The Most Trivial of Pursuits: Is Spain Really Better than England?

Could the EPL’s failure to advance its top teams be indicative of a broader shift in cultural dominance? Let’s find out by playing Trivial Pursuit.

Manchester United and Manchester City, the two teams perched atop the Premiere League standings by a commanding 5 and 7 points respectively, both failed last week to advance beyond the group stage in the Champion’s League. Barcelona and Real Madrid, on the other hand, cruised through the group stage, decimating their pods by a staggering margin of 7 and 10 points respectively, with the two clubs only having one draw and zero losses between the two of them. Now, of course, the EPL had Arsenal and Chelsea advance, meaning that the EPL and La Liga had the same number of teams advance, but Arsenal and Chelsea did so by the skin of their teeth.

This isn’t to suggest that one country’s top club league is better than the other, but simply that in terms of which country can field the better team, it’s not even a question anymore: Spain is way better than England. In the past decade, a Spanish club team has managed to win the Champion’s league 5 times, compared to England’s ability to only field a champion twice in the same period. The fact that what are ostensibly the two best club teams in England failed to advance, while Spain’s two best did so with ease, further enforces the point: Spain has quite simply produced the more dominant soccer teams through and through.

This development begs an even broader question, though, which country is actually better? In asking such a broad, subjective, vague-as-hell question, there is only one tool that can effectively measure each country’s greatness: Trivial Pursuit.[1] Thus, in order to determine which country is better, it’s necessary to judge them based on their geography, their contributions to entertainment, their impact on history, their contribution to the arts and literature, their contributions to science, and finally, their performance in sports.[2]

Geography

In this context, the debate is really which country is prettier. On the one hand, you have England, with its rolling green hills, serene pastoral environments, and breathtaking views of the Atlantic from the White Cliffs of Dover.[3] However, all of this is largely outweighed by the fact that it’s rainy and cold pretty much year round there. I lived there for about six months, beginning in June, and even in the summer months, it hardly reached a temperature above 65, which was nice if it was sunny, but utterly dismal when it was raining, which was pretty much like every three hours.

Spain, on the other hand, has a far more pleasant, less wet climate, is surrounded by beaches, is home to the Pyrenees mountain range, and is surrounded by the Mediterranean in addition to the Atlantic.

It’s a pretty basic aesthetic question: do you prefer a majestic, dynamic countryside bathed in the light of the Mediterranean sun or a dismal, gloomy endless stretch of farmland that looks as if it hasn’t seen the sun since the Norman conquest?

England: 0 – Spain: 1

Entertainment

This category is going to be split into two parts: music and film. Let’s start first with music. As this is entertainment, we’re going to confine our discussion to modern music aka no classical.

And with that, England pretty much takes this part in a walk. If it was significant to rock and roll, chances are it came from England: The Beatles, perhaps the greatest band that will ever exist, came from Liverpool. The Rolling Stones, perhaps the most long lasting, resilient rock band to ever exist, came from London. The two bands that led punk’s emergence from the underground and its progression into an artistically significant genre, Sex Pistols and The Clash, are both British. The most experimental and artistically challenging band in the world that can still manage to top the Billboard charts and sell out arenas, Radiohead, yeah, they’re British too. Do I really need to keep going?[4] After going through the list of “significant” Spanish bands,[5] I can safely conclude after about ten minutes that every band put together in Spain’s entire history cannot even come close to being as important or as good as any one of the bands mentioned above. Point England.

Next up, film. Spain has contributed pretty significantly in the form of Luis Buñel and Pedro Almodóvar. Buñel was responsible for the surrealist masterpiece Un Chien Andalou, while Almodóvar created a style all his own, relying heavily on the melodramas of early Hollywood, but uniquely adapting the form to meet the vibrancy and chaotic nature of Spanish culture. From the rhythm of Tarantino’s dialogue to the surrealism of the worlds of David Lynch, these two filmmakers have made their unique mark on the film industry.[6]

England, on the other hand, has given us the likes of Danny Boyle, Paul Greengrass, and Christopher Nolan, but above all, England has contributed Alfred Hitchcock. While most of his later and most well-recognized films were produced in Hollywood, Hitchcock was nonetheless a British immigrant, and one, in the context of this arbitrary competition, that England gets to claim as one of its own. While Buñel and Almodóvar have certainly left their mark on the world of cinema, even their combined effect comes nowhere near the effect that we can trace back to Hitchcock. Just look at the resumé: Rear Window. North by Northwest. Vertigo. The Birds. Shadow of a Doubt. Strangers on a Train. Psycho.[7] After that, it’s not even a question. Point England.

England: 1 – Spain: 1

History

In 1492, an Italian explorer named Christopher Columbus was funded by the Spanish monarchy to make a voyage to what would eventually be known as North America. It was a pretty important event in world history, you may have heard about it in school.[8] Spain was pretty much the dominant force in the discovery of much of the New World, and, at the time, they were really fucking powerful and rich. But then it all fell apart, what with increasingly factitious political disputes, the threat of Islamic invasion by the Ottoman Empire, and the Protestant Reformation destroying the once stable and prosperous nation.[9]

So, while Spain found the New World, they couldn’t sustain their power long enough to colonize or really do anything with it,[10] so in steps England, which established the Jamestown colony in the 17th-centry, and created a string of colonies that would later rebel and become the United States. But, at the time, that was a minor thorn in the paw of the powerful English lion, which, at its height, had an empire on which the sun did not set.[11] Of course, today, England’s empire has been broken up; one of its former colonies has surpassed it in pretty much every conceivable way;[12] and it has become an insular island nation with no real means of production, relying heavily on investments and the financial industries to keep its economy afloat.

The two countries, though, have had a historical throw down in the form of the British Royal navy defeating the once immortal Spanish Armada, in which Spain’s attempted invasion of England was totally thwarted by the sheer badassery and tactical genius of Sir Francis Drake.

So, taking the head-to-head into account, and the effect that the British Empire had on the shape and nature of today’s world, since at one time it did pretty much cover most of the planet, the edge in history goes to England.

England: 2 – Spain: 1

Arts/Literature

            Like Entertainment, this category will be split into two parts: books and paintings. We’ll start with paintings. English painters gave the world Impressionist masterworks from the likes of J.M.W Turner and James McNeil Whistler[13] as well as a return to the form and artistic raison d’etre of theItalian masters in the form of the work of the Pre-Raphaelites. But while the English painters certainly produced some aight work, Spain really took it to a whole other level, with the experimental work of Picasso and Dali, in addition to the formal mastery exhibited by painters such as Diego Velazquez and political frustration exhibited by Goya. For pushing the medium in bold and fascinating new directions, Spain wins this part.

But, just like with music, literature is no contest. Sure, Spain had Cervantes and Don Quixote, but England pretty much had the most significant writer in the history of fucking words and letters in Shakespeare.[14] I could go on,[15] but there’s really no need. Shakespeare is like the Pelé or Maradonna of the literary world, only multiplied by like seven thousand[16]: unequaled in his ability or influence. One could try to do a kind of subsuming argument, where he was like influenced by what or whoever and therefore everything about him is owed to that one thing, but Spain isn’t Greece or Italy or the Roman Empire[17], so there’s nothing inherently Spanish about any of it. Therefore, point England.

As we have a tie in the arts/literature category, each country will receive half a point.

England: 2.5 – Spain: 1.5

Sports/Leisure

I’m really not sure what leisure is. I suppose it is shit like badminton or croquet or checkers, and since this is a competition to determine greatness and not who’s the lamest and most boring and like a retirement community,[18] we’re going to judge this category on sports alone. I’m just going to start listing sports.

Soccer: Well, Spain has the two best club teams in the world and, as a country, won the World Cup last year. Point Spain.

Football: Neither country plays this type of football. Point No One.

Tennis: Spain has arguably the best tennis player since Roger Federer in Rafael Nadal, while England has the perpetual bridesmaid Andy Murray.[19] However, for those of you who want to look past the staggering number of Grandslams that Nadal has won (10! Gasp!) to the non-existent number of Grandslams that Murray has won, let’s go to the head-to-head for the sake of completeness: oh, no surprise here, with Nadal leading the series 13-5. Point Spain.

Basketball: The closest Britain has come to basketball is hosting a sparsely attended game between two low-level NBA teams (Brooklyn Nets[20] v. Toronto Raptors) last spring. Spain, meanwhile, has produced two of the most dominant big-men in the game, in the form of the Gasol brothers, and actually has a competitive Olympic team. Point Spain.

And finally, because these are really all the sports I can think of that matter,[21] Golf: Spain has people like Sergio Garcia: he kind of sucks. Britain has Rory McIlroy[22] and Lee Westwood, who are pretty high-level players that have won major tournaments. So, it’s not really that much of a contest. Point England.

So, Spain wins the sports category 3-1-1.

England: 2.5 – Spain: 2.5

Science/Nature

And so it all comes down to this.

But I’m sorry: I know national pride and the status of who The Other 87 believes to be the better country is on the line here, Spain fans, but I’ll be honest: there is probably nothing I am worse qualified for than talking about science. So, in order to decide this category, I googled “British Contributions to Science” and “Spanish Contributions to Science.” England had Isaac Newton. He articulated what gravity was and developed what became known as the disciplines of calculus and physics. Spain took credit for Muslim scientific ideas at the same time that they tried to have the same people banished and tortured. Newtonian laws seem more significant that scientific ideas that immigrated in, therefore, England wins the category and therefore the match.

Final Score: England: 3.5 – Spain: 2.5

So there you have it, Anglophiles! There’s no need to fret about the comparative shittiness of your club teams and your continual disappointment at the World Cup: your dominance in the areas of historical significance, music, film, literature, and, apparently, science means that you guys are the best country in the world! You know, at least when compared to Spain.


[1] Speaking of national superiority, Trivial Pursuit may be the only contribution of any worth made by the country of Canada. Now, sure, some of you are going to argue that they’ve given the world such cherished items as maple syrup and such heart-staggeringly good bands as Arcade Fire. But I can’t taste the difference between maple syrup from the Great White North and the same stuff made in Vermont. Furthermore, Win Butler wasn’t exactly singing about Toronto on The Suburbs, he was singing about Houston, Neon Bible wasn’t about the struggle of living in post-9/11 Canada, and, finally they weren’t trying to rip-off Bryan Adams on their last two albums, they were trying to rip-off the most American of artists: Springsteen. But nobody has made a better trivia-based board game. That’s your jam, Canada.

[2] A quick note: this will be confined to accomplishments and attributes of the actual countries being judged, not their colonies or other countries that may happen to share the same language. Otherwise, England would have the United States and pretty much dominate by default. That’s not xenophobic, that’s just fact: like 80% of the questions in Trivial Pursuit are about stuff that happened in the United States. It’s not very inclusive to the accomplishments of other nations.

[3] Sure, it has some cool castles and Stonehenge and some pretty majestic cities, but we’re judging it on its geography, not stuff that people built on that geography. While climate is certainly not an inherent part of geography either, I’m going to allow it to be judged as well because it’s a) naturally occurring and b) directly affects my ability to enjoy the geography of a country. Antarctica has some dope mountain ranges, but the fuck I’m going to go explore them in that cold.

[4] If I do, allow me to continue: The Smiths, British. Led Zepplin, British. The Who, British. The Kinks, British. David Bowie, British. Pink Floyd, British. Elvis Costello, British. Joy Division, British. The Jesus and Mary Chain, British. The Libertines, British. The Stone Roses, British. Oasis, British. If you’re not convinced at this point, you either haven’t paid any attention to music over the last fifty years or are deaf.

[5] All of them are so entirely forgettable and lame, there’s no use in desecrating this article with their presence. I will, however, give Spain credit for a little island called Ibiza, which is basically the electronic music capital of the world. However, all of the major acts that play there (Armin van Buuren, Tiesto, Deadmau5, Justice, etc.) aren’t from Spain, so, I can’t really give it weight here. Just because I like to vacation in Venice doesn’t make me Venetian.

[6] If we were talking Spanish-language film, the conversation would be a little less brief, as people like Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Guillermo del Toro are arguably three of the most important filmmakers making movies today. But, alas, they are Mexican directors and don’t by default fall under the Spanish flag. There’s been an upswing in Mexican film, not so much for Spanish film.

[7] Pretty much any film of any sort of artistic or cultural significance owes some sort of debt to Hitchcock: from 2001: A Space Odyssey to No Country for Old Men, no filmmaker has really done anything that can’t be traced back to Hitchcock.

[8] There’s some stupid rhyme you probably learned about it too. But, it should be mentioned, that Christopher Columbus and his band of sociopaths raped and pillaged the lands they discovered, spread all sorts of terrible diseases, and treated the natives like subhuman underlings that were certainly not worthy to stand in the presence of their own European greatness. But it did lead to the discovery and colonization of America, so points will not be taken off. But regardless, Columbus was totally evil.

[9] During this time, an organization known as the Tribunal for the Holy Office of the Inquisition, which is, today, colloquially known as the Spanish Inquisition, really got rolling with its oppression of non-Catholics through means such as censorship and torture.

[10] Yeah, yeah, they had Mexico and parts of Central and South America, but in terms of lasting impact, the colonies to the north were kind of a bigger deal.

[11] Since I’ve continuously mentioned the skeletons in Spain’s closet, let’s not forget that England aided and abetted the extermination of the Native American races in their colonies, raped Africa for its resources and left the continent in what can best be described as “a complete and total political and sociological clusterfuck,” and massacred thousands of Indians during their occupation of the subcontinent. Also, they oppressed Catholics like no other. Again, though no points are either given nor detracted for a country’s atrocities stemming from their height of power. To quote Sean Parker via Aaron Sorkin, “That’s life in the NFL.”

[12] Except in soccer, ironically enough considering the genesis point of this article.

[13] Although one could argue he was more of an abstractionist or child-flinging-paint-onto-canvas, as famous critic John Ruskin tried to do by suing Whistler for his sins against the British people’s taste by subjecting them to his work,

[14] Side note: that new movie, Anonymous, directed by the dude who did such probing and inquisitive works as Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 B.C., and 2012, yeah, it’s total bullshit.

[15] And mention Virginia Woolf, George Eliot, John Milton, Geoffrey Chaucer, James Joyce (Ireland was sort of a part of England then when Dubliners was published, and the whole British-Irish conflict drove his work, so let’s count him as part of England), the Bronte sisters, and Zadie Smith to name a few…

[16] This is not an accurate 1:1 correlation, for those wondering.

[17] Which produced The Odyssey, The Illiad, The Divine Comedy, and The Aneid, pretty much the only other works that rival Shakespeare’s in terms of literary importance and significance.

[18] Seriously, if I have to explain why those things suck to you, you’re probably too far gone for me to try to bring back to the world of things that are cool and fun and not activities that you engage in while waiting for the sweet embrace of death to take you anywhere but there.

[19] Common, Murray: even American burnout classic Andy Roddick has won a Grandslam.

[20] Is it too soon to start calling them that, Hove? Oh, okay, it isn’t? You’re crazy for that one, Jay!

[21] I’m hard pressed to think of a Brit (because they call it cricket and do it wrong) or actual Spainard that plays baseball. It also doesn’t have the wordplay style fun of football, so forget that category.

[22] He’s from Northern Ireland. It counts.

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About Matt McGraw

Freelance. Addict. Compulsive. Allegedly Clever.
This entry was posted in Culture and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Most Trivial of Pursuits: Is Spain Really Better than England?

  1. hansh says:

    Good article, pretty entertaining (and oddly informative)!

    Just one issue, to numbers in brackets that link to the footnotes aren’t working, and it’s pretty annoying to scroll up and down every time.

  2. Ryan says:

    The Irish part of me is livid after reading this.

    You gave those bastards Joyce? You jackwagon.

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