The quarter is over, and that means that Male Fantasy Sports is also over. Since I wrote up the baseball section, I should write up the soccer section.
The first book we read was Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. The book annoyed me to no end, largely because Hornby comes across as an insufferable poser, bragging in print about his slumming with the lads in the terraces. There is no doubt that he really likes Arsenal, but when he starts to write about how the fanbase is changing as tickets get more expensive, he clearly is not particularly worried that he, himself, might not be able to afford a season ticket. The book is very obsessed with surfaces and objects, which just makes Hornby (not surprisingly) a living embodiment of what Rob Gordon says in High Fidelity: you are what you like. But if that’s the case, then why does Hornby make an effort to differentiate himself from other Arsenal fans, as, either, more of a fan, or less of a hooligan?
These questions get brought up in the next book, Bill Buford’s Among the Thugs. It picks up right where Hornby left off, with an upper middle class poser trying to slum with the lower classes. Buford, however, starts in on a fantasy of egalitarianism and classless English society that he sees reflected in the hooligans. Not enough of them are disaffected workers, unemployed wannabe fascists. So he posits that there is no more lower class in England; the service economy has wiped that class out. As a result, everyone is middle class. This allows him the fantasy of England as a liberal democratic society, where identity types are not only arbitrary but also mutable. But then there’s the sticky space of how race plays into the situation. The students read part of Gilroy’s Postcolonial Melancholia, so they were prepared to think about England in terms of the “incomers” from the colonies. Yet Buford isn’t. By and large, the only blacks he talks about are players on the field. And they form a race-blind meritocracy. Race stops mattering, then. This certainly feels wrong, but it’s where Buford ends up.
But race comes back with a vengeance in John King’s Football Factory. It’s not an overwhelming theme, but the lads in the novel are constantly interacting with racial others in the metropole–and they are constantly remarking on it. The incomers that Buford ignores (in part by shifting his book to focus on England away) take up all the background space in King. He even has multiple non-white characters (though they are secondary). Furthermore, King presents a far more nuanced (or conflicted) attitude among the hooligans towards racial and ethnic minorities. There are the louts who are just racists, of course, but in one scene where two young thugs intimidate an Asian family on a bus, Farrell, the WWII vet, reflects on the negative foreign contributions to English culture–but the contributions are German fascism and American neoliberalism. Those are the foreign influences that cause those two louts to behave as they have, and he, then, responds by punching them both in the face. So while King’s characters (and probably King himself) have nothing but contempt for the hypocrisy of limousine liberals or suburban Marxists, he also loathes the attitudes of the far-rightists, who are, granted, much more likely to find themselves among football hooligans.
What you get, then, is a sort of nihilism on the one hand–an alienated distrust of all forms of group power (whether by race, party, state–it’s not for nothing that the novel begins with the biggest rush: beating up police officers)–that can bend its what into a more Agambenesque whateverness or even Gilroy’s own new model of multiculturalism, conviviality. It’s tough to imagine that among a gang of (seeming) psychopaths who love getting into fights, but the nuanced version of that you get from the main character, Tom, is one far more attached to a whatever form of identity. His behvaior, perhaps, is not psychotic because it is limited by getting into fights with others who want to get into fights. Civilians are left out of the picture.
So how did class end up? I enjoyed teaching, though I felt like I lost a lot of steam by the end of the quarter. I also got more ornery, which may be a side effect of being tired. My students were generally good, though I wish I didn’t end up doing so much of the talking. Though maybe that’s how undergrads are, and I just don’t remember it. I do not think I answered any huge questions here, nor do I think I have a much greater grasp on whatever it is that my dissertation might be about, but I think there could be two possible essays here–one about baseball and one about football–and that’s interesting. I am very much looking forward to not teaching next year.
Tags: , Among the Thugs, Arsenal, Bill Buford, England, Fever Pitch, football, Football Factory, Giorgio Agamben, High Fidelity, John King, Male Fantasy Sports, Nick Hornby, Paul Gilroy, Postcolonial Melancholia, soccer