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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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China’s Great (Football) Leap Forward

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On Monday March 16 China’s State Council (the Cabinet) released a plan to raise the stature of the country’s national soccer team. The move is not surprising; as a rising world power China is looking to raise its performance in all international arenas, among which football is a very visible component. In the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games China won more medals than any other country, but their national soccer team has been a perennial underachiever. The New York Times notes that China’s men’s national team is currently ranked 83rd in the world—behind Guatemala and Honduras—while their woman’s team is ranked 13th (even this is a drop from their top 10 ranking a decade ago).

It is clear that soccer in China is falling behind other sports, and that is just what president Xi Jinping’s plan is looking to remedy by “separating the country’s soccer association from the national sports administration, to give it more autonomy.” The plan hopes to “[bring] the men’s national team to the forefront in Asia, and [return] the women’s team to the top ranks in the world” by eventually hosting a World Cup. Additionally, the plan looks to bring the level of the country’s top soccer league—the Superleague—on par with other top Asian leagues by, among other things, expanding soccer education at schools and universities. Currently there are 5,000 elementary and middle schools that provide soccer coaching, this number is forecast to reach 20,000 by 2020 and 50,000 by 2025.

While the plan is ambitious, it is nothing new. Robin Jones’ article “Football in the People’s Republic of China”, published in the 2004 volume Football Goes East: Business, Culture, and the People’s Game in China, Japan, and South Korea (Ed. Wolfram Manzenreiter and John Horne, Routledge: New York (2004), outlined the difficulties of integrating football into the educational system in a country of 1.2 billion people, many of which live in cities with very few football pitches. Indeed, 11 years on, it seems as if football has not been made part of the educational system with any degree of success. Indeed Johan van de Ven, writing for the Chinese football blog Wild East Football, notes the failure of previous attempts to reform Chinese football’s standing in his article:

 

“This is not the first time that a wave of promise has swept over Chinese football. 2002 marked China’s maiden World Cup Finals appearance, the China Schools Football program got underway in 2009, and in 2011 Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin committed 480 million RMB to the CSL in sponsorship funding. But these were all false dawns. Now, Guangzhou Evergrande has opened an academy with capacity for 2,300. Evergrande is perhaps a special case: it has abundant financing, including the 1.2 billion RMB invested by Alibaba’s Jack Ma in June 2014, and has also come to be seen as a launchpad for talent to be guided into the national team set-up. If proposed reforms are implemented, it would not stand alone as China’s foremost developer of both grassroots and professional talent. In both the short and long-term, Chinese football could be set for a significantly rosier future.”

 

For me the fascinating part of China’s Great (Football) Leap Forward lies in its similarity to that other final frontier of football—the United States of America. Two weeks ago the US top flight, Major League Soccer, kicked off its twentieth season. Most commentators agree that football in the US has come a long way. A glance at attendance figures will support this: While the average attendance for 160 games was 17,406 (with a high average of 28,916 for the Los Angelese Galaxy) with total league wide attendance of 2,785,001 in the league’s inaugural season in 1996, figures started falling in subsequent seasons. The average attendance fell by almost 4,000 to a historic low of just 13,756 in 2000, while the high average fell to a historic low of 17,696 (A drop of more than 10,000 from the 1996 figure) for the Columbus Crew in 1999. The league contacted two Florida franchises—the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion—in 2001, leading many to fear for the league’s health, as they faced a historic low in league wide attendance of just 2,215,019 in the 2002 season. It took the league nine years to better the inaugural season’s figure for total attendance (2,900,716 in 2005), and a full fifteen years to better the inaugural season’s mark for average attendance—17,872 for 306 games in 2011. The 2014 season saw league records in both league wide attendance (6,185,773) and average attendance figures (19,151 in 323 games), while the average high attendance was a healthy 43,734 a game for the Seattle Sounders (their 2013 average is still the league record, 44,038).

 

China’s first professional league was the Jia-A League, founded two years before MLS in 1994. It ran until 2004, when the Chinese Super League was formed with 12 teams. The rebranding in many ways stemmed from corruption in the old Jia A League—2003 champions Shanghai Shenhua were stripped of their title while 25 former and current football officials, referees, and players where banned in 2003 as a result of the match fixing investigations. A look at attendances in the current Super League, however, shows trends similar to MLS. The old Jia-A League’s best year, in terms of total attendance, was 1998 with a figure of 3,883,000 in 182 matches. The best year in terms of average attendance was 1996, which 24,266 fans attending 132 matches. In 2003, the Jia-A League’s final season, the average attendance was 17,710 with a total attendance for the season’s 210 matches of 3,719,700. Despite these strong figures the perception of corruption plagued the first years of the re-branded Super League, and only 1,430,600 fans attended the 132 games of the 2004 season, with an average of only 10,838. Figures have been rising steadily over the last ten years, however, and the 2014 season saw a total attendance of 4,556,520 over 240 matches (the highest ever, due in some part to the increased number of matches) and an average of 18,986—the highest since the Jia-A League’s 2000 season and only 165 less than the MLS figure for the same season.

 

Clearly a stable domestic league is being viewed as a prerequisite for a sustained challenge from the Chinese national team in world football, and this was always the rationale for MLS in the United States. Following last summer’s World Cup we saw that strategy pay off; the United States is more than capable of producing a respectable product on the world’s biggest stage.

 

Meanwhile on the business (and football shirt) side of things, there are other interesting connections between the interdependent economies of these two world powers. The hold of American sportswear giants Nike on Chinese football is strong. They signed a 10 year 16 million dollar/year deal with the Chinese FA to be the exclusive outfitter for the country’s national soccer team, just in time for the government’s new soccer plan. Nike is also in the midst of a 10 year 200 million dollar deal to be the exclusive kit provider for all Chinese Superleague teams. Interestingly, no such deal exists in MLS—it is Germany’s Adidas who act as the exclusive kit providers for the United States’ top league.

 

It is in the context of a world of global modern football—filled with multi-million dollar kit deals and “Superleagues” filled with superstars—that I believe Chinese football will succeed in their “great leap forward”. Due to the power that financial interests have in modern football I find it hard to believe that the large market of both potential players and (possibly more importantly) potential consumers that China represents can be ignored for too much longer. While I do not expect China to challenge for a World Cup title any time soon—the country is simply too vast for the economic improvements to trickle down equitably—I do expect them to put out a product able to compete on a high level regularly in their region.