Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Buford: Among the Thugs—The Future of American Politics?

There is much to be learned about a culture from those persons whom it places upon pedestals, whom it admires and emulates, whom it calls heroes.
 —Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jonathan Yardley, on "The Magnitude of Sport"

I am old enough to remember a time when the only thing that landed on a playing field (besides ball or players) was a penalty flag, years of high-school games in which fans tossed only cheers at each other; and no parent would dream of slugging another parent in the heat of a Little League game. Even college soccer and football were seen as opportunities to upstage the other side's team, their cheerleaders, their band. No explosives or firearms were involved.

The same ethics of sportsmanship infused politics—if you weren't a union activist or assassin, the gloves were definitely on. Throughout this last nasty political season, something I had read years ago has been nagging at me: I was hearing echoes of Bill Buford's discovery of the intensely partisan soccer supporter.

Among the Thugs is Buford's description of his experience as a soccer hooligan. In England to attend Cambridge University, he was visiting in Wales, waiting on a train platform with three or four others when an unannounced train came through. It was a football special, a train that had been "taken over" by Liverpool supporters.
...there were hundreds of them—I had never seen a train with so many people inside—and they were singing in unison: "Liverpool, la-la-la, Liverpool, La-la-la." The words look silly now, but they did not sound silly. A minute before there had been virtual silence... And then this song, pounded out with increasing ferocity, echoing off the walls of the station. A guard had been injured, and as the train stopped he was rushed off, holding his face. Someone inside was trying to smash a window with a table leg, but the window wouldn't break... the police were frightened. For that matter, I was frightened, as was everyone else on the platform... this violent chant was a way of telling us that they, the supporters, were in the position to do anything they wanted.

Buford actually joined the Manchester United hooligans, melting into the crowd, yielding reason and compunction to the rule of the mob. He traveled, ate, slept, stole, screamed, fought, sang when they did. The strongest message of Buford's experiences as a thug is the sinister allure of membership in the mob; how easy it is to give in, and how hard to return to civilization once you do.

We are on a particularly slippery slope when we surrender our civil instincts in this way. "My country, right or wrong" slides into "my party, right or wrong," my tribe, my family... The only way to win this game, as we were succinctly informed in WarGames, is not to play.

Jane Chord: Some killed.


Blogger samraat said...


4/03/2010 9:32 PM  

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