Ultra-parochial America shows of its sporting ignorance



The British are weird. You want to know how weird? They sing at sports events. No, really. But it’s what they sing that’s really odd. They sing, like, really old pop songs and show tunes and, like, really, really, really old hymns. For real. Like from knights-in-armour times. What a bunch of freaks.

But when it comes to out-of-the-box four-flavoured fruit loopiness, the limeys can’t hold a candle to the Chinese who – get this – think baseball is “confusing, boring and inaccessible”. Holy cow, what a crazy, crazy country. They’ll be saying they don’t like Tater-Tots or Mad Libs next.

Having written extensively in recent weeks about the sassy, sussed, cosmopolitan and growing US soccer fan culture, I have just been slapped repeatedly about the face and shoulders with the slimy raw haddock of ultra-parochial American sporting pig-ignorance.

Last week a local weekly newspaper greeted the news that Philadelphia (after an amazing year-long grass roots fan campaign) will be given a Major League Soccer franchise from 2010 with the suggestion the team should be called “The FC Reál Chester Who-Gives-A-Shits”. Honk honk. Meanwhile, a usually rather sharp local satire website ran the headline “[Governor] Rendell Introduces $47 Million Soccer-Caring Initiative”. Badum-tish. Hey what about them TV dinners? And have you noticed how President Eisenhower does that thing with his lips when he says “military industrial complex“?

No, that’s unfair. The first two articles mentioned in this blog are actually quite charming examples of the American journalist’s amazing ability to assume that if everywhere that isn’t America does something differently to the way most of America does it, this somehow makes everybody else abnormal and amusingly strange. I call it Addams Family syndrome – after that weirdo-ridden collective’s amusing tendency to regard all-non family members as pitiful, incomplete and ugly.

First up was an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer attempting to explain to USAians why Philadelphia soccer fans sing an old 1940s pop song. It’s because they’re soccer fans and soccer fans all round the world do this, explained the article. “Why do soccer fans sing? … In this country, it just seems odd. Fans of American sports cheer, clap, boo or hiss. They may stomp their feet. But they don’t sing corny old standards.”

Let’s leave aside the dubious assumptions that a) soccer isn’t an American sport and b) American football fight songs like Philadelphia’s Fly Eagles Fly or Washington’s Hail to the Redskins (“Fight on, fight on ’til you have won, Sons of Wash-ing-ton. Rah!, Rah!, Rah! Hail to the Redskins! Hail Victory! Braves on the Warpath! Fight for old D.C.!”) aren’t both corny and old (rah rah?).

It apparently never crossed the journalist’s mind to ask the more obvious question – why don’t most American non-soccer fans sing? And if they do sing, why do they sing the one exact same song over and over and over again? Where’s the wit, where’s the culture? Why the deficiency? What’s wrong with them?

The answer, I am almost certain, has absolutely nothing to do with notions of US individualism v European (and South and Central American, and Asian, and African and Australian) collectivism. But it might just have something to do with the fact that autonomous fan culture has been all but crushed to death in most US pro-sports by the barrel-scraping, lowest-common-denominator-reaching, last-possible-dollar-squeezing tactics of leagues (and this is really terrifying) that are actually regarded as role models in the rest of the world.

(When the lights go out, Fifa and the NFL stand naked in their respective bedroom windows, staring at each other with undisguised lust and much drooling.)

But to have asked that question – at this current rather odd juncture of hayseedish parochialism and British Empire-style cultural hubris – the journalist would quite literally have had to have worn his brain outside his head, like an oddly cauliflower shaped beret. It just wouldn’t compute. It’d be like not having marshmallows on your sweet potato mash on Turkey day. Or swiss in your baloney on rye. Or wiffle-ball sized jumbo Tater Tots with your Stouffer’s Monterrey Chicken on Fat Tuesday. It would be totally freaking insane.

And so to baseball which – according to the New York Times – most Chinese people think is crap.

This obviously astounds the author who not only regards rounders-in-big-knickers as self-evident and sublime proof of God’s existence (like every US sportswriter ever) but seems genuinely disturbed to learn that there’s a huge gaping round-ball shaped hole in the middle of American cultural hegemony. It’s kinda like if Lancastrians were forever being shocked to discover the rest of the world doesn’t eat puddings made out of pig’s blood three times a day, like normal folks.

“I’m confident that once people here see this game and grasp it and play it, they will fall in love with it,” said MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who doesn’t go into any detail as to why the citizens of the world’s oldest continuous civilisation would give up any of their many international sports or indigenous games in favour of one invented in 18th-century England and played today in fewer countries than consider pig’s blood mixed with common grain a delicious and savoury delicacy (probably).

But someone at the Times obviously agrees. The subhead on the online version has been changed from the startled “Some Chinese Call Baseball Confusing, Boring and Inaccessible” to the positively Ronald Reagan-esque “Playing in China, Chipping at a Wall”.

A wall. Kinda like the Berlin Wall – a crude artificial barrier that was all that stopped millions of freedom-loving East Europeans from playing and watching and loving baseball. Kinda like the wall the Republicans want to build on the border with Mexico, to stop untold millions of freedom-loving Mexicans coming into the country and starting up their own soccer leagues. The crazy rounders-in-big-knickers non-appreciating bastards.


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