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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.

From Super Bowl to Liverpool: Extreme Capitalism on Both Sides of the Ocean

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In the United States the Super (Stupor) Bowl came and went last Sunday, leaving me in a stupor as always, over the excessive commercialism and heavy drinking that characterizes America’s biggest (!) holiday. The Carolina Panthers were upset by the Denver Broncos in the only game on earth where an off-hand (or maybe not so off-hand) post-game comment can net a business 13.9 million dollars in just hours. It is also the only game on earth where workers are paid 13 dollars an hour to…serve 13 dollar Bud Light beers—one step above (or below, depending on your level of taste and health-consciousness) water—to people who have paid up to 10,000 dollars a ticket.

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It may look like an Eastern European bread line but no, it is just people trying to get home after spending their day trying to eek out a living. Image Courtesy of: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_grind/2016/02/i_sold_beer_and_hot_dogs_at_the_super_bowl_and_got_paid_a_pittance.html.

And it is also the only game in the world that can—despite its disgusting embodiment of extreme capitalism in its most repulsive form—distract people from that same gut-wrenching exploitation in the name of…race?! Apparently, it can. The halftime show this year, a musical performance that half of the spectators don’t remember for too much alcohol consumption and half remember all too well for living up to its sideshow nature (Janet Jackson’s nipple anyone?), stole the show again but not for such titillating (!) reasons as Ms. Jackson’s did in 2004.

This year the star was Ms. Beyonce Knowles, the former Destiny’s Child star and now Mrs. Jay Z. Apparently her half-time performance, which featured a Black Panthers’ salute, rubbed some people the wrong way. Indeed, it even divided the black community. Dianca London notes that “Beyonce’s capitalism [is] masquerading as radical change”, and she further reminds readers that

“Beyoncé’s music is created to generate profit much like Super Bowl 50 and its countless ads so many of us consumed on Sunday. Sure, pop music can be influential on an individual and communal level, but it is dangerous when we fail to consider the ways in which songs such as “Formation” or last year’s “Flawless” are essentially an advertisement for Beyoncé’s brand — making her forever evolving activism (and the public’s eager consumption of it) a self-sustaining cache cow with limitless potential…it is alarming how we as a community unabashedly endorse without question or pause the soft politics of pop icons. It’s problematic to consume without caution, even if we see a reflection of ourselves, our mothers or sisters in their narratives. As much as we might feel empowered by the grace of their choreography and the back beats of their latest anthems, we as black Americans should allow ourselves the space to question the messages we are given, even if those messages are tailor-made for us.”

Others were not so cautious. While praising Beyonce Tamara Winfrey-Harris is unable to ignore the fact that Beyonce’s role in—and support of—extreme capitalism is contradictory to her message: “Racism is not just a social ill. It is baked into the American economy. It is a business. Capitalism is a root of the tragedy of Katrina and the biased American penal system and the continuing primacy of European beauty standards. And getting rich is not anarchy.”

Still, however, Ms. Winfrey-Harris buys into the hype Ms. London refuses to accept: “What is undeniable, though, is that popular culture is powerful. It changes minds. An expression of unapologetic Blackness by Beyoncé, arguably the biggest star in the world, is important. Pointing out the beauty in the sort of Blackness society views with revulsion is revolutionary.”

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Beyonce seems out of place. Image Courtesy of: http://hellobeautiful.com/2016/02/08/beyonce-formation-revolution-pop-culture/

As I wrote following the Baltimore riots, the American obsession with race misses the point completely. What a millionaire star does (regardless of whether they are black, white, or green) in ten minutes should not erase the incredible injustice of people—black, white, or green—who are working for 13 dollars an hour to serve 13 dollar beers. It is…insane. And it is a symptom of a global greed that, quite honestly, knows no color. That is why I, like Ms. London, am cautious of putting too much of an emphasis on any “message” a millionaire star might send. Perhaps a better message would have been sent by paying the workers volunteers who set up Beyonce’s halftime show, since—as Mr. Gabriel Thompson revealed—they are paid nothing to “lug the pieces of the stage onto the field for the halftime show, [putting] in at least 34 hours of rehearsal time [for] two weeks” as “unpaid labor, a subsidy of sorts for the Pepsi-sponsored halftime extravaganza”. Remarkable…but true.

On the day before the Super Bowl, on February 6 2016, across the ocean (it might as well be a galaxy far far away to many in the United States) in the United Kingdom, that other world the NFL is trying to get a foothold in, protests against social injustice characterized by greed took a different—and much more effective—form. Ten thousand Liverpool supporters walked out (and certainly they did not walk alone!) for the first time in the team’s 132 year history during the 77th minute of their team’s match against Sunderland. The reason? To protest the raising of the maximum ticket price to 77 Pounds from 59 Pounds. Of course, the fact that prices were raised should not come as a surprise when you know the owners of Liverpool FC are America’s Fenway Sports Group, who refused to respond to fans’ concerns. After all, they also own the Boston Red Sox…home to America’s highest priced Baseball tickets at just over 52 dollars on average.

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Liverpool fans fly black flags instead of the traditional red flags as they exit Anfield Road. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/feb/06/liverpool-fans-walkout-thousands-ticket-price-protest

The issue of rising ticket prices—and frustration with American owners bringing their brand of extreme capitalism with them—is nothing new in the English Premier League, as evidenced by Jim White’s 2012 article in The Telegraph. It is part and parcel of the industrial football that is re-defining sports in Europe.

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Three years ago Liverpool fans vented their frustrations against the American owners—and their extreme capitalism. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/columnists/jimwhite/9039432/Jim-White-Love-affair-Premier-Leagues-mega-rich-stars-have-lost-touch-with-their-disillusioned-supporters.html

Protests against this type of greed are now spreading. The Football Supporter’s Federation in England is now discussing a wide-spread walkout of all Premier League games this coming weekend, and this article from The Telegraph has a good graphic detailing ticket prices of all Premier League Teams. Ironically, the cheapest tickets—at 22 pounds—are to be found at Leicester City, the odds on favorites to win the championship. Let’s hope they do. In Germany Borussia Dortmund fans skipped the first twenty minutes of their 9 February 2016 German Cup match against VFB Stuttgart over Stuttgart’s 70 Euro ticket prices for the cup tie. The “Yellow Wall” didn’t leave it at that; they rained tennis balls down on the pitch as part of their protest.

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“Football Must Be Affordable”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/35464102

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Why Tennis Balls? The BBC Explains: “According to Dortmund fan Marc Quambusch, fans were being ironic. He says Germans use the expression “great tennis” to describe something very good.” Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/35464102

On two continents extreme greed—fuelled by extreme capitalism—is threatening sports. As fans have said in both England and Germany, enough is enough. In Liverpool’s case, it may have just worked. On Thursday 11 February 2016, the team’s owners announced that ticket prices will be frozen at this year’s level, 59 Pounds for the most expensive seats. It seems that the protest—perhaps backed by British PM David Cameron, worked. Of course, the team also learned a lesson on the pitch. When the fans left at the 77th minute Liverpool were up 2-0…after the fans left, the team conceded two late goals and drew Sunderland 2-2. Were the two lost points worth the proposed rise in prices? I would argue no, since it is good results that garner more money in the long run. For now, Fenway Sports Group did well to back down.

But it still doesn’t change the fact that across the world greed is governing business more and more. Whether in England, Germany, or the United States, there is too much emphasis on money, and it is slowly taking sports over as well. In the United States we should not be blinded by issues like race—which has lowered the societal problem of economic inequality to its lowest common denominator—because it hinders our ability to see wider issues. Sports is a big business, and if we do not stand up against this greed then we all lose—it does not matter if we are black or white for there is no color in being a sports fan. The fact that the biggest story from the Super Bowl was about race goes to show that people are at risk of missing the larger point. Football—and sport in general—is better with fans. Not consumers. Otherwise, there is no passion. And I would hate to live a life without passion.

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Image Courtesy of http://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/feb/08/fsf-premier-league-clubs-walkout-ticket-prices