Like every other American, I couldn’t possibly care less about soccer.
The current “World Cup fever” has nothing to do with national pride and even less to do with an interest in soccer. The folks currently feigning interest in “the beautiful sport” are the same ones threatened by American anything, from GMC pickups to bazookas. Sure, lots of American kids play soccer—mostly kids whose moms want them playing a sport where a skinned knee or a twisted ankle is the gravest possible injury. No one likes watching it, though, just like no one wants to watch a chess match.
Why? Because soccer is about as fun as a trip to traffic court. Although you might know how it works, this provides you with no greater insight into the alleged sport than knowing how to move chessmen means you can play the only game that matters. So why is the Priusati pretending to care?
Cultural signaling, mostly. The nouveau riche will always stick out due to their penchant for dropping cash on gold-plated Humvees upholstered in Louis Vuitton. Similarly, anyone can buy a hybrid SUV and enough organic produce to survive an economic collapse brought on by a massive student-debt bubble, but not everyone can appreciate (or at least, convincingly fake appreciation of) the finer things in life such as fair-trade coffee, artisanal toast, and a game where men run up and down a field with no apparent rhyme or reason, frequently resulting in scoreless ties.
There’s something distinctly European and un-American about soccer. Allegedly invented by the English, the root game is a lot closer to the time-honored schoolyard tradition of “smear the queer” than the nonsensical ballet of the World Cup. Other games called “football,” be they our own besieged national pastime, Australian rules, Gaelic football, or even rugby, are a hell of a good time to watch, because they’re the very essence of ball sports: a physical struggle between two groups of men fighting like mad for every inch of territory.
These games have long horrified the effete who see in it everything they despise about American—and probably Irish, British and Australian—society. Football is, above all, a working-class sport, a game where historically speaking you weren’t going to make a ton of money. Even today, retired players frequently flock to professions such as car-dealership proprietor or real-estate investor, professions representing a sort of proletarian aristocracy.
But whereas—and please, can we stop pretending that it’s called “football?”—soccer is a sport about finesse and cardiovascular conditioning, football is a game about brute force, yes, but also guts, something that the average American ersatz soccer fan is sincerely lacking.
Heresy! Blasphemy! Apostasy! These are thoughts which must not—nay, can not—be thunk! “Football” (so-called) is the beautiful game, the hope of the masses, an elegant, refined, and civilized alternative to the more loutish sports of the American rump proletariat! A fine wine to their swill beer!
Football is a gas-guzzling muscle car, a bottle of Miller Lite, a burger and fries chased by a milkshake for dinner—a simple pleasure easily enjoyed by all. Soccer is a hybrid electric vehicle, salad for dessert, post-1950 jazz, modern art—an esoteric pastime requiring the utmost attention for the pretense of understanding and enjoyment. It’s bitter medicine without a spoonful of sugar. Less of a sport than professional wrestling, soccer floats somewhere around synchronized swimming and pole dancing in the pantheon of physical activity.
The viewing of soccer is, for the American, an exercise to be endured, which is probably what makes it so appealing to the 21st-century guilt brigade. It’s difficult to watch and the French like it, which means that not only is it “smart,” but you also probably get some sort of white guilt absolution for your suffering—an indulgence for each group round endured over a $30 bottle of pinot noir.
Think of watching World Cup as a cultural carbon offset you can only get once every four years. You’ve volunteered at the magnet school. You’ve written large checks to PBS. You purchase only the finest in locally brewed organic craft beer. How can you keep up with the Jones-Smiths next door?
By inviting them over for some grass-fed beef-tongue tacos and fixing your gaze on men in shorts running around aimlessly for what seems to be an eternity, punctuated by moments that are apparently exciting to people raised in a culture where this is a sport.
Nothing will secure your position as a man of taste and refinement faster.