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)