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America and England Should Stick to Their Own Cultural Institutions, Complains Writer for British GQ

Posted By Brian Phillips On February 8, 2011 @ 8:54 am In Uncategorized | 31 Comments

Jason Davis says most of what needs to be said about Andrew Hankinson’s crypto-snide piece on the Sons of Ben for British GQ. Hankinson’s piece somehow manages to sensationalize American supporter culture as out-of-control and scary (“There is no visible police presence today on the railway platforms…. Nothing to protect a vulnerable-looking couple in New York Red Bulls tops from a vicious assault”) while also mocking American supporter culture for being restrained and peaceful (“studenty,” “tame,” “laughable,” “hard to take seriously”). American fan groups are inauthentic, Hankinson implies, for acting like English hooligans (i.e., jumping up and down and being obnoxious), but then they’re also inauthentic for not acting like English hooligans (i.e., knifing Dutch schoolteachers at the World Cup). Had the scary-looking Philly fans actually assaulted that vulnerable Red Bulls couple at the start of the piece—rather than, you know, not interacting with them at all—they would have been totally authentic, but also totally inauthentic, because copying England is terrible, unless you do it violently, in which case you’re serious, but also terrible, because violence is terrible, but also serious. Also: drunk people, but especially drunk members of the Sons of Ben Philadelphia Union supporters’ group, are ridiculous.

Well, whatever. Being a freelance writer sucks, and Hankinson obviously did what he could to add color to what sounds like a horribly uneventful trip. (At one point, two young male sports fans in their 20s shockingly eat cheeseburgers after dark.) And yes, as Jason acknowledges, American supporter groups do draw liberally from English fan motifs, and sometimes that looks awkward. At the same time, though? No one did more to bring MLS to Philadelphia than the Sons of Ben. They were going to away games before they had a team. Maybe their scarves aren’t the scarves of John Wayne, but they’ve lived up to their end of this business. Show a little respect.

More generally: We can, and should, talk about the increasing convergence of English and American sports culture, institutional Europhilia in MLS, why young men like footwear that makes them look dangerous, and what a really indigenous American soccer culture would look like. But mocking individual people for being influenced by cultures outside their own neighborhood is just mocking the tide. I mean, sure, back when the Beatles were singlehandedly inventing rock and roll, out of whole cloth, based on nothing more than English music-hall songs and a long tradition of Liverpudlian hair-grease circulars, it was possible to maintain a certain purity. But now? The world is a blur, and there are Super Bowl parties in London, and not even 50 Cent knows to what extent he’s been influenced by Rio Ferdinand’s Tom Ford obsession. Why, even British GQ isn’t the bastion of indigenous English culture that it was back in 1988, when it was founded by an American media conglomerate, as a spinoff of an American magazine. Or is cultural cross-pollination only worth taking seriously when it starts at the Condé Nast Building?

Union fans depicted in the article deny that even some of the essentially mundane events Hankinson depicts actually happened, although Hankinson insists that they did.

Cf. soccer culture in Italy, Holland, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, France, and Germany, all of which erupted spontaneously and with no English influence whatsoever.


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