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Thursday, 17 October 2013

Why Noam Chomsky Hates Soccer & Soaps

It may seem trivial (or beside the point) to focus of such a thing as Noam Chomsky's attitude towards soccer and soap operas. 

Chomsky himself thinks that soccer and soaps are trivial. Nonetheless, he also believes that they have a profound influence on American political realities. When it comes specifically to soccer, Chomsky believes that it produces an

"irrational loyalty to some sort of meaningless community [and is a] training for subordination to power and for chauvinism".

Soccer and soaps are also deemed, by Chomsky, to be parts of capitalism’s "power systems". They are yet more domains in which the clueless people 'internalize the values of the elite'. In other words, Chomsky has cleverly resurrected the Marxist notion of 'false consciousness' when he talks – as he often does - about such internalisations of the elite's values.

Chomsky has also resurrected the Frankfurt School's notion of 'the culture industry' in which, that time, Marxist/Leftist snobbery, arrogance and gross simplifications are aimed not at Chomsky's hated soaps and soccer; but primarily at jazz and television generally. More specifically, Theodore Adorno said that the

"paradise offered by the culture industry is the same old drudgery".

This is also why Chomsky is profoundly obsessed by the platonic Media (with the definite article) – that solid block of right-wing and capitalist uniformity, agreement and "obedience to power".

All this demonstrates the totalitarian - or 'totalist' (as hip philosophers put it) - mindset of Chomsky; regardless of the debates which can be had about his parallel commitments to totalitarian ideologies, systems and regimes.

Soccer & Soaps

I'm not the only person to have taken umbrage with Chomsky's extreme and totalist critiques of soccer. Giles Harvey, of The New Yorker, responded to Chomsky with these words:

“... the idea that sport is a meaningless activity beneath the intelligence of ordinary human beings is condescending at best. Sport, like art, sweetens life; whether they realize it or not, it is probably the source of many people’s notions of beauty, solidarity, and greatness.”

On the other hand, take Britain's very own Marxist member of the Establishment, Professor Terry Eagleton. Writing in the 'progressive' British newspaper, the Guardian, he wrote:

“If every rightwing thinktank came up with a scheme to distract the populace from political injustice and compensate them for lives of hard labour, the solution in each case would be the same: football. No finer way of resolving the problems of capitalism has been dreamed up...”

(In that article Eagleton even said that football should be abolished.)

Chomsky has many automaton followers. Here's one – from a blog by Marie Snyder – who faithfully replicates some sacred text of Chomsky on soccer and sports:

“He cautions us about getting sucked into the trivia created to distract us from reacting to real problems in the world, what he calls ‘de-politicizing’ intelligent people by getting them tracking sports statistics and the complex relationships on HBO series.”

So what, exactly, is wrong with soccer in Chomsky's eyes?

1) It "builds up extremely anti-social aspects of human psychology".
2) It encourages "irrational competition" and "irrational loyalty to power systems".
3) It produces "passive acquiescence to quite awful values".
4) It "contributes more fundamentally to authoritarian attitudes" than almost anything else. But worst of all
5) It "keeps people away from other [political] things".

Let's take each point one at a time.

Chomsky talks about "irrational competition". Does this implies that there are good types of competition? Nonetheless, if you read Leftist literature (as well as Chomsky himself), all competition - or all types of competition - are deemed irrational and morally/politically reprehensible. (Even Chomsky competing against right-wing academics and journalists?)

As for "irrational loyalty to power systems". The same argument applies to this statement. Chomsky doesn't believe that there is rational loyalty to "power systems" because he claims to be against all power systems. This also begs the question as to what he means by the soundbite "power systems" and whether or not such things are automatically bad things. What about the power system that is Chomsky himself - as well as his monthly books? This man influences - and has influenced - literally tens of thousands of young gullible students... and even a few non-students.

And what a terrible non-argument – that watching and enjoying football produces "passive acquiescence to quite awful values". Firstly, there is a terrible assumption here that all football fans are somehow committed to the same "awful values". In denies the possibility of being a football fan and being committed to nice vales (presumably Leftist ones). Finally, it rejects the possibility of the separation of values from watching and liking football; whether or not those values are negative or positive.

Chomsky also believes that soccer - or watching it - "contributes more fundamentally to authoritarian attitudes" than anything else. All this would depend on what Chomsky means by the word "authoritarian". What he usually means by that word is non-Chomskyite or non-Leftist authoritarianism: many aspects of Leftism are deeply authoritarian; including Chomsky's own thought-processes and his way of seeing things. (Again, regardless to whether or not he's also committed to authoritarian political regimes, ideologies and movements.)

The final case against football - that it "keeps people away from other things" - is, I suggest, at the heart of Chomsky's critique of sports. It is at the heart of his critique because soccer is taking people away from embracing Chomskyite politics or Chomskyite positions on today's political situations and events.

It can be said that Chomsky's four points against football - or watching it - are all psychological in nature. They all refer to the negative psychological effects of watching football. He says himself that it "builds up extremely anti-social aspects of human psychology". And, according to Chomsky, from these negative psychological realities come negative political consequences. Or, as Chomsky puts it, sports (as well as soap operas) are "a major part of the whole indoctrination and propaganda system". This means that football "keeps people away from other things" and that it contains "capitalist" or "elite" indoctrination and propaganda.

Chomsky also talks about soap operas. (He often lumps sports and soap operas together.)

For example, he thinks that soap operas "teach people... passivity and absurdity". Do all soap operas really do that? Even the Left/Liberal - and sometimes outright Leftist - ones such as the BBC's EastEnders? (I can't speak for all – or any - American soaps.) And do all soaps "say" the same kinds of thing in the same kinds of way? Surely not. In fact surely you could quite easily have a Chomskyite soap opera; except for the small fact that it would probably be irredeemably dull, self-righteous and be little more than agitprop. Though, of course, Chomsky believes that all soaps are agitprop anyway. In other words, if soaps were pure Chomskyite agitprop, he probably wouldn't be against them - no matter how "absurd" and "pacifying" they were because they would be so in politically-correct ways.

At the heart of Chomsky's criticism of soaps - as well as of football - is the assumption that entertainment for entertainment’s sake is automatically and necessarily a bad thing. Indeed it probably is a bad thing from a Chomskyite perspective. If art or sport has no political or social content (as many Leftists have argued in the past), then it's worthless. In fact it's worse than worthless: it's politically dangerous. (That's why the Soviet Union and all Leftist states got to work on the arts and indeed on sport.)

Bertold Brecht puts the Chomskyite (as well as the Soviet) position on football and soaps this way:

“... social [i.e., political] content is an absolutely decisive condition for such development [of 'artistic forms']. Any formal innovation which does not serve and derive its justification from its social [political] content will remain utterly frivolous.”

*) Most of Chomsky's words on this can be found in this link or in the book Understanding Power: the Indispensable Chomsky, edited by Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel, 2002.)

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