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As the Geopolitical Rivalry Between Turkey and Greece Reveals Itself in Football (again), How Does It Reflect Current Views Towards Nationalism and the Nation?

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After Osmanlispor’s European season came crashing to an end following a 0-3 loss at home to Greece’s Olympiakos, the story of the match has slowly revealed itself to be more than just football itself: It is a story that involves an age old geopolitical rivalry that is being re-interpreted in the context of a world-system that is in flux. Globalism or localism? Is the response to globalism chauvinist nationalism that pits countries against one another in a zero-sum game, or is it a more civilized form of nationalism that views countries as equal actors on a world stage? While this struggle has played out most prominently in Great Britain’s decision to leave the European Union during “Brexit” and the election of Donald Trump in the United States, it is a struggle that is far from over. Interestingly, the struggle even played itself out in a relatively insignificant Europa League tie between Turkish side Osmanlispor and Greek side Olympiakos FC.

Scholars of history will be familiar with the Greco-Turkish rivalry, a contentious relationship rooted in geopolitics since the time of the Ottoman Empire. Given the history, any matchup in European football between Greek and Turkish sides is bound to be a contentious affair. This year’s match was no exception since Osmanlispor itself is a team that represents the neo-Ottoman identity that the current Turkish government is building itself around.

“Osmanli” is Turkish for Ottoman; Osmanlispor FK can be loosely translated as “Ottomansport Football Club”. The team was originally Ankara Buyuksehir Belediyespor, the team of the Ankara municipality, and run by controversial Ankara Mayor Ibrahim Melih Gokcek before being re-named to “Osmanlispor”. While the history is complicated, the team is, clearly, the team of the government. Their “Ottoman” name is not just a coincidence; it is meant to re-enforce the neo-Ottoman visions of the ruling government in the field of sports. The team’s main fan group Akincilar even have a Twitter handle that is written in Arabic characters while the picture they Tweeted ahead of the Olympiakos match features players charging out of a sepia-toned mist; it is an image evocative of historic art depicting the Ottoman cavalry charging into battle.

 

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The picture Osmanlispor’s Fan Group Tweeted Ahead of the Olympiakos Match Features Players Charging Out of a Sepia-Toned Mist. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/OSMANLISPOR_FK

 

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The Image Tweeted By Osmanlispor’s Fans Is Thematically Similar to Artwork Depicting the Ottoman Cavalry (Sepahis) Charging into Battle Out of a Cloud Of Dust. Image Courtesy Of: https://postimg.cc/image/5pa34tsij/

 

This kind of neo-Ottomanism is loosely connected to increasing religiosity and Turkish nationalism as well. Ahmet Gokcek’s (the son of Ibrahim Melih Gokcek) tweets show this synthesis well. Using football as a base, he sends messages that combine notions of Turkish nationalism with Islamic rhetoric. The first Tweet came after the first leg draw with Olympiakos—“Elhamdulillah” means “Praise be to Allah” in Arabic. His other Tweets, centered around the matches of Turkish teams in European competition, combine similar religious messages with images of the Turkish flag and the badges of Turkish football clubs: One says “May the Lord not embarrass our teams in Europe”, with Mr. Gokcek’s signature beneath the words. The team’s coach, Mustafa Resit Akcay, himself said (before the second leg) that “we [Osmanlispor] will feel pressure because of our name and because of representing our country”. Here we clearly see a connection between the nation and the Ottoman past.

 

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Ahmet Gokcek Thanks Allah For Osmanlispor’s Draw. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/OSMANLISPOR_FK

 

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Ahmet Gokcek’s Tweets Show the Relationship Between Turkish Nationalism, Islamism, Neo-Ottomanism, and Football. The First Carries an Image of the Turkish Flag Resembling a Blood Stain (Connecting the Ideas of War and Nationalism); The Latter Tweet Carries the Caption “Our Prayers Are With You…” While the Quote in the Image Reads “May the Lord Not Embarrass Our Teams in Europe” in the Context of the Turkish Star and Crescent. Images Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/ahmetgokcek?lang=en.

 

Perhaps the most interesting pre-game Tweet came before the first leg when Istanbul Basaksehirspor (another team essentially created by the ruling AKP government) wished Osmanlispor luck by saying “Good luck on your trip to Byzantine”. Clearly Basaksehirspor’s Tweeters are not very familiar with history since “Byzantium” was the Byzantine Empire’s name for…Istanbul, and the Byzantine Empire encompassed both Anatolia and Piraeus (where Olympiakos is from). In short, the Tweet can be seen as framing the match in terms of a historical rivalry between the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires that has carried over to the modern nation-states of Turkey and Greece.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/ibfk2014?lang=en

 

After Olympiakos’ victory some segments of the Turkish press were upset at an Olympiakos tweet which returned the favor. Olympiakos Tweeted—in English and Greek—a message that reads “A triumph for all Greeks! Greece who knows how to win!”. The image accompanying the tweet consists of Olympiakos’ badge and the Greek flag; it is a fusion of football and Greek nationalism—perhaps a deliberate fusion in direct response to Basaksehirspor’s Tweets (and Ahmet Gokcek’s Osmanlispor Tweets) which fuse Turkish nationalism and neo-Ottomanism.

It is clear that the pre-match and post-match Tweets from both sides reflect forms of chauvinistic nationalism. Yet, the Greek press (according to Turkish media) actually praised the Osmanlispor fans for a banner during  the match which read—in Greek, Turkish, and English—“Dear Neighbor Friendship Will Win” [Author’s Note: The Turkish, “Dostluk Kazansin Komsu” translates more accurately as “Dear Neighbor May Friendship Win”. For it to be “Friendship Will Win” it would have to have been phrased as “Dostluk Kazanir”].

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/komsu-bu-pankarti-begendi-osmanlispor-2402475-skorerhaber/

 

The banner itself reflects the disconnect between traditional nationalist representations of the nation and the present pressure for “globalism” in the face of globalization. While Osmanlispor’s fans tried to put out a public message of “fair play”, the team’s fans—after Olympiakos’ first goal—ended up throwing objects onto the field (a fact only reported in a few media outlets, such as this play-by-play account of the match).

 

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Please See Minute 54. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.karar.com/spor-haberleri/canli-anlatim-osmanlispor-olympiakos-kac-kac-baskentte-kritik-uefa-mucadelesi-anlik-anlatim-397490#

 

The message on the banner was just words; not only was it poorly translated but it was—given the fans’ later actions—also not heartfelt. On the other side, while the Greek press may have praised Osmanlispor’s message of friendship, ahead of the match they were busy claiming that the grass in Osmanlispor’s stadium was painted green to cover up the fact that it was dead. Again, the spirit of “fair play” is only alive in the discourse surrounding the banner in the stadium; everywhere else the discussion (from both sides) is quite antagonistic.

This tension between what nationalism should be—and how it should be expressed—in the current international climate is a fascinating one. Personally, I do not believe that the divide need be one between chauvinistic nationalism driven by the perceived superiority of one nation over others on the one hand and over-hyped messages of (often faked) “friendship” and “tolerance” on the other. Rather, it should be an acceptance that countries—like football teams—all exist in one inter-connected environment. This does not mean that one country (or football team) is intrinsically better than another (this is the kind of sentiment that encourages violent forms of nationalism and fandom—in some cases hooliganism) but it does recognize that each country has a right to put itself first. The answer to what nationalism “should” be in the context of a rapidly changing international environment is still open to debate, and it will be interesting to see how this process is reflected in the football world going forward.

The Robots Have Arrived: A Marginal Sociologist’s Take on McDonald’s and the Rationalization of American Society in the Age of Extreme Capitalism (With Bonus Coverage of McDonald’s’ Love Affair With Industrial Football

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As an educator it is sometimes difficult to explain the intricacies of Sociological theory. Much of it is abstract and can best be understood only through real social interactions. Since too many sociologists (in the current context) shy away from actually interacting with their fellow humans (due to, mainly, political disagreements) I believe that it is important to put the subjects I teach in the context of real-life situations. A few nights ago, at the local McDonald’s, I was provided an experience that allowed me to better explain eminent Sociologist Max Weber’s concept of rationalization to my students. I shared it with them in class, and I believe it is equally relevant to the wider social world so I am choosing to share it in this context as well. After all, McDonald’s is one of the major corporations that sponsors football’s most visible competition, the FIFA World Cup.

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McDonald’s and the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Image Courtesy Of: http://bizztro.tumblr.com/post/88927751559/fifas-game-of-sponsors

 

Sociologist George Ritzer coined the term “McDonaldization” in his book “The McDonaldization of Society”. It was essentially an extension of Max Weber and his ideas regarding the development of a form of social control driven by a focus on efficiency and “means-end” concerns. This process involves a certain degree of homogenization and it is something that globalization itself perpetuates: Everything—down to our human interactions—must be rationally controlled; even the football stadium is not immune to this process. More and more new stadiums are being built in the interests of corporate profit and not the fans—what earns the the team money is the most important concern. This is why we have seen a backlash to industrial football among world football fans. The stadium has become a space for profit, not passion.  This process erodes human agency, and I saw—first hand—how this process works at my local McDonald’s.

 

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Marginal Sociologists Can Sometimes Transcend Their Own Marginality (Author’s Note: I Have Yet To Achieve That Level). Image Courtesy Of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_McDonaldization_of_Society

 

I dropped by the nearest McDonald’s for a late night snack the other day. Upon walking in I noticed that there were four (4) computer screens set up for ordering; there was just one human cashier. Since I am against the growing computerization (and mechanization) of society, I decided to wait in line so as to physically interact with a human being during my transaction. After all, the only way of telling corporations that human beings are better investments than machines is by supporting them. After waiting about three minutes I actually got the “privilege” of interacting with a human being.

 

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How Human Is The Idea Of Breaking Burgers Down Into Nationality For the World Cup? It Seems Like More Of  a Tool To Further Atomize–and Divide–Global Society In the Age of Globalization. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2014/05/taste-test-mcdonalds-2014-world-cup-brazil-and-australia-burgers/

 

I ordered one double cheeseburger (only onions and ketchup; no pickles or mustard). Assuming it would be a small purchase I presented two (2) American dollars as payment. The cashier informed me that the final price was two dollars and two cents ($2.02). I asked if $2.00 dollars was enough; it would save her the time of counting out ninety-eight cents in change and me the time of waiting. It made “sense” insofar as it reduced the need for “cents”. The cashier, for her part, did not budge. $2.02. She wanted those two cents. I searched on the floor for dropped change in vain. I pleaded for her to drop the two cents but she was adamant. $2.02. In effect, my human cashier had become as robotic as the machines that will soon push her out of a job. But, in the context of the rationalized world of extreme capitalism, she couldn’t understand that she had lost her human agency. If she had cut me some slack—as a human being could (and arguably should)—she would be held accountable by her manager for the missing two cents in her register at the end of her shift. And I get that. But I also get that it represents the kind of bureaucratic rationalization that Max Weber argues leaves human beings bereft of their own human agency. My cashier on this night might have saved the McDonald’s corporation from losing two cents, but that will not keep the McDonald’s corporation from laying her off in favor of a computer somewhere down the line. This particular cashier was all too willing to earn the company profit—which will likely not trickle down to her paygrade—at the expense of having a human interaction. In fact, for two cents, she even risked losing a customer (After all, I am not opposed to criticism of corporations who subscribe to the values of extreme capitalism, such as Starbucks).

 

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Again, in 2006, McDonald’s Was At the Forefront of Football Advertising. Image Courtesy Of: http://fifaworldcup.tk/fifa-world-cup/fifa-world-cup-2006-logo

 

In the end I decided to order a second double cheeseburger (since two are $3.20) so as to at least get more “bang for my buck(s)” (and to get less change). As I waited for the food, however, I became more and more incensed at the blatantly impersonal nature of the modern fast food restaurant. Eventually I lost my appetite. Rather than refuse the food (an action which I, for a moment, contemplated), I decided to take it and walked out hoping (for possibly the first time in my life) that one of the famous panhandlers in my city would accost me looking for money. When one did—asking for a dollar so as to purchase a bus ticket to a city more than five hours away—I made my own move: “I don’t have any money for you, but I do have two hot McDonald’s double cheeseburgers with only onions and ketchup—will you take them?” At that a smile crept across the gentleman’s face and I presented him with the food I had ordered. It was fitting that—in a dehumanizing world—we can still strive for humanizing experiences (even if extreme capitalism tries, at times, to suppress our own humanity).

 

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Like Starbuck’s, McDonald’s Might Attempt to Send a Multicultural Image (Look At the Clearly Inter-ethnic Display of the Four Children In This Advertisement) But That Doesn’t Mean They Don’t Pursue The Kind Of Global Homogenization That Globalism and Globalization Encourage; A Kind of Discriminatory Cultural Imperialism That Erases All That Is Local. Image Courtesy Of: http://bizztro.tumblr.com/post/88927751559/fifas-game-of-sponsors

 

 

Troubling Times for Democracy All Over the World: A Few Thoughts from a Marginal Sociologist on the Budding Hobbesian War of All Against All in the Field of Culture and the Threat It Poses to Democracy

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When I wake up in the morning my usual routine consists of a cup of tea and a cursory search of “news” on Google so as to get as varied of a perspective that I can. The very fact that the vast majority of news outlets available to American readers are extremely biased towards either end of the ideological spectrum is concerning in and of itself; this type of polarization does not bode well for the future of “democracy” (in “quotes” because it is, itself, a debatable concept) in the United States, or the coherence of American society.

 

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A Useful Graphic With Which to Navigate the Culture Wars. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/check-political-bias-media-site/

 

That some news outlets are so questionable (to an unprecedented degree) is extremely worrisome. Yet, sometimes, even the “questionable” outlets can call out other “questionable” outlets in the form of a Hobbesian “war of all against all” in the media field (Bellum omnium contra omnes in the Latin for those readers who, like me,  slaved away studying Latin in high school). The Rightist Breitbart media (rightly) called out the false reporting of “Left” leaning Time Magazine in a very surprising—and sports related—story. Time Magazine Tweeted that Olympian Fencer “Ibtihaj Muhammad was detained because of President Trump’s travel ban”, and a subsequent story by  Motto, a Time publication, failed to rescind their earlier statement even though Ms.Muhammad explicately tweeted—four days after her original post—that her detention occurred in December (during previous President Barack Obama’s administration, and not during President Trump’s).

 

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Time Magazine’s Poor Journalism and Why We Should Always Question Media. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.breitbart.com/sports/2017/02/14/muslim-american-olympian-claimed-detained-trump-travel-ban-detained-obama/

 

While Breitbart provides a portion of Ms. Muhammad’s interview (where she misleadingly insinuates that she was directly affected by Mr. Trump’s “ban”) The Washington Examiner quotes a customs official who, confirming that she was detained for less than an hour, said “She comes and goes many times. She travels quite extensively. She has never been stopped before. She wasn’t targeted. The checks are totally random; random checks that we all might be subject to.” And this is the issue. People have been detained at U.S. airports long before Donald Trump became President. The supposedly “totally random” checks are not all that random—I myself have been detained upon returning to the United States from Turkey and treated extremely disrespectfully by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (this happened under Mr. Obama’s administration, I may add); my only fault was coming from Turkey and being half-Turkish. Clearly, these checks are not so “random” and these are things that the Leftist media would be better served addressing; as I myself have noted before the dystopian nature of American airports is alarming. But to blame it on a specific President—without looking at the bigger picture—is worrisome and brings into question the very existence of an independent media.

In my mornings I also focus on Turkish news. Unfortunately, in the past few months, the news coming from the two countries has—surprisingly—become more and more similar! Since the attempted coup of July 15, 2015 more than 33,000 employees have been dismissed by the Turkish Ministry of Education; on 7 Februrary 2015 it was announced that more than 4,400 civil servants—including police and 330 academics—have been purged in the crackdown following the attempted putsch. Even Turkish diplomats are fearing for their lives in this authoritarian climate. The Turkish state is exercising its power to the fullest extent; emphasizing a Weberian “monopoly on the legitimate use of force”. Interestingly, the situation is not very different in the United States and it is something that should be worrisome for those concerned about the state of democracy worldwide.

In the United States there seems to be a power struggle between the intelligence agencies and President Trump (no doubt if it happened elsewhere it would be covered with a much more critical eye by the U.S. state media). The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. intelligence officials are withholding information from the President of the United States; this is clearly worrisome, since it would seem—to anyone—that this would hinder any good faith attempt for Mr. Trump to actually do the job that he was democratically elected to do. I put it in italics to emphasize a point that, clearly, many in the U.S. seem to not understand. One such pundit, Bill Kristol, went so far as to say “Obviously strongly prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics. But if it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state”. For the uninitiated, “The ‘deep state’ is jargon for the semi-hidden army of bureaucrats, officials, retired officials, legislators, contractors and media people who support and defend established government policies”. Any of those familiar with Turkish politics will know how dangerous the deep state is for democracy, and it is something that I have mentioned before.

 

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The Insulting Words Of a Woefully Uninformed Man Who Has Only Lived The Privileged Life of the United States. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/02/15/bill-kristol-backs-deep-state-president-trump-republican-government/

 

While the dismissal of Mr. Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn may not be the worst thing in the world (according to the Economist who are known for their sober analyses; please see here and here) , it does raise other questions—but not the type The Economist raises. Surprisingly, it was Bloomberg News’ Eli Lake who provided a useful analysis:

[F]or a White House that has such a casual and opportunistic relationship with the truth, it’s strange that Flynn’s “lie” to Pence would get him fired. It doesn’t add up […]

It’s very rare that reporters are ever told about government-monitored communications of U.S. citizens, let alone senior U.S. officials. The last story like this to hit Washington was in 2009 when Jeff Stein, then of CQ, reported on intercepted phone calls between a senior Aipac lobbyist and Jane Harman, who at the time was a Democratic member of Congress. Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do […]

[A]ll these allegations are at this point unanswered questions. It’s possible that Flynn has more ties to Russia that he had kept from the public and his colleagues. It’s also possible that a group of national security bureaucrats and former Obama officials are selectively leaking highly sensitive law enforcement information to undermine the elected government. Flynn was a fat target for the national security state. He has cultivated a reputation as a reformer and a fierce critic of the intelligence community leaders he once served with when he was the director the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama. Flynn was working to reform the intelligence-industrial complex, something that threatened the bureaucratic prerogatives of his rivals.

 

These words—particularly the bolded portions—should deeply upset any American who cares for the semblance of “democracy” that they currently enjoy. Regardless of one’s political position, one should be concerned when a state begins to attack its citizens for doing nothing that is actually illegal (especially after rumors have come from both the “Right” and the “Left” that former President Mr. Obama is planning a “challenge” to Mr. Trump). Were Mr. Flynn’s actions questionable? Sure. But they were not illegal. And when the state’s intelligence agencies—ostensibly neutral—begin to undermine an elected government it is a slippery slope. Rather than celebrate these attacks on an elected government Americans would do well to realize that they risk surrendering their own “democracy”—with their own hands—to a nebulous, anonymous, and (most alarmingly) unelected group of individuals in the intelligence community. As alarming as Mr. Trump may be for some people, he is still—ostensibly—at least accountable to the people. That is something that cannot be said for the “deep state”, and this may be one of the biggest threats to democracy in American history (in the same way the totalitarian ideology of globalization represents a threat to democracy worldwide: just look to Turkey for an example).

Sports Stars and Extreme Capitalism from Necati Ateş to Stephan Curry: The Continued Atomization of Extreme Capitalist Society

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Necati Ateş in Action For Galatasaray. Image Courtesy Of: https://alchetron.com/Necati-Ates-145199-W

 

The other day a friend sent me a picture of himself with Turkish football star Necati Ateş. In and of itself, this small “event” is not very significant; a friend had a random interaction with a famous footballer in a restaurant—itself a democratic space since everyone has to eat. Yet, for me, it was indicative of the fact that extremely wealthy celebrities, like footballers, do not have to be distant from the very people that support them: the average fan. I was moved especially by Mr. Ateş’s smile; he seemed genuinely happy to be in a photo with my friends. For me a simple picture—while maybe not telling one thousand words—did show that 1) celebrities can be accessible and 2) that celebrities can also be normal people. That this kind of interaction took place in Turkey is not insignificant.

 

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Some Beautiful People in a Beautiful Picture. Mr. Ateş is Pictured Third From the Left (In the Middle, So To Speak). Image Courtesy of E.C.

 

The extreme capitalism of the United States is based upon a belief in the supremacy of the individual; in advanced industrial capitalist societies the individual is effectively subordinate to the system. As an American-born kid growing up in Turkey I was often asked if I saw famous people on a daily basis. Of course I didn’t, I lived in Providence, Rhode Island (a beautiful city yet hardly a destination for A-List celebrities). And even if I lived in New York City or Los Angeles, celebrities—in the United States—often frequent such exclusive places that a normal, middle class citizen would be unlikely to even interact with such people. The country is simply too big (and too stratified) to be conducive to such interactions. But in Turkey it is different—the country is smaller, and people are—generally—more ready to interact with their community than people in the United States. And that is one reason that Turkey is such a warm and inviting country.

Mr. Ateş seems to show, in this small interaction, that there can be a place for humanist interaction in societies that are negotiating the relationship between capitalism and “extreme” capitalism. In the United States, it is difficult to get the autograph—let alone a picture—of a star athlete. This difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that often-times athletes (and celebrities) come to believe (due to encouragement from the culture industry) that they are somehow “above” normal society—Beyonce’s self-beatification during the Grammys is a good example of this process.

 

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The Beatification of Beyonce; Celebrities as Above the People. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/beyonce-grammy-goddess_us_58a203d0e4b0ab2d2b17d4ce

 

Similarly, some athletes completely disregard the people that support them. NBA star Steph Curry’s comments regarding Donald Trump are an example of this process. After the CEO of the sportswear company Under Armour called President Donald Trump “An Asset to this country [the USA]”, Steph Curry (who is himself sponsored by Under Armour), said “I agree with that description if you remove the ‘et’”. While I would not go so far as conservative commentators who called for Under Armour to “rip up” their agreement with Mr. Curry, I would say that Mr. Curry’s comments are ill-informed; he evidently did not realize that many normal people—including parts of the middle classes in the United States—indeed voted for Mr. Trump precisely because they felt forgotten by mainstream America’s celebrity culture. It is a process that has characterized the neo-liberal era in the United States; even in 2000 a University of Wisconsin sociologist noted how ignoring middle-America was problematic. Evidently, no one listened.

 

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Steph Curry In Action for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. Image Courtesy Of: http://clutchpoints.com/steph-curry-deflects-question-about-kevin-durants-comments-about-his-defense/

 

A society divided between rich and poor cannot sustain itself and, sadly, celebrities are perpetuating this divide in the United States currently. While I agree that sports stars should speak their mind (since they are a large part of the public sphere), they should do so in an informed way. By succumbing to blind ideology, they send the wrong message to their fans. Mr. Curry would have been better off taking Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s path, who attempted to bridge the gap in American society rather than widen it further. In so doing, Mr. Johnson showed that he is more in tune with his society than Mr. Curry and—coming from a celebrity—this is something to be commended. Money, and the search for it, need not distance us from our own humanity. Unfortunately, extreme capitalism in the United States tends to glorify the celebrity. I appreciate Mr. Ateş’s actions for showing a side of Turkey that current news stories tend to miss: it is a beautiful country with extremely kind people, struggling to stand up to the ravaging forces of extreme neoliberal capitalism. If only more American celebrities could recognize the dangers of their own disconnectedness from wider society.

A Marginal Sociologist’s Take on Globalization as Seen Through The Hypocrisy of Starbuck’s Coffee: A Modern Day White Man’s Burden?

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All Aboard the Train of Cultural Imperialism? No Thanks, I’ll walk. Image Courtesy Of: https://news.starbucks.com/news/all-aboard-the-first-starbucks-on-a-train-with-sbb

 

Since I wrote about the sports world’s response to US President Donald Trump’s move to suspend immigration from seven majority Muslim countries the furor has not subsided. Indeed, in discussions with fellow sociologists, I have been able to see first hand the anger that Mr. Trump’s poorly-executed policy has spurred. Such discussions are usually fruitless since—as I have also written about in the past—many Americans do not have a clear sense of the world because they have not travelled. This kind of “international ignorance” may well be one of the biggest shortcomings of modern American society; it is a society that has continually fostered this kind of ignorance while not encouraging what I would call “international competency”. It is unfortunate, and the problems it creates are wide-ranging.

In the piece I wrote earlier I used Sociologist George Herbert Mead’s conception of the “self”: essentially one defines the “self” in relation to how one perceives others see them. It grows out of an acknowledgement of the “other”. Most Americans—having never left the country—do not have any conception of an “other”; this leads to the kind of extreme individualism that I wrote about in the context of American sports. Of course, emphasized individualism is a product of extreme capitalism since modern industrial society encourages individualism; having fewer communal ties makes one more likely to wholeheartedly accept the culture of competition which is necessary for capitalism to flourish.

This may be one reason that so many in the American public have been ready to make the immigration cause their own without thinking about other issues; in their mind “American” society is the best there is. Ready to encourage this kind of sentiment the media have featured South Sudanese NBA Star Luol Deng’s message prominently. Mr. Deng explains: “It’s important that we remember to humanize the experience of others. Refugees overcome immeasurable odds, relocate across the globe, and work hard to make the best of their newfound home. Refugees are productive members of society that want for their family just as you want for yours. I stand by all refugees and migrants, of all religions, just as I stand by the policies that have historically welcomed them”. Of course, Mr. Deng is right: we must humanize the experience of others and recognize that people are just trying to make the best of the perils that globalizing society has produced.

 

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Mr. Deng’s Words Should Be Recognized. Especially the Emphasis on “Humanizing” as opposed to Corporatizing. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/LuolDeng9/status/826186188650221568/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

 

Unfortunately, the media fail to realize one crucial point: The American model may not be the only model for world society; in fact, there are many functioning societies around the world that are much less individualistic than America’s and which still maintain their stability. We must keep this in mind, lest we push a form of imperialism that borders on societal engineering and is eerily similar to the “white-man’s burden” of colonial times. What works in America works fairly well—but that doesn’t mean it will work everywhere and it certainly doesn’t mean that it should work everywhere. The media fail to realize that all of the countries President Trump suspended immigration from have been victim to some degree of American intervention in the past (as the President himself admitted, the United States is far from innocent); the more this kind of imperialism is pushed the more unstable the world becomes.

Starbuck’s Coffee—themselves guilty of the kind of cultural imperialism that globalization encourages—decided to take action following Mr. Trump’s order. It amounted to an extremely hypocritical move. Starbuck’s announced that it would hire 10,000 refugees for its stores, sparking ire from Americans. Starbuck’s’ PR department seemed to have smoothed things over as their hometown newspaper the Seattle Times reported that veterans were already well-represented within the Starbuck’s community, and Business insider noted that “The coffee giant responded with links to a press release on its recent work to open stores in lower-income communities and a website on its veteran outreach” (Author’s Note: I have retained these links for readers who are interested). Even more hilarious is that Starbuck’s—despite their unending cultural imperialism—don’t even have locations in any of the seven countries Mr. Trump chose to temporarily stop immigration from. I wonder why?

 

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Locations of Starbucks Worldwide Are Colored In Green. I Guess The Seven Muslim Majority Nations Were Deemed Too Unsafe Even For Starbuck’s (!). And What About Africa? I Guess Starbuck’s Might Be A Little Racist Too (!). Image Courtesy Of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starbucks#Locations

 

The issue here is that Starbuck’s, in their bid to be “inclusive” and “progressive”, are merely painting over their own questionable past. Starbuck’s in Turkey (and I imagine it is similar in other countries that have an existing “coffee culture”) has emphasized a form of cultural imperialism; traditional coffee houses are pushed out by the ubiquity of Starbuck’s’ locations. In addition to their imperialism, the company also has put the demands of international capital before the concerns of human life. As someone who closely followed the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, I know that Starbuck’s closed their doors to protestors affected by tear gas and attacks from the police; it was such an affront that many in Turkey wanted to boycott Starbuck’s wholesale. Starbuck’s—again through the mouthpiece of a hometown Seattle news source—tried to cover up their deplorable actions and Christian Leonard’s piece for the Seattle Globalist carries the headline “Starbucks lends a hand (and a toilet) to Turkish protesters”. The truth is far from it; they in fact had closed their doors (and toilets) to protesters. This kind of “alternative reporting” is a result of Starbuck’s’ propaganda machine, as one Canadian source points out:

 

In a world where millions are instantly united by social media, political actions can be quick and effective in situations like this. Starbucks has been criticized by protestors, who claim that when the police tear gas attacks began, Starbucks was one of the only shops to close its doors and refuse to allow in those injured and seeking shelter. Starbucks has since been scrambling to regain its credibility amid calls for boycott: Tweeting images of its staff helping protestors, and posting notices around campus denying that it failed to provide assistance.

 

The aforementioned story is an example of Starbuck’s’ attempt to “regain its credibility”. Unfortunately for Starbuck’s, anyone who knows about the company should know that it is morally bankrupt.

Current CEO Charles Schultz sold the NBA’s  Seattle Supersonics, allowing the team to move to Oklahoma City and alienating many basketball fans in the process. The company also turned a blind eye to insults directed at NASCAR fans after the company attempted to enter the motorsports world. The company even sparked a controversy over Christmas (I italicize it because it is so ridiculous) in order to keep with America’s obsession with political correctness; for the company “Merry Christmas” was deemed offensive.

Those who think that Starbuck’s is standing up for refugees might want to look at the situation from a different perspective. They might be looking for cheap labor from desperate sources (if so they really represent one of the more reprehensible forms of extreme capitalism) or they may just be looking to glorify their own moral standing, championing the consumerism of America while reaching out to the “less fortunate”. In any case, those searching for virtue in Starbuck’s would best be “served” going elsewhere for both coffee and virtue.

Sports and Politics in the United States and “Sir Charles” vs. “King James”: Spat Between Former NBA Star Charles Barkley and Current NBA Star Lebron James Is Representative of Some of the Issues in Current American Society

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Since the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States sports and politics in the USA have become more and more intertwined; it is symptomatic of a nation divided by ideology, one where people are supporting their political positions as they would a sports team: unwaveringly and unquestioningly. ESPN, the leader in American sports media, has taken to using one of their websites to spread political messages (from one side only, it should be noted) while ESPN writer and vice president Roxanne Brown was solicited by CNN to provide her opinion on President Donald Trump’s inauguration:

 

No day in our nation feels more patriotic than Inauguration Day — the Marine Marching Band, the past presidents, politicians and power brokers braving the cold to flock to our nation’s capital. But it was hard not to look at the sea of white faces in the crowd, gathered for President Donald J. Trump’s swearing-in, and not see represented a shockingly different America than we saw on this same day eight years ago when President Barack Obama was sworn in. In fact, this was the whitest inauguration I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.

 

Apparently, judging by the last sentence, she was unaware that most African-Americans boycotted Mr. Trump’s inauguration. This absurdity aside, of course, it is notable that a sports reporter should be given such a space in mainstream American media. It shows just how sports has become a space of contention within the cultural civil war that the United States is experiencing.

 

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ESPN Now Sells Politics With a Side Of Sports. Image Courtesy of: http://www.breitbart.com/sports/2017/01/21/espn-offers-social-media-sites-platform-leftist-activists-womens-march/

 

ESPN, for so many years a channel devoted to sports programming alone, has recently completed a turn to the field of culture. The new SC6 (the 6pm/18:00EST) edition of ESPN’s flagship highlights program Sportscenter will debut on 6 February 2017. Senior vice president of Sportscenter and news Rob King had this to say about the show in an interview:

 

This show will be unique because it is an opportunity to look in on a conversation among close friends, colleagues and the people who they bring into their orbit by virtue of the topics they choose and the interests they have. Since we launched the midnight show with Scott Van Pelt, it’s been really clear that SportsCenter can be distinguished when it’s built around unique personalities and unique conceits, especially those ideas, personalities and conceits that work for specific audiences.

 

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The Anchors of ESPN’s Newest Show. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.espnfrontrow.com/2017/01/expectations-excitement-permeate-kings-view-sc6-michael-jemele/

 

The focus on “conversation”, “unique personalities”, and “unique conceits” [Author’s Note: An odd choice of words] suggests a larger role for the personal element than the traditional sports program would present. Sports reporter Andrew Bucholtz adds that

 

there seems to be less and less interest in straight news and highlights, and both ESPN and Fox are adapting to that. Fox went with the drastic move of killing the news-and-highlights version of Fox Sports Live and turning it into more of a comedy-focused late night show, while ESPN has focused instead on making highly identifiable and individual versions of SportsCenter, from Scott Van Pelt’s show to SportsCenter A.M. and more […]

 

Most importantly, Bucholz notes the change that this program represents; for him it “is interesting because in some ways it seems to be trying to walk the line between a debate show and the traditional SportsCenter. Smith and Hill certainly have backgrounds in opinion programming too (in addition to their journalism and reporting backgrounds, which King also notes)”. The fact that sports programming in the USA is moving to a “late-night show” or “debate show” format means that the personal opinions of hosts will come more to the fore, replacing the traditional format of the sports show which presents the “facts” in the form of highlights. Inevitably, this will allow for more discussion regarding the field of culture; it would be naïve to think that ESPN—a large part of the American “culture industry”—would refrain from putting politics into their new show as well. This type of format allows ESPN to seem apolitical while being just the opposte. French Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu explains how this works in his book “On Television:

 

Pushed by competition for marketshare, television networks have greater and greater recourse to the tried and true formulas of tabloid journalism, with emphasis (when not the entire newscast) devoted to human interest stories or sports. No matter what has happened in the world on a given day, more and more often the evening news begins with French soccer scores or another sporting event, interrupting the regular news […] the focus is on those things which are apt to arouse curiosity but which require no analysis, especially in the political sphere […] human interest stories create a political vacuum. They depoliticize and reduce what goes on in the world to the level of anecdote or scandal.

(Bourdieu, 1998: 44-56)

 

Here we can see that ESPN may be attempting to use an ostensibly apolitical program so as to insidiously—and indirectly—send political messages in a way that a traditional news program would not be able to. After all, a sports program is—usually—just a highlights program, presenting “facts”. SC6 strives to be much more, and it is important that we—as consumers of the culture industry in modern industrial society—are aware of what is actually happening.

My favorite American football team, the New England Patriots, has not been immune from this newly emphasized connection between sports and politics. (State) media’s New York Times profiled the close relationship between President Donald Trump and Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady, calling it an “uncomfortable love affair”. To further drive home the message, The Huffington Post published an article by Professor David Dennis Jr., who made one of the more ridiculous claims I have ever read (or heard): “Tom Brady’s Politics Are More Un-American Than Colin Kaepernick’s Have Ever Been”. I have written before about Mr. Kaepernick’s protest against the American national anthem (which cost the NFL millions of dollars because—shocker here—the NFL has many fans who actually like the United States). Professor David Dennis Jr.’s piece—due to its sheer absurdity—deserves a little bit of air time here. First the New England star Tom Brady is quoted in his own words regarding President Donald Trump:

 

“I have called him, yes, in the past. Sometimes he calls me. Sometimes I call,” Brady said. “But, again, that’s been someone I’ve known. I always try to keep it in context because for 16 years you know someone before maybe he was in the position that he was in. He’s been very supportive of me for a long time. It’s just a friendship. I have a lot of friends. I call a lot of people.”

 

Here, Tom Brady’s words seem pretty normal. Like say, something someone would say about their friend. And, since the United States is a free country, it would seem normal that one is allowed to choose who their friends are. Apparently, Professor Dennis Jr. doesn’t agree, adding a gratuitous racial comment by invoking “white privilege” in his commentary:

 

Brady was confused as to why his relationship with the president was even a relevant topic of discussion.

“Why does everybody make such a big deal? I don’t understand it.”

Brady’s obliviousness reeks of white privilege and dismissiveness; a #MAGA trait if there ever was one. But what’s most troubling is the way Brady’s Trump endorsement has been treated compared to Kaepernick’s political statements.

 

Professor Dennis Jr. then drops his bombshell claim:

 

Brady’s Trump endorsement, however, has been largely ignored when, in fact, supporting Donald Trump as President of The United States is far more threatening to America than taking a knee during the National Anthem.

 

I have no idea why merely voicing support for a candidate who was supported by almost half of the country could be “threatening” or even comparable to insulting all those who believe in American nationalism, but such is the absurd climate in the United States currently.

 

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A Picture of What State Media’s New York Times dubbed “the uncomfortable love affair”. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/01/magazine/the-uncomfortable-love-affair-between-donald-trump-and-the-new-england-patriots.html

 

At least former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka offered some choice words defending Mr. Brady telling the country to “grow up” and adding “Dammit. I thought this country was a country of choice!” On a separate show he called journalists “assholes” and criticized former President Barack Obama for “showing no leadership at all”. I can agree with Mr. Ditka’s last claim, seeing as how the United States—under President Obama—dropped on average a staggering 72 bombs a day in 2016 on foreign countries, leading to the odd situation where Mr. Trump is called a racist while Mr. Obama’s imperialism goes ignored.

 

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The Indomitable Mike Ditka, Sweater et al. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.pbtalent.com/blog/speaker/mike-ditka

 

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Sorry, I just Couldn’t Resist. Image Courtesy of a Friend Via Social Media.

 

Mr. Ditka’s point, regarding the need for Americans to “grow up” is one that is directly relevant to the spat between basketball analyst Charles Barkley and basketball star Lebron James. A longtime NBA analyst and former player, Mr. Barkley criticized Mr. James for his comments regarding his team’s front office when he asked for another player to help his team win the championship (they won last year while—somehow—managing a loss of forty million USD). Barkley said Mr. James’ comments were:

 

Inappropriate. Whiny. All of the above. The Cleveland Cavaliers, they have given him everything he wanted. They have the highest payroll in NBA history. He wanted J.R. Smith last summer, they paid him. He wanted [Iman] Shumpert last summer. They brought in Kyle Korver. He’s the best player in the world. Does he want all of the good players? He don’t want to compete? He is an amazing player. They’re the defending champs.

 

Mr. James responded with personal attacks on Mr. Barkley, calling him “a hater” and asking the rhetorical question “what makes what he says credible? Because he’s on TV?” Mr. James here seemed to forget that his open endorsement of U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and insult directed at those who voted for Mr. Trump (Mr. James called them “goofy” even though the majority of voters in Mr. James’ state voted for Donald Trump) were only made credible because he is on TV himself! Mr. James’ diatribe, however, continued (for video, please see nba.com):

 

I’m not going to let him disrespect my legacy like that. I’m not the one who threw somebody through a window. I never spit on a kid. I never had unpaid debt in Las Vegas. I never said, ‘I’m not a role model.’ I never showed up to All-Star Weekend on Sunday because I was in Vegas all weekend partying.

All I’ve done for my entire career is represent the NBA the right way. Fourteen years,      never got in trouble. Respected the game. Print that.

 

Later Mr. Barkley laughed it off, saying “I was laughing, clearly he did some homework … he Googled me and found some things … He was young when I was playing, so I appreciate that, but I’m not upset about it. … My criticism was fair, and I’m good with that … Some of the stuff he said about me is correct — doesn’t make the message I said about him incorrect. Some of them are intimidated about LeBron, [but] I’m not intimidated at all.”

A day later Mr. Barkley added that “It’s a different generation. If we don’t say everything positive about them all the time, we’re a hater. But I’ve gotten more support than I saw coming. To be honest with you, it’s been great. Especially the guys in the media who are like, ‘Thank you. I can’t say it because I need to talk to him.’ ” Here Mr. Barkley touches on a very important point, one that makes this odd exchange indicative of the current state of culture in the United States.

Lebron James really is of “a different generation”. It is one that, for starters, clearly has no respect for those that came before them. If it weren’t for players like Charles Barkley making the NBA popular in the 1990s, it is probable that Lebron James wouldn’t be the star he currently is. It is the same kind of lack of perspective that allowed Colin Kaepernick to take a shot at the United States…even though the sport he is paid to play is mainly played in the United States. Secondly, Lebron James’ generation is one that also has no self-respect. It is a generation that is all about “Me, Me, Me” and never “We, We, We”. It must always be praise and compliments; criticism cannot be accepted. Unfortunately, the current culture in the United States has become a culture of being “offended”, where comments one doesn’t like are deemed to be “offensive”. It is the same culture that does not accept the outcome of a presidential election because…the candidate they wanted did not win. Its an odd state of affairs, but the spat between Mr. Barkley and Mr. James goes some way to explaining how deeply engrained the cult of the individual has become in American society. If the country—and its culture—is to move forward we must at least attempt to move outside of our own personal selves and try to understand other perspectives. Otherwise, we are doomed to living in a fragmented and rudderless society where criticism—and therefore debate (whether about sports or politics)—is impossible.

 

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Sir Charles, Pictured With the Classic Phoenix Suns Jersey. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.casino.org/news/charles-barkley-says-lost-millions-gambling-dozens-occasions

 

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King James Looking a Bit Perturbed. Image Courtesy Of: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/03/lebron-james-could-leave-cleveland-says-stephen-a-smith