Trolls, Critics, and Globalization

What happened to the soccer trolls? The “1-0 is so boring, how can a game end if it’s a tie, why can’t you use your hands, you fanboys are hippies and socialists” -crowd. They’re strangely quieter than I remember them being in prior World Cups. Apparently I’m not alone in noticing.

Ryan Curtis at The Ringer asked and analyzed the question in, “The Death of the American Soccer troll.”

For the uninitiated, liking soccer hasn’t always been “cool.” The British ex-pat duo known as Men in Blazers refer to it as “America’s sport if the future since 1972.” For decades, the professional game just didn’t seem to catch on. It was reserved for kids with mouthfuls of orange slices and weirdos who didn’t like real ‘merican sports.

Then, sometime over the last 10-15 years as the broadcast rights and the internet started to make it more publicly available, we hit a fever pitch in criticism, followed by… this.

I don’t know where we draw the line that declares the tipping point, but here in 2018, during a World Cup that America failed to qualify for, the critics are finally relatively quiet.

One interpretation is that the payoff of being critical has finally crashed. Much like rap (“more like crap!” they used to say), the value of the social currency of soccer has become acceptable just about everywhere. While many people still may not prefer rap as a style of music, 20 years ago it wasn’t that hard to find a journalist questioning if it even should be considered “pop” music. Plot the gradual takeover of the charts and the “this surely is just a fad” criticisms to see what I mean.

Not to extrapolate this too far into areas it may not belong in, but we can also compare soccer and rap’s globalization story to the current anti-globalization narrative that the daily news is feeding us. While Brexit, build the wall, and trade protectionism are very real, so is the fact that it’s not cool to mock soccer in America anymore. So is the fact that a mixed-race Canadian rapper has the top streaming album in the world.

In this respect, the globalization narrative may be more alive than ever before. We don’t just import and export goods and services, we import and export culture too. The political polls may not tell those stories, but the sentiment measurements do (and where have we heard that argument before?).

One of the great promises of the Internet was that culture would be shared through cheap and open access. The silencing of the critics who have abandoned empty arguments in the face of popular opinion is an excellent sign that its mission is working.

Maybe music and sports don’t solve all of our problems, but it is a reason for optimism when we think about globalization. The durability of shared cultural moments, whether it’s in sport, music, or even “Fortnite,” speaks volumes about an increasingly nuanced, yet unified world.

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