The World Cup is here – and it’s pure, international and just plainly good.
You’ve got teams from Europe, Africa, the Americas, Asia and Australia, all giving it their all on the biggest stage in world sport. And it’s being held in Brasil, which just makes it even better.
But there’s one team that stands out from the pack. One team that just doesn’t feel right when considered in this world context.
Leading up to the World Cup, US coach Jurgen Klinsmann caused a media circus when he suggested that his team could not win the World Cup.
This is hardly surprising, but it was extremely un-American to make such a public admission.
Americans love to win. They love nothing more than winning handsomely and celebrating wildly. This is a country where grown men wear face paint to high school football games.
They do not want to simply go to an international tournament and be “a part of the world’s biggest sporting event.” They want to fucking crush it.
This speaks volumes for the American psyche. America acts unilaterally. It is decidedly un-European – and unapologetically so. Americans have had it drilled into them from a young age that America is the greatest land on earth. A young country built on liberty, freedom, and a range of other vague-ass principles that they love banging on about.
Europeans, however, have grown up in a different geopolitical environment. The impact of successive World Wars took its toll on the European, who is generally a more introspective, guarded, self-deprecating specimen.
Europe is old and weary; it hates change and it learns towards conservatism (not necessarily politically, but in terms of culture and tradition). Europeans do not erect flagpoles on their front yard to demonstrate their patriotism; indeed, overt acts of nationalism have led to terrible outcomes in the past (see Hitler, A).
As Australians, we are stuck somewhere in between. We are aware that Australia is no footballing powerhouse, but we still dare to dream. We, like the US, are a young country; it is in our blood.
This irrational positivity is also a product of having dominated niche sports such as rugby union, rugby league, AFL and cricket for decades; sports that carry no weight on a global scale.
But soccer is the real deal. It is the most international sport there is. If sport were a currency index, then football would be – ironically – the Greenback. A weighted geometric value for the world to measure itself against.
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TPA’s Sam Perry once wrote that rugby league was set for a short-term fall as a result of the recent drugs scandal, but it would rise once again – like Karl Kennedy from Neighbours. A short-term blip before business resumes as normal. A trial separation from Susan before things eventually get smoothed over.
Just like Karl Kennedy’s lingering eye, old American habits die-hard. And it isn’t that long ago that obnoxious American behaviour was truly despised by Australians.
So are we reaching these crossroads again? Is America becoming too much, again?
Remember the 2000 Olympics and Gary Hall Jnr bragging that the US swim-team was going to “smash the Australians like guitars?”
That was 14 years ago – and George W. Bush had just taken charge of the Oval Office.
The glorious, economic prosperity days of the 1990s had drawn to a close. Terrorism was about to rock the Western world in the form of 9/11. The US surged into Iraq, determined to find WMDs that simply didn’t exist.
Suddenly, just two decades after “winning” the Cold War and mostly shelving its interventionist urges aside for the mid-late 1990s (with the exception of Clinton’s Balkan interventions, which don’t really count because they were, umm, ‘fast’), the US was suddenly the “bad guy” again.
Back home, in the late 90s and early 2000s, Australians gravitated towards the English Premier League like never before. White-collar workers flocked to take up posts in London, the epicentre of “cool.”
From 2000-2006, Australians wanted to be European – or at the very least, we didn’t want to be American.
And then Obama came along and pretty much single-handedly re-invented America as “cool”. Nothing had changed, really, but his laconic, accessible style highlighted the best things about America. Their propensity for hope. Their wide-eyed enthusiasm.
Americans, too, realised that this landscape had changed. More than ever before, Americans comedians became self-deprecating, courtesy of socially aware guys like Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart and Louis CK. And the world lapped it up.
Americans were not so insular after all, it seemed.
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There isn’t really a single team sport that the US truly dominates at, globally (apart from basketball). The major sporting competitions are domestic – i.e. the Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the National Basketball Association.
Sure, the US ‘Dream Team’ will normally win the Olympic gold medal (and the FIBA World Cup), but really, their only real challenge comes from Argentina, Spain and maybe Lithuania or Russia.
But given the emphasis put on these domestic competitions at the expense of international success, it is hard to judge the US as a sporting superpower.
But recently, there is some evidence to say that the US is beginning to adopt a worldlier outlook, in terms of its sport. Rugby, for example, has developed a football in US colleges, with some predicting that the Men’s Eagles will one day become the dominant rugby power.
And, of course, some say that Americans are finally embracing soccer.
The US team has performed well at this World Cup. They are likely to go through to the Round of 16 – even without Landon Donovan, who has served admirably as the “face of soccer” in the states for the past decade or so.
What’s more, the US sincerely believes that they are a chance at winning this World Cup. And there’s no way that soccer will ever truly catch on in America as long as they think through this prism of hope. Soccer is a game laden with sadness.
As this writer wrote last week, Americans are simply too consumerist to take to such an inherently socialist sport. They love scoring points, lots of them, and a 0-0 draw – not matter how enthralling the contest – will never resonate with your typical sidewalk New Yorker.
It also won’t catch on if they continue to refer to their national team as ‘The US Men’s National Team (USMNT)’ because it just sounds a bit fucking gay.*
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A friend of mine recently ventured that our appreciation for America is cyclical – and I think that’s a fair point.
NBA/US culture permeated Australia during the early-mid 1990s, with basketball cards the most traded currency among primary schoolers.
I even remember turning down a classmate’s offer to purchase a Dennis Rodman rookie card off me for A$70 back in fourth grade. I genuinely believed this card would appreciate in value. Four years later, Michael Jordan hung up his high-tops, the NBL slumped in popularity, and basketball cards were nothing but a funny mid-90s anomaly.
Fast-forward to today, and you can see the impact of the recent Obama-led American Renaissance in every Australian city. Australian hipsters who visited New Orleans for three days back in 2009 have come back to launch ‘soul food’ restaurants, with po’ boys, gumbo and ‘gator’ dominating their menus.
Whiskey bars, too, have proliferated in recent years, with Australians more than eager to fork over A$18 for a nip of scotch and a handful of popcorn to sit in a dimly lit bar and learn about double malt from a bearded douchebag with three half-finished uni degrees under his belt.
But will these American restaurants last? Will whiskey-soaked country/blues music, Sierra Nevada and sliders continue to resonate with Australian diners?
Or will American shit become passé again, for a little while?
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America is good, isn’t it? It’s big and bold and plentiful – and there’s something for everybody. You can drive around America in a top-down Cadillac and pump pollution into the sky and it’s your right as an American. You can also chill out in San Francisco, smoke weed, visit bookshop cafes and be a rare unit, if that’s what you’re into. I like both of those options. Both politically and culturally, America is the greatest dichotomy in the world.
But with the Obama days drawing to a close – and sadly, not that much to show for them despite the much-promised change – I fear we are descending into an anti-America period yet again. Not so much in regards to sport, or culture, but just generally.
Brash American behaviour will no longer be celebrated, but instead be seen as irritating. The “USA, USA” chants will once again become fucking obnoxious, rather than just kinda ironic.
So while America appreciation has peaked in popularity over the past few years, I think it’s heading for another fall, like Karl Kennedy.
Because like Karl Kennedy, America will never change, despite its advancing years. And Australians will once again turn to Europe for an answer, given our own distinct lack of culture and identity.
And 10 years from now, we’ll love America again – because America appreciation is cyclical.
By Dave Edwards
* Please note that the word ‘gay’ is being used ironically