed democracy in other countries that fall victim to American policies—that the U.S. media is less than independent. Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index shows that from 2002 to 2007 (the years of George W. Bush’s presidency) the United States’ Press Freedom Index fell from 17th in the world (2002) to 48th in the world (2007). Notably, the “change” promised by democratic President Barack Obama didn’t materialize in terms of press freedom either. The U.S. ranking in 2008 was 36th in the world; despite climbing to a high of 20th in 2009, as of 2015 the U.S. ranking was lower than in 2007, 49th in the world. A few outlets have tried to point out how media bias is “unjustified” but, more often than not, they get shouted down in the ideological maelstrom that has become American politics.

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The Writing Is On The Wall. Image Courtesy Of: https://rsf.org/en/united-states

It is important to note that the consequences of this media bias are not just confined to engineering the election by encouraging readers to choose one candidate over the other. Rather, this type of bias also defends political actions that are not defensible in “democratic” society. This is, arguably, more worrisome in terms of the political climate and leads Mr. Trump and his backers to make claims that the elections are “rigged” or that these elections will define if the United States will remain a “free country”. Such polarizing rhetoric, however, does not come out of a vacuum. The climate driven by the media is one of an almost fascistic silencing of opposing views, whitewashing corruption and supporting (at least tacitly) political violence.

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Shhh! Nothing To See Here Folks, Nothing Corrupt at All. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-marshall-crotty/has-hillary-clinton-won-the-email-battle-only-to-lose-the-corruption-war_b_11251504.html

It has become clear that the Clinton campaign has received debate questions ahead of time (which is forbidden) through media leaks. When one Clinton aide was questioned about this, she fell back and—unable to defend herself—defiantly stated that “she would not be persecuted”. In the current climate, telling the truth and admitting to a wrongdoing apparently amounts to persecution. Unfortunately, similar “un-democratic” actions also get short shrift in much of the media. After the uproar about violence at Mr. Trump’s rallies (one of the points touched upon by Huffington Post’s aforementioned Editor’s Note), it became clear that agitators from the democratic party had been sent to the rallies to incite violence; a Youtube video shows the conversations. Two democratic operatives lost their jobs after the news came out, but the Washington Post was still quick to report that there was no “direct” contact between these men and Ms. Clinton’s campaign. In an election where the media is quick to believe every new accusation against one candidate—but is equally quick to deny any allegations against the other candidate—it is imperative that all citizens think critically about what they hear and read.

There are many other examples of this process. On 17 October 2016 a Republican Party office in North Carolina was firebombed; of course, the headlines didn’t carry the words “political terrorism”. On 21 October 2016 current Vice President Joe Biden—in a fairly unprecedented comment in the American political context—seemed to challenge Mr. Trump to a fight saying:

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A Case of Political Terrorism In the United States? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2016-37673802

What he said he did and does is the textbook definition of sexual assault. And think about this: It’s more than that. He said that ‘Because I’m famous, because I’m a star, because I’m a billionaire, I can do things other people can’t.’ What a disgusting assertion for anyone to make. The press always ask me, ‘Don’t I wish I were debating him?’ No, I wish we were in high school — I could take him behind the gym. That’s what I wish.

It is certainly not the most couth statement any politician has ever made, but the (slightly) menacing picture of Mr. Biden that the CNN sourced story carried gives the impression that the media didn’t have a problem with the statement. After all, Mr. Trump’s comments were “morally” deplorable. Yet on the other side, insinuating that Mr. Trump’s wife was “an escort” is not “morally” wrong at all—such is the state of American politics.

In A Ridiculous Election, Neither Candidate is Very Appealing. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.businessinsider.com/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-helps-her-2015-9 (L) and http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2016/11/04/donald_trump_s_plan_to_privatize_america_s_roads_and_bridges.html (R).

Having given the background regarding the U.S. election, this is where I will synthesize my argument. In the current state of the world it is “progressive” and “liberal” ideas that are pushing the world towards a consensus of a globalized community driven by the engine of neo-liberal economic development. Anything that goes against this “grand narrative”, to borrow a term from French sociologist Jean Francois Lyotard, is labeled as “reactionary”, “xenophobic”, and “bigoted”. While there may indeed be people who feel this way on one side of the divide, there are also those who defend the “progressive” ideals of globalism and neo-liberal economics with an almost fascistic zeal that is no better. In this context, two wrongs most certainly do not make a right. This is why the world would do well to move into a “post-ideological” stage that does away with the steadfast labels “conservative” and “liberal”. Indeed, the current American election has shown that these labels are shifting. The ostensibly left-leaning Democratic party, represented by Hillary Clinton, has become the party of the establishment—even the FBI was pressured to cover up any wrong doing on her part regarding her handling of classified information. And on the other end, Mr. Trump has been vilified and attacked in nearly every manner imaginable; the smear campaign has been so intense it is clear he is not at all the establishment’s choice (which is, in itself, food for thought).

There are many examples in history in the ways that “progressive” and “globalist” ideas have served as cover for more nefarious enterprises of domination as humans succumb to Nietzsche’s “will to power”. Miroslav Vanek and Pavel Mucke’s Velvet Revolutions: An Oral History of Czech Society gives one example of this process in the Czech context; “among other things, they [the communists] launched a campaign against ‘reactionary’ values and ‘bourgeois and petit-bourgeois relics,’ with the goal of controlling as many ‘human souls’ as possible and creating a ‘new human being’ within a ‘progressive’ society constructed (or rather re-arranged) according to the Soviet model” (Vanek and Mucke 2016, 10). The values attacked by the communists justified the creation of what would become a totalitarian state, and later the authors show the parallels to the modern system:

People enjoy freedom through several types of rights: civil, political, economic, and social. Excessive emphasis on one of them over the others is the beginning of limitations on the exercise of free will. The truly free (liberal)society maintains a balance between the various types of rights. In addition, freedom is achieved when it is linked to responsibility. The attempt to separate freedom from responsibility (as under the Communist system and in present attempts by market fundamentalists) usually ends in failure” (Vanek and Mucke 2016, 16. Emphasis added).

The authors show an odd parallel between the communist system of the past and the current neo-liberal order of the world economy. When freedom is not connected to responsibility—such as a free society’s responsibility to maintain a free and unbiased media—we start to have problems.

The same emphasis on progressive values is what brought the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini back to Iran in the days preceding the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Michael Rubin, using it as context for the current situation in Turkey, explains:

Many Carter-administration officials believed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini when he told the Guardian in 1978, ‘I don’t want to have the power or the government in my hand; I am not interested in personal power.’ William Miller, staff director for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, even called Khomeini ‘a progressive force for human rights.’ Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously described Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a ‘reformer,’ a view shared by former Senate colleague and successor John Kerry … (Michael Rubin 2016, American Enterprise Institute).

This brings us, of course, back to Turkey. Mr. Rubin calls the July 15 coup attempt “Turkey’s Reichstag Fire”, insinuating that it was forces within Turkey that drove the attempted putsch. As I have said earlier, I am not convinced that the United States did not have a hand in it but that is beyond the point here. What is important is that the United States—and indeed, much of the West—believed Mr. Erdogan when he claimed that he was a “progressive” force representing “moderate” Islam. In those days back in 2004, as a young undergraduate at the University of Colorado pursuing a B.A. in International Affairs, I had said that his mission to roll-back the influence of the secular military in the name of joining the European Union was a ruse; it was his own way of getting rid of opponents in a politically palatable way. Of course, nobody listened back then since Mr. Erdogan was a “forward-thinking moderate”. I will let Mr. Rubin’s piece explain the rest in depth:

Even after Erdogan began subtly shifting Turkey’s orientation from West to East, American officials remained largely in denial. Standing beside Erdogan at his residence in Ankara on June 27, 2004, President George W. Bush praised Turkey as an ‘example…on how to be a Muslim country and at the same time a country which embraces democracy and rule of law and freedom.’ Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European Affairs, described the AKP as ‘a kind of Muslim version of a Christian Democratic Party,’ that is, not religious at all. ‘We are on the same page moving toward the kind of world we want,’ Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Turkish audience after meeting Erdogan in July 2011. Both public statements and Wikileaks documents show that, with the exception of Eric Edelman (who served in Turkey from 2003 to 2005), every U.S. ambassador to Turkey—from Morton Abramowitz (1989–1991) to Frank Ricciardone (2011–2014) dismissed concerns that Erdogan harbored an Islamist agenda that trumped his spoken commitment to pluralism and integration with Europe (Michael Rubin 2016, American Enterprise Institute).

Again, I have bolded the words that play into the current discourse that connects globalism and pluralism to such abstract concepts as “democracy” and “freedom”. Whose “democracy” and whose “freedom”? Of course Ms. Clinton supported Mr, Erdogan “moving toward the kind of world we want”. That kind of world is characterized by open borders, free trade, and neo-liberal economic development. Mr. Erdogan was privatizing state owned industries in Turkey and opening it up to international capital—while quietly silencing his opponents, such as those who came out during Gezi in 2013. After all, he was an American ally and could do no wrong. That was all until the war in Syria, of course. At that point, things changed. Realist geopolitics returned to the fore, the Kurdish issue was reignited, and the borders started closing. Mr Erdogan began consolidating his power. That’s when, perhaps, the U.S. and Ms. Clinton decided that enough was enough and pushed for the coup attempt. It failed, due in no small part to the fact that the leader had enjoyed so many years of full-blown support from his American allies. Even in Turkey, as opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper journalist Ms. Aydintasbas quoted above notes, his “reformist” ideas had been embraced even by his ostensibly “liberal” opponents—she herself admits to having bought into it! So what is the solution to the ills of late-stage/extreme capitalism and its stranglehold over governments and even human agency? For an answer, like Camus, I look to football.

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Albert Camus, a Kindred Spirit. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/gallery/2014/jun/24/14-quotes-from-football-inspired-writers-fans-world-cup

We must realize that people—regardless of their nationality, race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation—have real concerns that are not tied to their more general “ideological” outlook on the world. It is more nuanced, and—interestingly—it is in the global game of football that we can see this. The term industrial football is one that may be familiar to many football fans. It basically describes the modern trend where football has become commodified to such a degree that players are merely commodities valued for their labor alone (in the Marxian sense) and that they are just one cog in the machine of profit-based sporting culture. Teams—and their fans—have lost their agency as well in the context of rising ticket prices and international sponsorship deals; the club is no longer an autonomous representation of its community but beholden to investors who come from a class of global capitalist entrepreneurs far removed from the local. In a sense this is the globalizing trend of neo-liberalism in microcosm. Liverpool no longer belongs to Liverpudlians, it belongs to Americans. Manchester United no longer belongs to Manchester, it belongs to Glazer. Chelsea no longer belongs to London, it belongs to Abramovich. And who knows how many English clubs will belong to Chinese interests in the future. The examples could go on forever.

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Love United. Hate Glazer. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.toxicfox.co.uk/updates/love-united-hate-glazer-or-love-glazer-hate-united/

Joe Kennedy’s Games Without Frontiers is an interesting take on the processes affecting world football, written from a personal perspective. He notes, in regards to political persuasion, that “there is no space on the left, at least in England, for the current generation of people in their thirties and twenties to define their own version of political authenticity” (Kennedy 2016, 125). This may, of course, be because of the changes in orientation of left-leaning parties as explained above in the U.S. context. Kennedy goes on:

the questions posed by the needs of a wildly variegated precariat and a class who have, as the contemporary sociologist Imogen Tyler argues persuasively, been othered into political oblivion under neoliberalism, are beyond the range of acknowledgment of both Labour’s and football’s comprehension of ‘society’ […] football fans [are] currently immobilized with frustration at the options which seem to be the only ones available to them: acquiescence to the accelerating commodification of supporting or backing an #AMF [Against Modern Football, a movement also against Industrial Football] movement which seems atavistic at both of its ideological poles (Kennedy 2016, 126).

Indeed, the anti-industrial football/AMF movement can be either far-right, as we have seen in Eastern Europe and in England, or far left as we have seen with Hamburg’s St. Pauli and London’s Dulwich Hamlet FC. At the root, however, we see that both sides are against the commodification of sport, they just come from different ideological backgrounds. It is not hard to see why the movement against industrial football has become so widespread, coming to appeal to various ideologies. The 2018 Russian World Cup is quickly becoming President Vladimir Putin’s World Cup, designed to showcase the country’s “progressive” entrée into the world (sporting) economy. The more Russia plays the “game”, the more money FIFA makes. The homogenization of world football too has worked hand in hand with the homogenization of world culture. FIFA, on 3 November 2016, declared that the English and Scottish national teams cannot wear poppies on their shirts during an upcoming World Cup qualifying match. According to FIFA the poppies, a sign of respect for the UK citizens who have fallen in battle fighting for their country, are a “political statement”. Again, in the name of making more profits (God forbid the poppies “offend” anyone), FIFA—as the engine of Industrial Football—have again attempted to sanitize the global game beyond any recognition of its former working-class self.

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World Football, Hand In Hand With World (Elite) Politics. Image Courtesy Of: http://mashable.com/2016/06/14/russia-world-cup-fan-violence-france/#Mlv_z.H9DqqS

In the world, then, we must realize that people are moving against global homogenization driven by neo-liberalism and that one candidate—regardless of political party—is not necessarily much better than the other. Rather, we must resist the arbitrary divisions that politicians try to impose and think critically of the ideas beyond just the personalities and parties.

Regarding these divisions, the African-American sociologist W.E.B. DuBois gives an interesting perspective in the context of America’s institutionalized racism. He points out that there is a sense of noblesse oblige inherent among privileged White Americans regarding their African-American countrymen:

Here it is that the comedy verges to tragedy. The first minor note is struck, all unconsciously, by those worthy souls in whom consciousness of high descent brings burning desire to spread the gift abroad,—the obligation of nobility to the ignoble. Such sense of duty assumes two things: a real possession of the heritage and its frank appreciation by the humble-born. So long, then, as humble black folk, voluble with thanks receive barrels of old clothes from lordly and generous whites, there is much mental peace and moral satisfaction (W.E.B. DuBois On the Meaning Of Race, 33).

By paying lip service to “progressive” values nothing ever changes; the rich feel morally secure while the poor remain destitute. One example of this is the case of Shirley Chisholm, the first black women to be elected to the United States Congress. By her own admission, it was Northerners from New York and Pennsylvania (the “progressives” of the time) who urged her to pull back from her campaign for the presidency in 1972. (From 1:00 on in a great video).  This climate causes divisions between people who need not–and indeed should not–be divided. In a recent Washington Post article a racial motive is inserted into what seems to be a simple dispute over one neighbor being loud in the middle of the night. The African-American who was accused of being loud says: “White people will sometimes speak without thinking of the bigger implications of their actions…They’re just kind of reacting. That kind of speaks to their own privilege.” Unfortunately for lack of neutral reporting, the fact that the White neighbor was not aware of the other’s race is reduced to a footnote. The wide-sweeping generalizations regarding “white people” in the above quote are, similarly, not questioned. This kind of climate—where everything race-related is hyper-sensitized—is unfortunately a danger to social cohesion. After all, these were—before the race element—two people of a similar economic class living in close proximity to one another. But by inserting the element of race into the dialogue—in the name of progressive politics—these two people become divided against their class and social interests. This is why literary and social critic Irving Howe could say that “the central problems of our society have to do, not with ethnic groupings, but with economic policy, social rule, class relations. They have to do with vast inequalities of wealth, with the shameful neglect of a growing class of subproletarians, with the readiness of policy-makers to tolerate high levels of unemployment” (Irving Howe, “The Limits of Ethnicity,” New Republic, June 25, 1977, p. 19.). It is this unfortunate situation that has led to a situation of “political slavery” for many of America’s African Americans.

In order to break these chains of thought, I argue, we must move to what I mentioned earlier: A post-ideological society. The modern day ideologies of “liberal/progressive” and “conservative/reactionary” tend to classify people according to certain lines of thought—even if they do not necessarily subscribe to them fully. As society modernizes and people become exposed to different ideas a mix of ideas becomes possible; no ideological “ideal type”, in Max Weber’s sense, exists. W.E.B. DuBois, writing near one hundred years ago, explains how difference need not be something bad, something that needs to be erased:

No one can envisage a dead level of sameness in human types . . . there is every shade of method and conception and thought in differing groups of human hearts and minds, and the preservation and development of this interesting and stimulating variety in mankind is a great human duty (W.E.B. DuBois, On the Meaning of Race, 38).

The globalizing project is facing opposition from many corners for precisely this reason. The goal of this project is not really a “progressive” acceptance of all races, ethnicities, cultures, and nationalities. Instead, the goal is the total erasure of all racial, ethnic, cultural, and national identities to further consolidate humanity into one docile, homogenized, whole that can play two crucial roles that will further the uninhibited growth of global capitalism: the role of producer, and the role of consumer.

After all, that is what will allow the world system to continue as it is, unabated. There will be winners (the global north) and losers (the global south) in this exchange, and it will pit the rich elites in the global south against their less affluent countrymen. It very well could lead to a WW3 situation; Syria is just one example of a conflict that could emerge from this kind of internal inequality in the global South. The elites can only hold the majority down for so long.

In order to resist this kind of large-scale homogenization of the world we must recognize and embrace difference; humanity is stronger when difference can be freely expressed. This is something completely reliant on human agency. No one, no state, no government can make it happen magically (and that is why they have focused on a path of erasure (Homogenization), rather than acceptance (Heterogeneity)).

This is why we have a responsibility to stand up to media bias everywhere, regardless of if it is Turkey or the United States or anywhere else. Just because one country is “less democratic” than the other does not mean that censorship and bias are not present. This is why we have a responsibility to stand up to the commodification of our daily lives—down to our sports clubs; just because something is expensive doesn’t mean it is good. This is why we have a responsibility to resist being blinded by decades-old ideologies that only divide us further by pigeon-holing us into certain lines of thought. And this is certainly why we should seriously consider, in politics, which candidate best represents our intentions, and resist those candidates who are only in it for themselves. In short, we must always think critically about what is happening around us. If we do not, we risk being sucked into a vortex from which there will be no escape.

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I Leave You With Sartre: In Life, too, Everything is Complicated By the Presence of the Other Perspective. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/gallery/2014/jun/24/14-quotes-from-football-inspired-writers-fans-world-cup

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