On Hipsters and Soccer

“I’m a stylish American. I’ve been forcing myself to like soccer since 2004.”
–Jeff Winger, Community

If you are an American soccer fan, and this link is new to you, I’d be surprised. While never cemented into something resembling an official relationship[1], soccer and hipsterism in the United States are entwined in ways that are part puzzling, part unsurprising, and part exciting. First, let’s establish this relationship further. While the writers of the Community quote above were slightly naive[2] in choosing the date (a more accurate time for Jeff Winger to begin appreciating soccer would have been 2006 or 2002), the subtext of the quote shines through: liking soccer in America is both “fashionable” and “forced,” in the same way as wearing a pair of uncomfortable Prada talons or squeezing yourself into a pair of skinny jeans. Check out this (still absurdly inspiration and tear-inducing) video of reactions to Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria. Amongst the scattered and myriad identities present throughout every video, there is always one constant: the bearded guy with the American flag bandanna and overly patriotic dress who is going absolutely crazy jumping up and down.

The New York Magazine article “What Was the Hipster” defines the protean term concisely: “The hipster is that person, overlapping with the intentional dropout or the unintentionally declassed individual—the neo-bohemian, the vegan or bicyclist or skatepunk, the would-be blue-collar or postracial twentysomething, the starving artist or graduate student—who in fact aligns himself both with rebel subculture and with the dominant class, and thus opens up a poisonous conduit between the two.” Essentially, this posits the hipster as someone intentionally in the middle: outwardly rejecting the idea of fashion while still spending hours grooming and picking out bandannas and clothes; willing to give up cheap fast food in favor of expensive Whole Foods; biking to work while listening to music off the latest iteration of the Iphone; not registering to vote while passionately defending Obama; paying hundreds of dollars for fashions that look like they could come from a thrift store. Hipsters don’t reject mass culture insomuch as they subvert it to their own uses–planting their flag among what looks like (but isn’t) virgin territory and claiming it as their own and thus validating it as cool.

Therein lies the first kernel of understanding why hipsters and soccer is a thing. For many new adherents to soccer (including Yours Truly), soccer seemed cool mainly because it was niche passion outside of what many would consider to be the culture center. I got into soccer for multiple reasons (explained elsewhere on the blog), but one exhibited the same spirit which got me into bands like Yeasayer, Beirut, Belle and Sebastian, and others. No one else (it seemed to me) was listening to them. They were catchy and fun, but mainly I could say that I understood that they were good before my friends did, and that made me feel like an arbiter of taste. Same with soccer: again, speaking from personal experience and trying to universalize it, I can’t tell you how much fun being an authority on soccer was during the 2010 World Cup. Knowing the NFL or the NBA is pretty common for guys my age; not so for the EPL, Serie A, or La Liga. The hipster cool here draws its potency from being initiated into a deep and interesting subject that is unusual and non-standard to the dominant culture.

Hipsters thrive off knowing arcane information and imparting it through (sometimes) snobby means to the rest of the uninitiated (by which I mean, non-hipsters).  For reasons that comprise several other essays on this blog and elsewhere, soccer in America still largely falls within the esoteric strata that also serves as a happy hunting ground for hipsters. Head down to the Brewhouse in Atlanta on any weekend for a concentrated lesson in this. Europeans share the bar with tattooed Atlantans with either week old stubble or tattoes (sometimes both) drinking PBR and rooting (usually) for Arsenal. A lot of them come from well-to-do families and played soccer in high school. A lot of them will spend the rest of that Saturday day-drinking and smoking cigarettes on a porch and then dancing to a remixed version of a Katy Perry song.

The inherent subconscious conflict (even that is a gross overstatement) at the core of many hipsters is how to reconcile the passions of their upbringing with their new counter-culture ambitions. The average male child (and many a female child) born in the eighties probably cared to a certain degree about sports. Whether it was the pre-strike MLB, Jordan’s NBA, Gretsky’s NHL, or Montana’s NFL in the late 80s early 90s, it was hard not to get swept up in the wave of good feelings surrounding American sports. Even if your parents weren’t particularly sport-inclined (like mine), you couldn’t escape the constant overlap between what was shown on TV and movies and what was going on in the sport domain. So if you grew up as an athlete and/or mass consumer of sport, then promptly rejected it in the name of hipsterism once old enough to begin developing your own taste, what would fill the vacuum left by your old loves? Soccer is a good candidate, for the reasons described above. To drive home my point, here are several other sports on the fringe of mass culture that many denizens of hipsterism call home: bike polo; dodgeball/kickball; urban golf; and all of these.

And yet, despite the overarching subtext of cynicism with dashes of distaste present in this article, there is still a silver lining: the fact that hipsters tend to care about soccer can only be good for the sport. Despite how much ire hipsters draw on the surface, it’s undeniable the impact and influence their taste has on our generation.  Several musical acts, for example, went global through hipster love (I’m thinking MGMT or Foster the People, but there are many more). Very few people would argue that soccer isn’t on the way up in America. I choose to take soccer’s hipster love as a leading indicator of it’s continued growth.

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[1] In the same way Atlanta Braves baseball has an official relationship with lovers of country music and Southern Culture.

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[2] Apparently Community writers’ love of soccer is, like Jeff’s, skin deep. The match they watch in the show is Manchester United and Liverpool, described as the two best teams in the world.

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One Response to On Hipsters and Soccer

  1. Pingback: The O87 Mailbag | The Other 87

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