Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Project of World Making

Yep, it's that time of the year. The time in which I inexplicably disappear from this blog, leaving you nothing more than cricket chirps and a stale, five day old post. It's the third full week of January, which can only mean one thing: I've returned to school.

Luckily for me, there were other more interesting topics transpiring during the course of my absence that surely kept you busy. All politics aside, yesterday's inauguration was historic. There's little doubt that January 20, 2009 will be recorded as one of the most historic dates in American history.

As you can imagine, the events in Washington, D.C. were discussed in many a classroom throughout the country. Craig-Lee 253 was no exception.

There, in a class which was originally titled "Modern Fiction", my professor flipped the proverbial script on us. Exit "Modern Fiction." Enter "The Project of World Making.*"

(*A bit pretentious? I thought so, too. Maybe that's why they originally gave it a mild, non-threatening label, then BOOM! Day 1: Welcome to THE PROJECT OF WORLD MAKING impressionable youth of Rhode Island!)

Which leads me - I'm getting there - to the point of this post.

The concept, if I've mastered it after only one class, focuses on how we know things. How do we know our names? Well, because someone affixed a label to us. I am not Brian - the term "Brian" signifies who I am because that is what my parents named me - but the label is not what I am. Follow me?

We discussed the importance of signs, and how they are used, either positively or negatively, to re-create an object. For instance, if sports radio and the talking heads at large tell you that soccer is boring, and you don't know any better, those people have re-created the meaning of soccer for you. They have not allowed you to think for yourself. It is their undeniable truth that soccer is boring. Therefore, soccer is a boring game to you because people around you have told you so.

Over the years though, this perception - or this sign - of soccer has changed in America. More Americans are coming to accept soccer as a worthwhile sport, and not the game of foreigners that was embedded into many of our parents brains. Whether you notice it or not, soccer's influence has spread across this country in very subtle ways.

How many soccer fields are there today, compared to thirty years ago? How many kids and adults today play soccer vs. baseball or football? How did the term "soccer mom" suddenly pop into in our social vocabularies, to the extent that an entire marketing demographic has been created where companies like Dunkin Donuts gladly roll out the red carpet for?

The American meaning of soccer has changed drastically. Kids playing soccer is as American as kids playing baseball. That idea was once impossible to grasp, even during the heyday of the NASL. How many backyards today have a soccer balls rolling around it? How many soccer-themed bumper stickers and magnets flash by you on the road?

Thirty years ago, these ideas were almost inconceivable. Soccer has reached into forums it was shunned from only a generation ago. Over time, many of the signs built up by the anti-soccer crowd have been obliterated. This can be attributed to the aforementioned NASL that first brought soccer to the forefront. Thus, there are parents who grew up with the NASL, and after catching on due to Pele, Chinaglia, Carlos Alberto and the Cosmos, have passed on their appreciation for the game to their children.

And sometimes, that's all it takes. Many kids today view soccer just as they would football or baseball. Much of the old thinking has vanished. Eventually, generations to overcome stereotypes. It's a series of small seismic shifts. But there are shifts nonetheless.

That said, I honestly believe that it's only a matter of time before many, if not all, of the surviving negative connotations affixed to the sport by previous generations - it's a foreign game, it's boring, it's un-Americam - will simply disappear. My kids and grandkids will laugh when I tell them that there wasn't first division soccer when I ('80s babies) was growing up because of the negative light it was cast into for many years.

Thirty years from now, a new sign for soccer will have been formed. And one way or another, it will likely be drastically different than it is today.

[POST SCRIPT: Incidentally, my buddy Jason Davis at Match Fit USA, also wrote about attitudes toward soccer today. Neither one of us copied from the other. I can't speak for Jason, but I definitely I don't have telepathy. Anyway, here's his entry - something that definitely expands upon what's written here. What can I say? Great minds think alike.]


Jason D said...

Funny how our posts tie together today. I talked about the "old" ideas as you labeled them (and I still think their very much alive), and you're discussing the way things have changed. While I think you're right for the most part, all of those old ideas still hold sway when it comes to the way Americans view the professional game. Cheers.

BrianTheOC said...

Oh I definitely agree Jason - many old ideas still persist. But I think overall, soccer isn't as "foreign" or "strange" as it used to be thirty years ago.

I think the blowhards that disparage soccer are \finally retiring, slowly drifting into senility (sp?), and generally, being replaced by writers our age who actually appreciate the game, if not, at least view it outside of the old crusty lenses that their predecessors viewed it through.

I think the negative stereotypes are dimishing, even if it's slowly. Of course, another reason is globalization, but that's an entirely different argument that I really can't find the patience to fully explain.

Jason D said...

I didn't expand on it, but globalization is definitely part of "acceptance" movement (besides the obvious media implications) that I mentioned. By the way, that's a damn good piece of writing you have there.

BrianTheOC said...

I think another factor that's in soccer's favor is the democratization (sp?) of information via the internet. It's truly amazing that we can now "pick and choose" the information we receive, rather than having little choice but to get our news from the local paper or TV station. If the newspaper doesn't cover soccer...heck, there are thousands of sites devoted to it that we fans can access for free. That, in the long run, will benefit the sport more than anything else, except for (maybe) the globalization of American society.