Wednesday, July 04, 2007

How Franklin Foer Explains Jack-Shit

OK, I've been saving this one for awhile.

Maybe Franklin Foer just had a bad editor who foisted a crap title on him. But soccer does not, in any way shape or form, "explain" the world. Mirror it, maybe. But not explain it.

This is not an original book, btw. Simon Kuper did the same thing, only much, much better when he was 24, travelled the world on a $10,000 budget and wrote possibly the best book ever about global football, Football Against the Enemy. Foer took the same idea, even wrote some of the same stories (the books' respective chapters on Celtic and Rangers are remarkably similar), and wrote a worse book. Not just because he doesn't understand the game and its history as well as Kuper - but because where Kuper was content to let his dispatches from various parts of the world stand on their own, Foer had to put throw in some cheeseball theory about Globalization in for marketing purposes.

The Foer thesis in a nutshell: Football is played everywhere, but football passion and identity is essentially a local affair. A global game mutates in shape and form to meet local market conditions. Football is therefore a metaphor for globalization. QED.

Just at the level of simple logic this doesn't hold up. Or, at least it's no better than Antonio's parallel theory of globalization which goes like this: McDonald's is everywhere. But McDonald's menus are to some extent a local affair (fetaburgers in greece, fried camembert in the Czech Republic, beer in Germany) as a result of the need to meet local market conditions. McDonald's is therefore a metaphor for globalization. QED.

See? It's nonsense.

Plus, Foer is naive enough to actually believe all that horseshit about FC Barcelona being a force for local civic nationalism and democracy. This really gets on my wick. Why is it that every time a North American liberal intellectual starts getting into football, they head straight past George Orwell and headlong into Barca's martyr-of-Catalonia myth? Why can't one - just one - be entranced by some ball-breaking, shin-splintering displays of football and support Blackburn or Bilbao or Lazio? Sheesh.

I'll give him this, though: his chapter on Serbian football, Arkan the Tiger and his grotesque wife was genuinely top notch, and a real addition to the literature. If you can somehow manage to rip those thirty pages out of the book to take home and read without anybody noticing, do so. Otherwise, give it a miss.


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