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The Elimination of Juventus from the UEFA Champions League Reflects the Results of the Uncontrolled Corporatization of Football in the Globalized Era

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By now, many are familiar with Juventus’ elimination from the UEFA Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid after a heart-breaking last minute penalty allowed the Spanish side to pull one back and deny the Italians an epic comeback and a place in the semi-finals of Europe’s premier club competition. Despite losing 3-1, the Spanish side went through on aggregate (4-3) after their 3-0 defeat of Juventus in Turin during the first leg.

While the last minute decision by referee Michael Oliver to award a penalty to Real Madrid—which was subsequently converted by star Cristiano Ronaldo—seemed normal to Ronaldo (who “didn’t understand Juventus’ protests”), the same could not be said for Juventus’ talismanic goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Buffon himself had some choice words for the referee, pointing out that:

 

I know the referee saw what he saw, but it was certainly a dubious incident. Not clear-cut. And a dubious incident at the 93rd minute when we had a clear penalty denied in the first leg, you cannot award that at this point. The team gave its all, but a human being cannot destroy dreams like that at the end of an extraordinary comeback on a dubious situation. Clearly you cannot have a heart in your chest, but a garbage bin. On top of that, if you don’t have the character to walk on a pitch like this in a stadium like this, you can sit in the stands with your wife, your kids, drinking your Sprite and eating crisps. You cannot ruin the dreams of a team. I could’ve told the referee anything at that moment, but he had to understand the degree of the disaster he was creating. If you can’t handle the pressure and have the courage to make a decision, then you should just sit in the stands and eat your crisps […] It’s an issue of sensitivity. It means you don’t know where you are, what teams are facing off, what players are involved. It means you’ve understood absolutely s—.

 

While it is unclear what Buffon’s expletive of choice was here—I have seen other outlets referring to another four-letter word which begins with “F”—what is clear is that the referee’s decision here is emblematic of something much bigger than football. While it may not be quite as simple as Juventus President Andrea Agnelli’s assertion that UEFA’s referees are “against Italian clubs”, that a kind of implicit bias is in play seems to be very plausible. Indeed, one look at UEFA’s 2018 report on European club Football—which highlights “how UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations have created a more stable and sustainable financial position for European top-division clubs”—has some clues as to what the bias against Juventus might have been (For those interested, the report is available for download here; it makes for fascinating—yet depressing—reading).

Despite the innocuous-sounding headline—using words like “stable” and “sustainable”—UEFA’s report is, in reality, just an in depth look at how the globalization of football has created vast amounts of inequality within European football (just like cultural and economic globalization has created vast amounts of inequality in the world). Indeed, it seems as if the football world serves as a microcosm of the globalized world we all live in. A few of the charts in UEFA’s report show just why the referees may have—implicitly even—held a bias in favor of Real Madrid and against Juventus in this particular Champions League tie.

 

Attendance:

The first chart shows “The Top 20 European Clubs by Aggregate Attendances (2017). Interestingly enough, the first three—FC Barcelona, Manchester United FC, and Borussia Dortmund—are all out of the Champions League. Real Madrid—on this chart—is ranked fourth with an average attendance of 69,426. Juventus FC is nowhere to be seen on this chart; neither is AS Roma which—in an unexpected result—knocked out FC Barcelona on 10 April 2018. Perhaps UEFA could not stand losing another Spanish team in the quarter finals to an unprecedented comeback?

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.uefa.com/insideuefa/protecting-the-game/club-licensing-and-financial-fair-play/news/newsid=2529909.html#/

 

Revenue:

The second chart shows “The Top 30 Clubs by Revenue”. Here, again the top three are Manchester United, FC Barcelona, and Real Madrid. While Juventus is on this chart—coming in at number 10—a look at their revenue shows the amount of inequality in European football. While Juventus’ revenue in 2016 was 341 million Euro, Real Madrid’s was 620 million Euro—almost double that of the Italian side! Given that the top two revenue makers (Manchester United and FC Barcelona) have already been knocked out of the competition, along with numbers five, six, and eight (Paris Saint Germain, Manchester City, and Chelsea FC, respectively)—and that number 7 (Arsenal FC) did not even qualify for the Champions League this season—it means that Europe’s richest clubs were not very successful on the pitch this season. Indeed, the unexpected elimination of both FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC by AS Roma and Liverpool FC on 10 April 2018 changed the financial make up of the Champions League Semi Final. Perhaps, due to this, one more upset—in this case Juventus over Real Madrid—was just not acceptable.

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.uefa.com/insideuefa/protecting-the-game/club-licensing-and-financial-fair-play/news/newsid=2529909.html#/

 

2018 UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final Matchups
(Listings According to Revenue: Richer Teams on Left):
Team Country Revenue/Growth Rate Team Country Revenue/Growth Rate
FC Barcelona Spain 620M Euro/11% AS Roma Italy 219M Euro/21%
Manchester City FC England 533M Euro/16% Liverpool FC England 407M Euro/5%
FC Bayern Munich Germany 592M Euro/25% Sevilla FC Spain N/A (Not in Top 30)
Real Madrid Spain 620M Euro/7% Juventus FC Italy 341M Euro/5%
Note: Winner in BOLD Italics

 

Popularity:

The third chart shows the popularity of club websites (in September 2017) according to millions of viewers. Here we can clearly see that Real Madrid’s website is, far and away, the most popular website. The Spanish side attract more than 8 million views, compared to just over two million for Juventus; in effect Real Madrid’s website is four times as popular as Juventus’.

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.uefa.com/insideuefa/protecting-the-game/club-licensing-and-financial-fair-play/news/newsid=2529909.html#/

 

Followers:

 The fourth chart, which shows the number of followers on social media of major European football clubs and players, is perhaps the most telling. From the graphic, it is clear that both FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have far and away the most followers on Facebook and Twitter. Indeed, the club’s two star players—Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid—are more popular than most European clubs themselves! As UEFA’s report notes, “Cristiano Ronaldo, the most popular player, has more Twitter followers than Real Madrid and FC Barcelona combined (65.3 million) and more fans on Facebook than any of Europe’s top-division clubs (122 million)”. Given this information, it is not hard to understand why Juventus might have fallen victim to a refereeing decision in Madrid; UEFA’s hallmark competition simply would not have been able to do with a tournament absent of either of modern football’s most popular players.

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.uefa.com/insideuefa/protecting-the-game/club-licensing-and-financial-fair-play/news/newsid=2529909.html#/

 

Please keep in mind that this is in no way a “scientific” study; there are no claims for causality. Rather, this is an attempt to show just how some factors—mainly financial—could lead to implicit bias on the part of officials and, of course, the higher-ups in UEFA. This short explanation is to show how just as inequality in the world has increased due to globalization, so too has it increased in world football. And, in order to further this inequality, it means that the referee–in the case of Juventus’s match–had to ignore an historic comeback and instead put an end to it by calling a dubious penalty. Given the context of the match, it was certainly a horrendous decision. Sadly, in an age where money has taken a front seat and humanity has taken a back seat, it is not altogether very surprising.

While few in the mainstream media are willing to ask the tough questions, it is up to us—as independent writers, researchers, and thinkers—to ask the tough questions. In an age where corporate greed has allied itself to high ranking individuals in both non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and governments, the news media is far from free. This is why bloggers (like myself) and independent scholars play an important role in provoking thought that is independent of financial interests.

 

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Legia Warsaw’s Fans, in an August 2014 Match, Send a Message UEFA Would do Well to Take Heed of. Like FIFA, UEFA Is Not the Fairest When It Comes to Balancing Corporate and Fan Interests. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.ultras-tifo.net/photo-news/2741-legia-warszawa-fk-aktobe-28082014.html

 

Author’s Note: Please, if you are interested in sharing any of this information—or using any of these ideas in your own work—please remember where you got it from. I have had unpleasant experiences with unscrupulous news outlets like The Guardian who have unabashedly stolen my work without giving credit to where they got it from in the first place. As I was filing my taxes today, I winced at the figure which showed how much money I had earned this year. Indeed, it was not a pretty figure for me to see what a year’s worth of work amounted to in US Dollars. Needless to say, I do not make a lot of money, and that is OK. But this is why I do not ask for money; rather I ask that—when and if you do find anything of interest in my writing—you at least acknowledge where it came from. Like so many other independent writers, I live with—and on—hope.

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The Two-Faced Nature of the Political Narrative in the United States Reveals the Depth of Corporate Media Control in the United States: The Perspective of a Marginal Sociologist

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The great American Sociologist C. Wright Mills once wrote that the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR) were analogous entities. Mills pointed out that while in the Soviet Union intellectuals were crushed physically, in the United States intellectuals were crushed morally; this is to say that if one said something against the dominant narrative in the USSR they were sent to a gulag (like Dostoyevsky), while in the United states they are shamed morally and—thus—lose their legitimacy in the public eye (one recent example would be the globalist news outlet The Guardian’s odd shaming of pop artist Taylor Swift for not voicing political opinions). Of course, Mills was not the first to note the odd similarities between the two world superpowers in the Cold War era; the Beatles’ “Back in the USSR” noted the similarities between their very names.

And, in 2018, it seems that we are still noting the similarities between the United States—the “leader of the free world”—and the Soviet Union’s successor, Russia. Again, The Guardian provides a great example of the narrative I mentioned in the title: In a 2017 article, The Guardian slams the Russian media for being state-owned. Predictably, The Guardian’s analysis is blatantly biased, inevitably connecting the topic to—as the narrative would have it—U.S. President Donald Trump:

 

There are, of course, many lessons to be learned and many parallels to draw with the current fraught relationship between Donald Trump and the US media. But it’s important to keep in mind that Putin has amassed far more power than Trump can possibly hope to during his time in power. However, one thing is clear: both in the US and in Russia, the media are often distracted with outrage over absurd behaviour and nonsensical public statements while ignoring what those in power want to be ignored.

 

There is, however, a small problem with the globalist main (lame)stream media’s narrative here. It is that Donald Trump has so little control over the media in the United States. In fact, the situation is not at all parallel to that in Russia. The U.S. news media is against Mr. Trump’s position and, it seems, will go to extreme lengths to paint over the very real problem created by their inherent biases.

On 31 March 2017, Mr. Trump slammed Amazon.com for what he calls “scamming” the U.S. Postal Service. Of course, America’s state television channel (when a channel has contracts which guarantee it a monopoly on televisions in airports across the country, it becomes state media), CNN, slammed Mr. Trump for slamming Amazon.com! While Mr. Trump certainly has a right to criticize Amazon.com for its role in pushing out small businesses (how many bookstores exist in the United States anymore?) and for skirting around sales taxes—Amazon.com is, effectively, a faceless corporate monopoly which cares little for the people as long as it profits off of them—this (more important) problematic aspect of Amazon.com’s role in corporate America was not discussed in the U.S. news media (even though Mr. Trump’s political rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, agrees). This is because the U.S. news media is—like its counterpart in Russia—hardly free. Rather, it is beholden to political lobbyists.

 

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Mr. Bezos and Mr. Trump. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.stern.de/wirtschaft/news/amazon–trump-attacke-kostet-bereits-milliarden—persoenliche-fehde-mit-jeff-bezos–7922072.html

 

Please take the recent Washington Post article as an example. In his 31 March article, Philip Rucker writes:

 

Trump is typically motivated to lash out at Amazon because of The Post’s coverage of him, officials have said. One person who has discussed the matter repeatedly with the president explained that a negative story in The Post is almost always the catalyst for one of his Amazon rants.

 

While Rucker’s rationalization of Mr. Trump’s criticism of Amazon’s business practices (which are well deserved) leaves much to be desired, one passage in particular seemed to be an insult to any Washington Post reader with an independent mind. Rucker writes:

 

The president also incorrectly conflated Amazon with The Post and made clear that his attacks on the retailer were inspired by his disdain for the newspaper’s coverage. He labeled the newspaper “the Fake Washington Post” and demanded that it register as a lobbyist for Amazon. The Post is personally owned by Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, and operates independently of Amazon.

 

If one were to assume—as the Washington Post would like people to—that there is no conflict of interest here, they would have to be extremely naïve, to say the least. That Mr. Rucker goes on to lament that Mr. Trumps tweets caused the company’s shares to fall goes to show that the Washington Post may—indeed—be a lobbyist for Amazon. Yet, instead of Americans questioning the legitimacy of their news media—and questioning corporations, like Amazon, for their role in shaping political opinion as purveyors of the culture industry—we see that most Americans are all too happy to support corporate interests over the people’s interest. It is made all the more shocking when looking at how the main (lame)stream media in the United States responds to events like this in other countries.

On 21 March 2018—just ten days before Trump’s fallout with The Washington Post—fellow traveler in the state media The New York Times was quick to criticize the take over of one of Turkey’s major media groups, Dogan Media, by a pro-government conglomerate owned by Demiroren Holding. The New York Times explained:

 

The Dogan Media group owned the newspapers Hurriyet and Posta, and two of Turkey’s main entertainment and news channels, Kanal D and CNN Turk. The government had accused the company of being biased against it and the governing party.

 

A well-respected Turkish journalist, Kadri Gursel (who was recently released from an 11 month stint in jail for being critical of the government), Tweeted that “The process of gathering the Turkish media industry in one hand according to the Putin model is completed”. Given that Dogan media owned much of the sports media in Turkey as well, it is clear that the new ownership of Mr. Demiroren, whose son Yildirim is the head of the Turkish Football Federation, will affect the Turkish football world as well. In a sense, it is a further “Erdoganicization” of the Turkish culture industry and, by extension, Turkish football.

 

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Both Mr. Demirorens and Mr. Erdogan. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.gundemotuzbes.com/dogan-medya-grubu-erdogan-demiroren-e-satildi/38776/

 

The point of this post is to show that when corporate interests take over the media in order to further political agendas in foreign countries, it is seen as an unquestionably bad thing. Yet, when the same thing happens in the United States it seems that people do not even bat an eye. Remember that Jeff Bezos—the owner of both Amazon.com and The Washington Post—has strong progressive leanings and his purchase of the Post has worried many commentators even in liberal circles. It seems that we should be more worried than ever about the connection between corporate wealth, politics, and the media. It is a connection that sociologist Thorstein Veblen made clear more than a century ago, and it is one which should concern people all over the world; as my example from Turkey shows, this problematic melding of news media, big business, and politics affects people regardless of their country of citizenship. If only the main (lame)stream media in the United States could drop their (perhaps racist) tendency to criticize other countries (like Turkey) at the drop of a hat and instead do their jobs—which is to keep their own societies honest.

 

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Sage Words From a Great Writer. Image Courtesy Of: http://dream-prophecy.blogspot.com/2015/12/cia-mind-control-over-american-and.html

 

United_States.jpg  This Is Why People Must Take Back Their Countries, Before They Are Subsumed By Commercial Interests at the Expense of Their Citizens. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/pictures/flags/unitedstates.html

A Marginal Sociologist on The Double Edged Sword of Technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Marginal Sociologist on Social Engineering Part 2: Emotions

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Part one of this post focused on technology and its dehumanizing effect by reducing interactions between human beings. In Part two I will focus on emotions, and how the social engineering of emotion—what is acceptable and what is not acceptable—provides people with a false sense of their own humanity. Recently in the United States—and Western culture more generally—it has become the fashion to be “offended” when someone else says something that you might not agree with. Of course, this is ultimately a childish response and offers absolutely no opportunity for communicative action—itself a necessity for societal advancement—in the sense that German sociologist Jurgen Habermas meant it.

Most recently, we saw how many public sentiments in the United States were offended after a bizarre exchange between two septuagenarian politicians in the United States: President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. At a 21 March 2018 rally against sexual assault at the University of Miami, Mr. Biden said “They asked me would I like to debate this gentleman [referring to U.S. President Donald Trump], and I said no. I said, ‘If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him’”. Not one to be outdone, Mr. Trump responded via Twitter on 22 March with this: “Crazy Joe Biden is trying to act like a tough guy. Actually, he is weak, both mentally and physically, and yet he threatens me, for the second time, with physical assault. He doesn’t know me, but he would go down fast and hard, crying all the way. Don’t threaten people Joe!”. If we as a society were not so uptight—and so easily offended—we might have found this exchange to be humorous; perhaps it could have even made us laugh!

 

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A Humorous Tweet. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/976765417908776963

 

Yet, it seems, that we are more used to dehumanization. We are so dehumanized that we cannot laugh. The main(lame)stream media in the United States—led by, predictably, CNN—chose to interpret this absurd event in terms of its own world view. Chris Cillizza wrote that Mr. Trump’s Tweet revealed “Three Big Things”. They were: 1) Being “presidential” is not a thing for Trump; 2) Trump sees himself as a street fighter; and 3) Trump is very, very frustrated. I would say that none of the three so-called “big things” that Mr. Cillizza mentions mean much. This is why I believe a second list of “three big things” is necessary in order to get to the point. My three “big things” or, more accurately, big questions are as follows:

 

  • Why Are we blind to the fact that Mr. Biden is exuding this level of toxic masculinity?

Why is Mr. Biden, a darling of the American “left”, a man who “leads with love and kindness”, and takes (supposedly) candid photos of himself with homeless men, threatening physical violence against anybody? Isn’t falling back on stereotypical “male” behavior the kind of thing that those on the American “left” abhor and, ultimately, shame? Indeed, there should be no place for this kind of machismo and empty talk in American society. Yet, for some reason, this is a topic that the main(lame) stream media will not touch. After all, if Mr. Biden was just the kind of stereotypical male that feminists detest, then it would go against the narrative.

 

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Heartfelt? Image Courtesy Of: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2018/03/13/joe-biden-homeless-man/422097002/

 

  • Why do we get offended when Mr. Trump responds in kind?

Why did so many in the main(lame) stream media get offended when Donald Trump responded to Mr. Biden’s threats? Indeed, this was not the first time that Mr. Biden threatened Mr. Trump with physical assault, it happened on the campaign trail as well. Has our culture really become so neutered—so bland—that it is no longer acceptable to speak up when something wrong—like threatening physical violence—occurs? We owe it to ourselves, like the great sociologist C. Wright Mills once said, to speak up when we see absurdity happen.

  • Why do we allow the mass media to frame our world views?

I have written in the past about media framing. It is certainly dangerous, and it happens all the time. Just look at The Atlantic’s poorly informed attempt to frame the terms “globalism” and “globalist” as anti-Semitic slurs (rest assured they’re not, “globalist” merely refers to those who are advocates for globalization) or The Guardian’s attempts to discredit clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson. Unfortunately, the media has much more influence on people’s lives than they believe, and it is hindering the ability for independent thought.

 

Given these three questions I have raised, I will now attempt to provide an answer for all of these “whys”. I believe that the reason that that many people are unable to recognize Mr. Biden’s machismo, the reason that they are offended by Mr. Trump’s response, and the reason that they allow the media to frame their worldviews is because too many people are all too ready to fall back on the fake emotions that the culture industry has provided for them. If supporting Mr. Biden and his party means one is tolerant (and certainly against “toxic” masculinity, since it is a cause of the sexual assaults Mr. Biden was purportedly speaking against), then the case is closed. The media serves to fill the emotional void created by technology and tells the public just how they should feel. Of course, this happens everywhere, not just in the mass media.

 

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A Sign to Make Us Feel Better . . . Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

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. . . While Our Childhoods are Sold Back To Us. Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

Recently I found myself in an Urban Outfitters store and saw a sign which pointed towards the fitting rooms. It read “All-Gender Fitting Room: Open to All Persons, Regardless of Gender Identity or Expression”. Of course, most fitting rooms are already “all gender”. Indeed, they have always been so. They’re just…fitting rooms. But, Urban Outfitters seeks to put up such a sign in order to assuage the emotional fears of their customers while unabashedly selling customers their collective childhoods back to them in the context of late stage capitalism. I remember Champion Sweatshirts and the “flower” Adidas design from my childhood. Now, apparently, they’re back—and at a considerably inflated price. Perhaps customers should be offended at having the past being re-sold in the present at a premium price point, rather than worry about dressing rooms. The emotional appeal of the dressing room sign serves to mask the fact that Urban Outfitters is, cheaply, capitalizing on the nostalgia and memories of its customers to further its own profits. Indeed, the corporation is playing on emotions—the same emotions which are rapidly being phased out by the modern world—in order to provide a sense of emotional connection to their customers who are now living in an increasingly rational and ultimately emotionless world. In short, it is the same process we see unfolding in the mass media: raw emotions—and memories—are being transformed into controlled and sanitized forms of marketable emotion.

A Marginal Sociologist on Social Engineering Part 1: Technology

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Yesterday I found myself connecting through Washington D.C.’s Reagan National Airport. There were just nine gates in the small terminal I was in, so I headed to a nearby restaurant for a drink and a snack. To my surprise, there was no one around. No one working, at least. Each table had two Ipads—one for each chair—with menus, games, and even flight information on them. There were no waiters or waitresses. It felt like an odd wasteland, but I decided to play along. I touched the “drinks” page, scrolled down to “spirits”, chose “whiskey/bourbon”, scrolled down to “Jim Beam”, chose “double (plus 4 Dollars), chose a “non Coca-Cola Mixer” and selected “Ginger Ale”. Success (even if it meant spending more time on the Ipad than it would have to tell a server “One double Jim Beam and Ginger Ale please”). When it came time to pay, I was told to add a gratuity. But why? Would I be giving myself the gratuity? I took my own order, after all! And there were no servers whose service I could rate; after all, gratuity is given after the service has been conducted, not before!

I was bewildered. But the system does not let one order without paying; one must pay up-front in order to even get a meal! On top of that, one must swipe a credit card in order to pay! My attempts to pay in cash, needless to say, failed miserably. It was clear that the losers—in this situation—are those who do not have credit cards (this establishment, clearly, did not serve their kind . . . isn’t that discrimination?) and the limited number of servers themselves; those lucky enough to have kept their jobs in this technological utopia will be chronically under tipped because no one in their right minds should tip before seeing service.

Once the order was in, I decided to poke around the menu for a few minutes. I noted that it was available in a number of languages, which intrigued me (perhaps I should have been a marginal linguist, but I digress), so I scrolled down to “Turkish”. The translation was, predictably, atrocious. Likely, it would have embarrassed a five-year old. “Gluten Free of Charge” meals, Grilled Cheeses made of children, and “national bread” did not seem like very appetizing meals. Clearly, the restaurant had chosen to eschew human translators (like they eschewed employing a human wait staff) and instead relied on Google Translate. Unfortunately, the end result was an embarrassment. I felt like I was living in an episode of Black Mirror; I had found myself in a dystopian present dominated by the limits of technology. No, technology certainly does not make us “freer”; rather, it tends to erect more and more boundaries around us—it is certainly Max Weber’s “iron cage” of rationality.

 

A Bar Without Bartenders at Reagan International Airport…Black Mirror Much? Image Courtesy Of the Author.

 

While the restaurant itself was kind enough to provide me a prompt reply to my complaint via email, this example stretches far beyond just one poorly run restaurant in the Reagan National Airport. Rather, this kind of technological rationalism—if left uncheck—will likely spell doom for human kind (and human freedom more specifically) in the long term. Peter L. Bergman and Thomas Luckmann’s 1966 work The Social Construction of Reality makes it clear that we, as human beings, are social creatures (For more on Social Constructionism, please see the Wikipedia page here. We need human contact not only to just thrive, but also to survive:

 

Men together produce a human environment, with the totality of its socio-cultural and psychological formations. None of these formations may be understood as products of man’s biological constitution, which, as indicated, provides only the outer limits for human productive activity. Just as it is impossible for man to develop as man in isolation, so it is impossible for man in isolation to produce a human environment. Solitary human being is being on the animal level (which, of course, man shares with other animals). As soon as one observes phenomena that are specifically human, one enters the realm of the social. Man’s specific humanity and his sociality are inextricably intertwined. Homo Sapiens is always, and in the same measure, homo socius (Berger and Luckmann 1966: 69).

 

By severing our links with our fellow human beings—by privileging the technological over the social—we are, in actuality, setting ourselves up for a bland (and perhaps even bleak) future devoid of empathy and social interactions. While I have written about both the threats to empathy and ongoing cultural homogenization in the modern world before, it is useful to remember just why empathy—and human relations—are so important.

Empathy and respect for your fellow human beings are factors which can prevent tragic events like mass shootings and homicides; social alienation, however, are risk factors which can exacerbate anti-social behaviors and—ultimately—lead to violence. The first step of fascism—which the history of mid 20th century Europe provides a few examples of—is the dehumanization of the “other”. Once one sees “the other” as sub-human, it becomes much easier to dismiss and—in extreme cases—get rid of them; it is the process which Hannah Arendt outlines effectively in The Origins of Totalitarianism. In the period Arendt writes about, this dehumanization was encouraged by state-led propaganda. In the current era, this dehumanization is encouraged by corporations and Silicon Valley, who constantly stress the value of technology for “making our lives easier”. The other side of the coin, of course, is that machination serves the interests of corporations (by driving down the costs of labor and increasing competition between the remaining human employees) but does not serve the interests of average human beings. Is technology really making things “easier”? Or are we just willingly accepting a form of domination and—simultaneously—sewing the seeds of our own destruction? Perhaps we should care about one another—our fellow human beings—than we should care about robots. Unfortunately, it seems like Amazon’s Alexa gets more respect than living, breathing, human beings do, and that is a very real problem. Otherwise, we will be left in a very bland world where restaurants look something like this, too bland to ever offend anyone:

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A…Bland New Eating Establishment. Image Courtesy Of the Author.

 

Take back your lives from corporate greed.

Take back your educations from radical ideologues.

Take back your countries from dehumanizing bureaucratization.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://world-visits.com/2011/12/flag-of-the-united-states

Gianluigi Buffon’s Battle with the Culture Industry as Emblematic of the Postmodern World’s Double Standards

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Buffon: A Legend, Who Is Not Afraid to Talk About Depression Or Anything Else. Image Courtesy of: https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/qkqy7m/gianluigi-buffon-from-darkness-into-light

 

Author’s Note: This Post Was Originally Written as an Assignment for a Qualitative Methods Seminar. Please Excuse the Excessive Use of Academic Citations.

 

Paul Atkinson’s Thinking Ethnographically explains one facet of the modern world well: Citing Harold Garfinkel, Atkinson explains that “degradation requires a ‘perpetrator’ to be denounced before some witness or audience, and for there to be agreement that there has been a serious infraction of collective values, in such a way that displays the true character of the perpetrator, and is not a minor blemish. Nowadays such degradations and character threats are likely to be seen in mass media and social media” (Atkinson 2017: 89). Atkinson ties these “degradation ceremonies”, as he calls them, to labelling. For Atkinson “labeling implies attribution. In the course of labeling our fellow actors, we attribute to them particular kinds of motives, characters, and other attributes” (Ibid.: 90). Here we see that the label is tied to the individual’s character, which carries with it a strong moral connotation.

 

Ostertag and Ortiz’s 2017 article regarding bloggers writing about hurricane Katrina touches on the same moral point, as they note that bloggers “communicate personalized stories packaged with emotional and moral messages (Ostertag and Ortiz 2017: 63). In fact, the authors quantitatively point out just how often “moralities” are mentioned in the blog content they analyze, showing that “blogging served [for Katrina bloggers] as an outlet to direct their emotional energies and voice their senses of moral indignation” (Ibid.: 70). Unfortunately, I believe the authors miss the mark on their analysis when they claim that this stress on “morality” facilitates “the development of social ties rooted in trust, compassion and companionship” (Ibid.: 76). Quite the contrary, I believe that the stress on morals—which carries with it an implicit character degradation (in the manner that Atkinson discussed it) of all who might disagree—means that the bloggers are only erecting boundaries between their own (moral) selves and the amoral “others” who may not agree with their writing. It is in this sense that we can clearly see that social media can, sometimes, merely serve as an echo chamber.

 

Wendy Griswold’s (2013) chapter does a good job of showing that the culture industry plays a major role in defining—and even encouraging—the division of society along (perceived) “moral” lines. Griswold, citing Hirsch, explains that “the culture industry system works to regulate and package innovation and thus to transform creativity into predictable, marketable packages” (Griswold 2013: 74). Indeed, “morality”—or at least the perception of it, given its short supply in the hyper-consumerist society of postmodern Western civilization—is a “marketable” commodity. As Griswold notes, “once an idea has been put into words or symbols (a manifesto, a peace symbol), it is a cultural object” (Ibid.: 82). In this sense, morality is just another “cultural object” in the post modern world. The Katrina bloggers Ostertag and Ortiz write about—knowing full well that moral indignation gains more followers—play a role in turning “morality” itself into a “cultural object”. This is how the culture industry gradually homogenizes culture itself (Ibid.: 75); by adhering to what sells—what brings home emotional or financial capital—would-be opponents of the culture industry end up succumbing to its effects. Put another way, Griswold explains this process by pointing out that “if cultural creators can frame their product or message so it resonates with a frame that the audience already possesses, they are more likely to persuade that audience to “buy” (an idea, a product, or a taste)” (Ibid.: 88). For many cultural creators—like the bloggers studied by Ostertag and Ortiz—it is “morality” that is the frame.

 

Griswold shows us that there are two competing schools of thought regarding the interpretation of culture: The first is mass culture, which posits that culture overwhelms recipients. The second is popular culture, which sees individuals as “active makers and manipulators of meaning” (Ibid.: 90).  I would say that the truth lies somewhere in between; it is a mix of both mass culture and popular culture theory which explains the emphasis on “morality” in modern culture. Although, as popular culture theory posits, we might make our own cultures (and meanings), it is only a matter of time until the mass culture appropriates those meanings and sells them back to us, leaving us bereft of any other interpretation. Whatever meaning we, as individuals, might make, it will always be subject to the logic of producers and consumers and thus subject to homogenization.

 

I will provide an example of this process by discussing the case of Italian footballer Gianluigi Buffon. Although Buffon is a legend in Italian—and world—football, his career has not been one without controversy. At the beginning of his career, Buffon was criticized for choosing the number 88 (because some deemed it an anti-semitic number) and for wearing a t-shirt with a slogan which had been used by Italy’s fascist leaders (Brodkin 2000). Of course, due to this perceived amorality, Buffon was vilified. And the culture industry of the media ran along with it. Fast forward almost two decades later, and it is a very different story. Indeed, Buffon was praised by the culture industry for his enthusiastic rendition of the Italian national anthem before a football game (Lloyd, n.d.) as well as for is “class” in applauding the Swedish national anthem when some Italian fans booed it (Polden 2017). What, then, is the true story of Gianluigi Buffon? Is he a fascist, or a neo-Nazi as some tried to brand him for donning the “88” shirt? Or is he just an Italian patriot, who supports the patriotism—and national anthems—of other nations as well? I would interpret him as the latter since there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that Buffon is a bigot. Unfortunately, however, the soil of his previous experience with what Atkinson called “degradation ceremony” remains. The controversy—immortalized as it is by the internet—cannot be escaped.

 

Here we see the hypocrisy of the culture industry. The culture industry, in praying on the general search for “morality” in the wider public (which itself lives in a postmodern world devoid of morals), will vilify—or sanctify—in accordance to popular demand; if what is being sold resonates with the frames possessed by the masses it will sell. While it was easy to degrade Buffon as a “fascist” or “anti-Semite” when he was an up and coming player, it became harder to do so after he established himself as one of the best players of his generation. This is why the media narrative did a proverbial 180; it was not selling anymore because Buffon had become a national hero. Unfortunately, what Atkinson does not recognize, is that “degradation ceremonies” are part of the tool kit of postmodern fascism; they can be used at any moment to attack the “morality” of an individual and sully a reputation in an instant. It is just one danger that the independent thinking individual faces in the hyper-commodified hyper-consumerist society we now find ourselves in.

A Marginal Sociologist’s View on the Turkish Referendum and What the Future May Hold: The Fault lines Revealed Say Something About the World, Not Just Turkey

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Despite my earlier predictions, Turkish voters chose “YES” for a new constitution in the referendum of Sunday 16 April 2017 by a narrow 51.3%-48.7% margin. In my defense, the vote was marred by irregularities including ballot stuffing and a controversial decision to allow unstamped ballots to count. According to CNN’s piece, monitors

 

described a litany of shortcomings.

  • The state of emergency imposed after a failed coup last July had a profound effect on the political process. “Fundamental freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed,” the monitors’ report said. “The dismissal or detention of thousands of citizens negatively affected the political environment.”
  • State media was biased in favor of Erdogan and did not adequately cover opposition. “The legal framework for the referendum neither sufficiently provides for impartial coverage nor guarantees eligible political parties equal access to public media,” she [monitor Tana de Zulueta] said.
  • Monitors saw “no” supporters subjected to police intervention at events and senior officials in the “yes” camp equated them with terrorists.
  • The involvement of Erdogan and other national and local public figures in the “yes” campaign led to a “restrictive” and “imbalanced” campaign framework, she [monitor Tana de Zulueta] said. The decision on the day of the vote to allow unstamped ballots “significantly changed the ballot validity criteria, undermining an important safeguard and contradicting the law.”

 

In typical fashion, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed the monitors’ report, telling international observers to “know their place”. Given that Turkey’s three largest cities—Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir—all said no, it is very likely that voting irregularities did indeed turn the tide for the “YES” side. Indeed, it was noted that many polling places in southeast Turkey recorded clean sweeps (as in 97 for “YES” to 0 for “NO” in one case where all vote counters were relatives), the kind of questionable results that are common in authoritarian regimes. In fact the results were much closer in many Istanbul districts than would have been expected, as a look at Istanbul’s district by district results show. In conservative Eyup “NO” won out 51.54% to 48.46% while in conservative Fatih “YES” won with a similarly narrow 51.38%-48.62% result. With results this close—in even notoriously conservative districts—in an election where the majority of big cities went against the AKP for the first time since the party came to power, it is unrealistic to think that the “YES” win was truly “free and fair”.

 

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Three Largest Cities Say No. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39622335

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97 “YES” to 0 “NO” in Southeast Turkey’s Sanliurfa Province. Note the vote counters’ last names—they’re the same! Image Courtesy Of: http://ilerihaber.org/icerik/aile-boyu-saibe-urfada-dokzan-yedi-evet-0-hayir-cikan-oylari-sayanlarin-hepsi-akraba-70744.html

 

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Results Were Closer Than Expected In Some Conservative Districts of Istanbul. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/gundem/istanbul-2017-referandum-sonuclari-evet-ve-hayir-oy-oranlari-1784854/

 

 

Despite the controversy, the “YES” side won. As President Erdogan said—using a football analogy, no less—“I come from a football background. It doesn’t matter if you win 1-0 or 5-0. The ultimate goal is to win the game.” Given that the “game” was won—albeit with an offside goal (!) perhaps—we now need to analyze what it means. I believe that the fault lines that the referendum revealed in Turkish society mirror the fault lines we see in the world today, but it is not all doom and gloom for Turkey since the future could be brighter than many “experts” seem to believe.

Many political pundits seemed despondent in the wake of the results, with The Guardian’s Yavuz Baydar saying “Erdogan’s referendum victory spells the end of Turkey as we know it” and Foreign Policy penning a piece titled “RIP Turkey”. At first glance, the pessimism seems warranted; the kind of polarization seen in the election map—where, in this case, the tourist and industrial centers on the coasts and Kurdish areas in the southeast voted “NO” and the long-neglected peripheral provinces of central Anatolia voted “YES”—is reminiscent of the societal polarization seen in the wake of Brexit in the UK and Donald Trump’s victory in the United States.

 

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Turkey’s Results. Blue is “NO”, Red is “YES”. Image Courtesy Of: http://referandum.ntv.com.tr/#turkiye

 

While I have seen many observers describe this phenomenon as one pitting the “educated” and “cosmopolitan” urban areas against the “ignorant” and “backward” rural areas, I believe there is another answer; it an answer that does not try to degrade one group in the face of another, rather it is an answer that tries to get to the root of what might be called a budding global crisis. Rather than an “urban/rural” divide, I think we are seeing a divide between “capital-rich regions” and “capital-poor regions”. This is to say that regions rich in capital—due to foreign investment or development—are typically urban while regions rich in capital—devoid of foreign investment or development—are typically rural. Of course the ethnic aspect of the Kurdish areas (themselves also capital-poor) adds another dynamic to the Turkish case, but—generally speaking—ethnically Turkish “capital-poor” regions voted along the same lines for “YES”. It is also important to note that the terms “capital rich” and “capital poor” do not refer to individuals living in those areas, rather it refers to general regional attributes (like the number of foreign companies present, etc.).

This situation affects traditional voting patterns. In the past people voted on what they thought was best for their country; while there may have been different parties with different goals, they tended to be different visions for the same end goal: the betterment of the country as a whole. In the current situation, with politicians more and more beholden to corporate interests and capital and less to their countries, there is little middle ground to be had for voters. For many politicians and wealthy donors the end goal is not the betterment of the country, rather it is the betterment of personal bank accounts. Thus the stark divide as politicians look to win votes (to better their own economic situations) by polarizing the electorate: it is a classic situation of divide and conquer in the context of a zero sum game.

An example of how this manifests itself is the case of Izmir businessman Selim Yasar, a member of the board of Yasar Holding, which owns the foodstuffs brand Pinar, the sponsor of the Pinar Karsiyaka basketball team (the Yasar family has also been involved with the Karsiyaka football team). After posting a Tweet reading “YES thank you to the Turkish public that made the right choice!”, fans of the Karsiyaka team slammed Mr. Yasar on Twitter to the point that the Tweet was deleted. This is not surprising, since Karsiyaka’s fan group Carsi has ran foul of the government before for sending political messages (much like the other Carsi group, fans of Istanbul team Besiktas). When fans confronted Mr. Yasar on social media, reminding him that his district (of Karsiyaka) voted overwhelmingly against the referendum (83.2% “NO”, one of the highest rates in the country), Mr. Yasar responded with a threat that the team’s sponsorship deal would need to be “reconsidered” so as not to fall afoul of Ankara [the government] following such a high percentage of “NO” votes in the district. In the authoritarian climate fostered by the referendum results, of course, such bold threats are not surprising.

Here we clearly see that the businessman is putting his own interests first, likely knowing that cultivating good relations with the government will mean more business deals and increased profits; for Mr. Yasar is voting along the lines of what will bring more money in. Mr. Yasar is a good example of how, under extreme capitalism, politics can get polarized (and, at times, ugly). Indeed the local—and even the team—is of no concern to Mr. Yasar. In order to cultivate support from the government, Mr. Yasar is willing to end his relationship to the sports team (or at least publically threaten to do so in the name of appeasing the state).

 

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Mr. Yasar Vs. The Fans. Images Courtesy Of: http://haber.sol.org.tr/toplum/evet-kutlamasi-yapan-yasar-holding-karsiyakali-taraftarla-karsi-karsiya-geldi-193445 (TOP) and http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/karsiyaka-taraftarina-tezahurat-sorusturmasi-40074959 (Bottom).

 

This brings me to why it may not be all doom and gloom for Turkey. First of all, there is a disconnect between what the state wants (the “YES” camp) and what the capital rich regions want (they mainly voted “NO”). This kind of divide will likely not be sustainable, especially given that the AKP has built itself on a foundation of economic “stability” and “development” (processes that affect capital rich regions). Mr. Erdogan has upped his populist rhetoric to speak to the capital poor regions of ethnically Turkish Central Anatolia, but that betrays his neoliberal leanings. His recent attempt to bridge these contradictory positions shows how untenable the situation is. At a ceremony marking the birth of the Prophet Muhammed on 22 April 2017, Mr. Erdogan said:

How can one who does not listen to the voices of millions of Muslim children who have been killed in Syria regard himself a follower of the Prophet? You must have seen the father who was holding his deceased twins after the chemical attack [in Syria]. How long will those villains continue their cruelties without paying the price? What are we called just because we speak against them? They call us dictator. Let them say that. We will continue to raise our voices against them. Because our Prophet preaches ‘consent to cruelty is cruelty.

While his pursuit of justice in the Muslim world is underlined here, it also conspicuously ignores the role that Turkey played in undermining Syrian stability by turning a blind eye to militants streaming into Syria from Turkey; this type of hypocritical position is not sustainable in the long term. Neither is the fact that, following the coup of 15 July 2016, much of Turkey’s civil society (including government officials, diplomats, and judges) has been purged for relationships with reclusive cleric Fetullah Gulen. The AKP was built on the foundations of a relationship with Mr. Gulen and his followers; without that deep-seated support—which penetrated all levels of the Turkish state—it is unlikely that the AKP can retain its institutional cohesion.

Perhaps most heartening, however, is the fact that—for arguably the first time in Turkish history—we truly see the liberal communities of coastal Turkey taking the same side as the Kurdish communities of eastern Anatolia. One look at the voting map shows this convergence based on shared interests. When one takes into account the close vote in conservative districts—and the fact that the biggest cities all voted “NO”—we can infer that many conservative Turks were also against the constitutional change. In this atmosphere, we see a rare opportunity for Turks of all stripes—conservative and liberal, Muslim and secular, ethnically Turkish and ethnically Kurdish—to come together.

 

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Most Big cities, Excepting Bursa, Voted “NO”. Among the Top 10 “YES” Voting Provinces (In the Red Column), Most Were From Central Anatolia. The Top 10 “NO” Voting Provinces (In the Blue Column) Were a Mix of Kurdish Provinces (5) and Liberal Coastal Provinces on the Aegean and Thracian Coasts (5). Note also that “NO” percentages in Turkey’s most Liberal City (Izmir) and Turkey’s Main Kurdish City (Diyarbakir) Were Virtually Identical: 68.80% to 67.59%. Image Courtesy Of: http://referandum.ntv.com.tr/#turkiye

 

Likely, it will necessitate the rise of a new political party or at least a new charismatic political leader to bring these disparate groups together. Such a party would probably have to be socially conservative (but not Islamist), much in the way America’s Republican party is conservative and not specifically religious, and it would have to be nationalist (civically, and not ethnically, so as to include Turkey’s Kurdish citizens) to have success. If such a movement mobilizes, it is likely that it will also benefit from fractures that have emerged within the AKP following the split with the Gulenists, and could mount a challenge to Mr. Erdogan in the 2019 Presidential election (which this referendum ensures). This means that a new opposition party could emerge to exploit the close nature of the referendum; if well-organized enough it would be able to challenge Mr. Erdogan, who could then actually lose the election in 2019 (and with it the power) he hoped to gain through the referendum in the first place! Hopes for a truly inclusive Turkey may actually be more alive after the referendum than they were before the referendum, and that is another perspective from which the referendum results can be viewed.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag-map_of_Turkey.svg