Thursday, April 17, 2008

Academia and Football

Football is one of those things that, like a good piece of art, attracts so much interest that the observer is pressed to suspect there is something more going on than what merely appears to the eye. The overpopulated philosophical subdivision called 'aesthetics' catalogues the attempts of some great minds hoping to reify the unspeakable in art using words, attempts that eventually culminated in Adorno's wry and hilarious 'Aesthetic Theory,' a work crafted with the sort paragraph-less, obfuscatory prose now considered de riguer among humanities professors from UCLA through to the Sorbonne.

Having completely dissected and, ugh, deconstructed the art that for thousands of years many found merely to be a pleasant distraction from the grinding hopelessness of daily life, academics are increasingly turning their gaze toward the 'Beautiful' Game (but what is beauty, really, other than the fascist projection of bourgeois values yada yada yada). No longer a sport featuring twenty-two players and a ball, football provides a lens to study everything from the hyper-masculine hero-image of the modern footballer to the anthropological root of war as spectacle through to the breakdown of the relationship to sign and signified in modern commercial sponsorship (I wonder what Baudrillard, recently dead, would have to say about Sky Sports broadcasting Fly Emirates versus AIG Insurance?). Like Don DeLillo's fictitious Hitler studies in 'White Noise,' football is just one more esoteric peg on the plinko board for academia to hit on its way to the bottom.

Perhaps I'm old fashioned, maybe even a little dim, but what happened to the enjoyment of football for football's sake? I realise that I'm speaking as one who has devoted the last five months to writing about football, but I don't expect the game to unlock the secrets of Muscular Christian oppression or to yield some timeless insight about the dynamics of Marxian class conflict. It seems to me that Western intellectual progress has led itself down the rabbit hole of irrelevance, and football is merely one of several victims as it spasms for air. Perhaps as we hopefully move back to a culture of noble auto-didacts seeking to avoid the credentialed logorrhea of the academic class, this sort of thing will be looked back at as the height of (post?) modern decadence.

In the end it may not matter what academia makes of football, like those countless unread doctoral theses permanently parked in university library stacks across the globe, except that all those minds could be pursuing something better like tackling the massive global inequity wrought by commercial capitalism or countering the machinations of empire pursued by the Bushes and Ahmenidijad's of the world. Meanwhile, why bother putting into words something like Nakamura's strike yesterday in the Old Firm, the magic of Anfield European nights, or the mysteries of the calculation of injury time? Sometimes these things are best left to silence to reconcile.

1 comment:

The said...

Hi Richard,

Enjoying your blog. It strikes me that a lot of the academic discussion of football is borne out of some guilty desire to "justify" what's essentially a visceral experience.

I'd like to drop you an email, what's the best address?