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This fascinating examination of Neoliberalism through the lens of the sanitization of European soccer supporter culture stirred up a lot of conflicts with me.

The piece is really long, and you should read it if you have any interest in European soccer or the cultural and economic state of things in France, but I'll sum it up for you for our purposes here. Basically, the deal here is that Paris Saint-Germain were a historically underperforming (both economically and results-wise) team in a huge market. Think, I dunno, the LA Clippers, but if they didn't have the excuse of the Lakers, since PSG are the only game in town for professional soccer in Paris.

So, they were underperforming, but had fervently loyal and organized working class supporter bases who kept them in business. But those supporter bases were problematic in a lot of ways, in that they were all-male, organized along racial lines, had issues with constant low-level violence inside the stadium, with occasional outbreaks outside the stadium and a few serious injuries and deaths, etc.

This is pretty standard stuff for supporter groups of soccer clubs in large European cities, but there are a lot of things about 20th-century style soccer supporter culture that give me hives. Part of it is that I'm an American, and just really can't grok intensely class-based organization and group identity like this. I may be a good social solidarity leftist, but this kind of thing sorta horrifies me in an Orwellian way:

The casuals and ultras of the earlier era had been able, in maintaining their anonymity, to suspend their individuality within the flow of the group, which became larger than the sum of its parts; in the concourses it was only in death that your personal, unique name was "spoken" by either being carved on a plaque or spraypainted on a wall. In Auteuil especially, individuality was intentionally sacrificed for the sake of the tifo, the show of spirit: to chant in unison, to hold the right card at the right time, to cover yourself with the giant banner stretching over the entire stand, to be a node forever preparing a response to stimulus from the capo.

Another part of it is that I'm a sheltered, effete upper-middle-class liberal who has never even been in a fight and just can't contemplate dealing with this sort of ugliness and danger in person. Finally, American sports, at least in the modern era, have been about individual, largely apolitical support from the start. I can't imagine dealing with organized violence, territoriality and chaos in the stands and on the streets, racist chants, an atmosphere overtly hostile to women and kids, and so on just to go to a Cubs game, or why anyone would want to.

Then again, I've certainly chafed a lot at the ever-increasing prices, and especially the ever-increasing security presence at American sporting events, a presence that often seems to be much more about enforcing the team's economic prerogatives (e.g., searching you to keep you from bringing in your own food) and even enforcing mass participation in officially sanctioned jingoistic exercises than about preventing violence.

Still, even if I deplore the methods used to suppress them (and those methods are a lot more harsh than the stuff that bugs me about American sporting events), I have a hard time mourning the loss or neutering of these racist / patriarchal / violent / etc. supporter cultures at first glance. I'm ok at the end of the day with using state and institutional violence to suppress organized racism and homophobia. I don't think we would have accomplished even what little we have on those fronts in America without the application or threat of organized violence by the state.

However, if you look into it a little more carefully, that's not quite what is going on here, which is why this piece is so interesting. That "enforcing of economic prerogatives" part is the key here. Basically, after tolerating this stuff for years and not really caring about it, PSG finally decided they wanted to spend big, attract an upper middle class crowd, and be the French Chelsea. They then used the excuse of a supporter who was killed in fighting between two fan groups (and a key tell here was that it was black-on-white violence, whereas the vast majority of the violence was historically going in the other direction) to clean house in a draconian way, and kick their working class support to the curb to make way for more well-heeled customers.

I've always had somewhat of a "give the devil his due" attitude about Neoliberalism on issues of tolerance and multiculturalism. I figure that the success of the women's rights and gay rights movements, among many other social advances over the past few decades, has a whole lot to do with the fact that multiculturalism and tolerance are good business, and that that fact probably guarantees more than anything that these changes will stick. If Neoliberalism and this round of globalization leave any good legacy to stand on, that will probably be it.

However, even this gets really problematic when you scratch the surface, and the case presented here shows exactly why. I always knew Neoliberals in power weren't supporting social liberalization out of the goodness of their hearts. But this lays bare the true cynicism at the bottom of their multiculturalism. They're using anti-racism and social liberalism as a way to divide people along class lines, and as a cudgel to force through their economic agenda. And they're not really even dealing with these race/gender/homophobia issues so much as dispersing them and pushing them out of sight of all the nice upper-middle-class people like me who can't quite bear to face them on a day-to-day basis. They're gentrifying the stadium, and clearing the field for officially sanctioned and more lucrative economic activity. They're also turning what was a contested public space into a fully private and relentlessly commercialized space.

But you only really see that if you stop to think about it, and you have to look past the undeniable local improvements. The experience at Parc de Princes for most everyone who isn't an Ultra was undeniably improved by these steps, and the de-organization of the violent and racist elements of the supporter groups is probably a social improvement, even if it does nothing to address the underlying social and cultural problems that such groups are a symptom of.

Similarly, the gentrification of the urban core of many American cities over the past couple of decades has certainly had many positive effects on them as places and spaces, and as someone who loves city life and is too much of a wuss to deal with the violence, chaos, and overt racism of the mid-century American city, I really have a hard time discounting those effects. 

But in the end, if you're going to be honest, you have to admit that both kinds of gentrification are mostly about pushing "problem" populations and behaviors to the margins and clearing safe spaces for privileged people to enjoy themselves and make money. You can still love and enjoy those spaces, but you can't in good conscience ignore their cost, and you especially can't take the easy way out by using them as a refuge and a cocoon from your complicity in socioeconomic problems, or an excuse to declare those problems as solved or on the mend.

These processes often aren't quite so overt in America, but we don't talk about any of these issues as overtly here to begin with, and class even less so than race. I've always had a problem with political correctness on these grounds. I think it works in much the same way as the processes described above. Just as PSG, the Premier League, and creative class gentrifiers have pushed aside the unsavory elements in their environments, so have we in our intellectual and cultural spheres. And again, there are undeniable local and atmospheric improvements as a result of this, but at the cost of class-based marginalization and stratification, based on the signifiers of the very injustices we claim to be fighting. We avoid immediate discomfort in this way, but more importantly and tragically, we avoid the hard and nasty generational work of grappling with the social and economic problems that underly that discomfort.

I don't have answers here. I'm just as complicit in this crap as anyone else. But it's important to notice once in awhile, and this made me notice, and make some important connections between my own pursuits and enjoyments, Neoliberalism, gentrification, and political correctness, all things that I'm deeply conflicted about and looking for answers to and ways forward from.

(link originally via dayan)

Technology and Justice

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I have come to appreciate more and more that technology itself is one way to propagate the many injustices in our society because it tends to reflect the society. I work to help students understand this so that as they go out to the communities they are more able to construct technology applications that begin to bring about justice," Wolske argues. "Technology by itself will never bring about justice, but it can set up a framework in which people can work toward issues of justice. The key is to carefully construct it so it doesn't reinforce injustice, but actually becomes a platform for building justice.

My favorite prof. here won an ALA teaching award. Man, it's great when people who actually deserve it get recognition. Here he pretty much encapsulates why I'm doing what I'm doing, and how I want to do it.


I'm just not in the room where they do that. So in ten years, I'd like to be in the room where they do that. Ideally I could make that happen without having to get a Ph.D. in information science or a master's in urban planning, because those things are expensive and I'm already $25,000 in the red from Carleton, but I think if it was brutally necessary I'd find a way to deal with that. Jobs like this don't exist, though, and also I live in a forest where nobody cares about urban planning.

This is way after the fact (Tumblr outage plus end-of-semester craziness interfered) but I just wanted to say that one semester into library school, I already feel like I'm in the same boat, and I'll be interested to see what kind of path you take.

I'm interested in broadband / community technology / community development policy, and I'm getting tons of hands-on experience in the Community Informatics track here at GSLIS, but I'm not seeing many practitioner-level jobs where you can make even close to an acceptable or stable living, and I sort of need health insurance to stay alive and stuff. I'd prefer to build a reputation through practice and work my way up to the policy level that way, but I'm not seeing much of a path there. Even with policy, I'm not seeing the kind of career track that justifies going way in debt and getting a Ph.D when I'm not particularly interested in the tenured faculty rat race or in doing hyper-focused and rigorous research (that's likely of dubious practical value to anyone) in areas where I could learn a lot more and be a better policy maker through practice.

It looks like the best path is probably entrepreneurial, whether starting an organization or a business or what have you, but I'm not really interested in or skilled at that either. I kind of need someone else with business, marketing, management, and begging skills to do that for me, but I don't see anyone lining up to do that. I'm really not sure how to get from here to there, though hopefully the next year or so of school will give me a more of a sense. Right now the fallback plan is to work at a public or community college library, and try to do cool community outreach and tech/info literacy stuff in that context, but I'm afraid that could always be doomed to be a sidelight in most such settings, especially with the resource constraints we'll be under and the stage of my career I'll be in.

It is Saving Me

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In 2008, when he was in the middle of his worst battles and wouldn't be able to make the trip to Champaign-Urbana for Ebertfest... he began writing an online journal. Reading it from its beginning is like watching an Aztec pyramid being built. At first, it's just a vessel for him to apologize to his fans for not being downstate. The original entries are short updates about his life and health and a few of his heart's wishes. Postcards and pebbles. They're followed by a smattering of Welcomes to Cyberspace. But slowly the journal picks up steam, as Ebert's strength and confidence and audience grow. You are the readers I have dreamed of, he writes. He is emboldened.

He begins to write about more than movies; in fact, it sometimes seems as though he'd rather write about anything other than movies. The existence of an afterlife, the beauty of a full bookshelf, his liberalism and atheism and alcoholism, the health-care debate, Darwin, memories of departed friends and fights won and lost -- more than five hundred thousand words of inner monologue have poured out of him, five hundred thousand words that probably wouldn't exist had he kept his other voice. Now some of his entries have thousands of comments, each of which he vets personally and to which he will often respond. It has become his life's work, building and maintaining this massive monument to written debate -- argument is encouraged, so long as it's civil -- and he spends several hours each night reclined in his chair, tending to his online oasis by lamplight. Out there, his voice is still his voice -- not a reasonable facsimile of it, but his.

"It is saving me," he says through his speakers.

He calls up a journal entry to elaborate, because it's more efficient and time is precious:

When I am writing my problems become invisible and I am the same person I always was. All is well. I am as I should be.

To me the best thing about the (deservedly) ubiquitous Ebert article is this passage, which captures some of what was and still can be magical about this medium, and what made all of us early adopters take to it so strongly and completely. I remember when Nightline came to our blogger meeting at Berkman right when the Web 2.0 hysteria was ramping up, and we all spent the whole time fruitlessly trying to explain to the host that this wasn't about Web 2.0 and technology and buzzwords and business, it was about something that had changed our lives and minds in a throughgoing way, and in some ways, saved us, or at least made us so immeasurably better and happier and larger-hearted that it would be difficult to imagine the people we would be in its absence.

Ebert is one of the few old-media transplants to deeply understand this, and it probably has a lot to do with how naturally and enthusiastically he has taken to blogging. And he is doing amazing and wonderful work in this medium, the kind of work that has become rarer and rarer as all those other buzzwordy distractions have horned in. The kind of work that makes me pine for the old days, and want to try to do it again myself.

On Selling Out

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[This is in response to a debate started here, and continued here, here, here, and likely lots of other places.]

As a child of the punk rock and "alternative" era, I do have some mixed feelings about this. I don't think authenticity is the sine qua non for good art, but it does matter sometimes. Perhaps in many cases it is necessary, but not sufficient? You can be as authentic as you like and make terrible art (just go to an open mic night anywhere for ample and excruciating evidence), but even very good art that either springs from an openly crass desire to cash in, or even from an authentic political or social worldview that I abhor, leaves me a bit squicked out. I can never quite get past the fact that Ezra Pound was a fascist. And then of course there is Leni Riefenstahl, but that's a more blatant and understandable case, but both are cases of factors beyond the just aesthetic and entertainment aspects.

In a case that's closer to the current debate, the Ramones have been brought up, but well, I admire them a lot less because they weren't satisfied with making great and very influential music and being able to put food on the table doing it... they had to be big fucking rock stars, and felt like they were failures in some way because they never made it to that level. I find that kind of sad and pathetic. It doesn't make me like Blitzkrieg Bop any less, but there are multiple levels on which you can appreciate art and artists, and on the level beyond pure pop bliss, it does diminish them a bit for me.

Insofar as the "punk ethic" matters, I think it does because it was a leap of imagination that created a space and a community where you could make your art and have an audience for it, without having to contend with a need to be a big fucking rockstar or to otherwise succeed in the larger capitalist system. It opened up a closed system to dedicated amateurism, in much the same way as blogging has opened up journalism and opinion. Abandoning the idea that the measure of good work was fame or money or a corporate imprimatur was important, and it allowed a lot of voices that would have never seen the light of day otherwise to be heard and in some cases to have a broad influence.

There are a lot of people who can make great art who don't have an aptitude for or desire for selling it and themselves, and the system of popular art at that time just didn't have a space for them. I think that context had more to do with Kurt Cobain's demise than anything. He just wasn't prepared to be famous, and really had no desire for fame, but he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when a small scene small blew up into a global phenomenon.

Others handled it far better and more pragmatically. Sonic Youth and the Flaming Lips have used their status very well to explore opportunities that they might not have been able to without the resources of a major label. Pearl Jam, though at this point their music bores the heck out of me, are really great about remembering where they came from and helping smaller bands to get heard and get paid, and of course their doomed battle against Ticketmaster was one well worth fighting. Bands like Bad Religion, Jawbox, and the Poster Children who went into the major label world with their eyes wide open and with a plan came out very well, ploughing the money from their major deal right back into their own label or studio to assure their future artistic independence and their ability to help other worthy voices to be heard.

Just like with the political tension between radicalism with purity/integrity and messy, pragmatic progressivism that works within the system, the latter is a tough balance to maintain, and the temptations of money and power can easily lead you astray if you start viewing them as ends instead of means, but the upside of the attempt is much greater than the ascetic and lonely way of the radical.

Now, I love a lot of popular art, and indeed a big motivation for a lot of popular art is making money, so there is a tension there. I think much depends on what kind of art you make. If a significant element of it is politically or socially conscious, then selling out is a relevant concept. It's hard for say, the Shins to sell out, because their music doesn't mean anything (aside: This is a big part of why Garden State is so cringeworthy. "The Shins changed my life?" Puhleeze.) aside from the personal meaning and the emotional resonance that individual people find in it.

So, selling out is relevant for Fugazi, but not so much for the Shins. Authenticity and independence is really important for socially and politically relevant or critical art. I'm not saying it's totally impossible to critique the system from inside it, but there is a reason beyond just aesthetics why Fugazi are relevant and Rage Against the Machine are laughable. I don't care if I hear Mogwai or the Shins backing a commercial, because it has no real bearing on the meaning of their music. However, when I hear the first two lines of "Fortunate Son" ripped out of context to sell all-American blue jeans, well, that's a bit more problematic, because that song meant something, and could still mean something in a larger cultural and political sense, and that use of it is a total distortion of said meaning.

However, perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that the punk/DIY movement and ethic and associated worries about selling out were a product of a specific cultural time and place, defined by a certain corporate media structure. Insofar as those values seem less relevant to this generation of artists, it may be a result of the changing media landscape. Post WWII, a corporate-owned, broadcast-based monoculture dominated American life. As I went into above, punk rock was so revolutionary because it was one of the first revivals of amateurism and folk culture in the face of that, and one of the first significant post-broadcast movements that reminded ordinary people that they could make art on their own terms in a way that was integral to the rest of their lives.

Now that the net has come along and communities for creation and channels for distribution of those things are ascendant and ubiquitous, the oppositional stance of punk as a throughgoing artistic ethic doesn't quite make as much sense anymore. I think some of it does still make sense somewhat as a political and social ethic, and I'm a bit disappointed to see very little in the way of political and social consciousness or questioning of corporate/capitalist values on the part this new generation of indie musicians and artistsand on the part of digital creatives more generally, but that's probably an issue for another post entirely.

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