Ann Coulter is not so much wrong as stupid about soccer

Responding to Ann Coulter is like what shooting fish in a barrel would be like if fish were immortal and guns had no effect on them: easy but pointless; fun for a second, but ultimately futile. Every inch of her is covered with the criticism-resistant armor of narcissism, Teflon-grade shamelessness, Kevlar-quality self-confidence so unearned as to be unfathomable. She just wrote a terrible article, bizarrely divided into a series of bullet points, about soccer. Now look -- I don't care if people don't like soccer. I don't care if people don't like anything. Unless people don't like the things they don't like in the style of assholes. I don't like Ann Coulter. I don't like her so much it makes me an asshole. She sucks me into this wormhole of loathing where I loathe her so much that it makes me loathe myself. It's like all your bullets ricochet off the impervious fish and caromb around the room before lodging in your own ass.

So, in a sisyphean exercise in trying to get to the bottom of what I don't like about myself for not liking Ann Coulter, here is what I can't stand about this fucking silly Ann Coulter article.

According to Ann Coulter,

  • In soccer, the blame is dispersed and almost no one scores anyway. There are no heroes, no losers, no accountability, and no child's fragile self-esteem is bruised.
Ann Coulter is crazy, here, in two distinct ways. First, the point of "team sports" is not, primarily, "individual glory" and the ruthless gutting of losers and the goats who it fuck up for everybody else. Sure, this is a part of sports, but if what you're looking for is one man left holding the bag, then individual sports are the sports for you -- and I'm not sure Ann Coulter is ready to get on board with tennis, boxing, amateur wrestling, or golf, where the athlete is actually alone in responsibility and glory. And yet, she keeps making recourse to football, of all things -- just about the most tightly orchestrated, highly organized team sport there is, and the only sport where every player has to line up in a line and stand totally still in exactly the position mandated by the rules until the leader-player says a word, at which point every player takes precisely as many steps as were diagrammed for them by the middle-management, a bourgeois class of coaches whose iron-fisted control over the player's movements is positively Stalinist.

More importantly, there is -- in point of fact -- an almost lunatic level of individual accountability in soccer, and especially soccer at the international level. Most famously, in 1994, Columbia defender Andrés Escobar was murdered after he scored an own-goal in the World Cup. He accidentally kicked the ball into his team's net, and he was murdered for it. Not only is soccer absolutely chock-full of personal responsibility, it is so chock-full of personal responsibility as to be, all too often, morally indefensible and repugnant.

But Coulter wants more! Way more.
  • The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport. Most sports are sublimated warfare. As Lady Thatcher reportedly said after Germany had beaten England in some major soccer game: Don't worry. After all, twice in this century we beat them at their national game.
This is incoherent. The implication seems to be that personal humiliation and major injury are not part of soccer, which is on both counts demonstrably false. But then Coulter argues that most sports are sublimated warfare, and to prove it, she offers the example that soccer is, in fact, a form of sublimated warfare. 
  • Baseball and basketball present a constant threat of personal disgrace. In hockey, there are three or four fights a game — and it's not a stroll on beach to be on ice with a puck flying around at 100 miles per hour. After a football game, ambulances carry off the wounded. After a soccer game, every player gets a ribbon and a juice box.
This is, quite possibly, the least sufficient metric imaginable for evaluating the merit of an athletic contest. You know what else offers the constant threat of personal disgrace and violence? ABC's WipeOut. NBC's Fear Factor. Coulter's weird, atavistic bloodlust is precisely what's supposed to be sublimated out of warfare. Otherwise we've got the Roman Coliseum with its lion-eating Christians and Russell Crowes screaming "Are you not entertained?!" 

In 1962, welterweight champion Benny Paret called Emile Griffith a "marricone" (faggot) before their third fight. Griffith -- who was gay, but not exactly out, being as he was a professional athlete in the 1960s -- was humiliated. In the twelfth round, Griffith hammered Paret with dozens of unanswered headshots, including 18 punches in 6 seconds while Paret was slumped against the turnbuckle, unmoving and unresponsive. After ten days in a coma, Paret died. The fight was broadcast on ABC. Millions of people watched Benny Paret get pummeled to death by a man he had humiliated.

These are not the things we want in sports.

Any increasing interest in sports that lead to this kind of pain, shame, and death can only be a sign of the nation's moral decay. 

Junior Seau was one of the "wounded" casualties after hundreds of the professional football games he played in. According to Seau's teammate and friend, Aaron Turner, "Any time you play a sport that requires an ambulance to be on-site, it's inherently a fucking dangerous game, right? 'Getting your bell rung' was the euphemism, and I think we all took pride in it. If you didn't light somebody up or get lit up in a collision, there was a sense that we weren't doing our jobs." After years of depression and insomnia, Junior Seau shot himself to death. Researchers who studied his brain discovered definitive signs of CTE, a degenerative neurological condition caused by repetitive head trauma. The fucking terrifying symptoms CTE include "memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, suicidality, parkinsonism, and eventually progressive dementia." 

Why does this woman want more things like this to happen? 

Why is she so callous?

This isn't exactly a rhetorical question. My (admittedly speculative) guess is that she's kind of a fucking sociopath who gets off on the bad feelings, pain, and shame of other people -- especially strangers. I'm not being intolerant, here -- it's not that I don't tolerate people like Coulter so much as I'm grimly fascinated and baffled and a little repulsed by them. They have the right to exist. They're just so... gross

When Ann Coulter doesn't like something, that thing is immoral and un-American. That means Ann Coulter's caprices, tastes, and predilections are, for Ann Coulter, the guiding lights of Americanness. The biggest supposed problem with soccer -- the refrain that has droned on and on, to incredibly boring effect -- is that soccer is boring. 
  • Do they even have MVPs in soccer? Everyone just runs up and down the field and, every once in a while, a ball accidentally goes in. That's when we're supposed to go wild. I'm already asleep.
They do have MVPs in soccer. In fact, there is a fairly clear consensus on the greatest players of all time. It goes:
  1. Pelé
  2. Diego Marradona
The ball only seems to go in accidentally because Coulter doesn't know what she's watching; her criticism is basically similar in spirit to those people who think baseball is boring because they don't know what's going on when they watch it, or those people who think calculus is boring because they don't know how to do it. There's nothing wrong with thinking either of these two things, in my view, until you try to foist them on other people like you're Jesus sermonizing on the fucking Mount.

Actually, maybe the best analogy for Coulter's view of soccer is a non-gambler's view of poker: "What's the point, it's all random luck, nobody has any idea what's going on and it's just a chaos of numbers." Except Stu Ungar won the World Series of Poker 3 times and made probably $30 million dollars playing cards in his career. 

There's actually a name for this kind of uninitiated disdain -- the Dunning Kruger Effect. In the most basic terms, what happens is: a person who is shit, and has no idea what it takes to be good, at something assumes it can't be that hard. My mom, for instance, whom I love very much, insists that no NBA basketball player should ever miss a free-throw, because they're "free points." She has, god love her, absolutely no flying fucking idea what on earth she's talking about, and absolutely no conception of what a mind-bendingly difficult thing she is witnessing every time she sees anyone make any shot in front of 20,000 screaming assholes. 

But having no idea what the fuck she's talking about is, for Coulter, a badge. It's a credential of her Americanness. Ann Coulter, to quote Chris Rock, loves to not know. Not knowing anything about soccer lets Ann Coulter feel superior to it, even though Ann Coulter, of all people, shouldn't feel superior to anything in the world for any reason.

Here's a complete sentence from Coulter's article, one of the coffin nails she uses to shore up her case against the beautiful game:
  • It's foreign.
Point of fact, soccer from England. But the point isn't the origin, for Coulter. Foreignness is a class- and race-based criteria for discrimination: you know who to hate by knowing what they like! After all: 
  • If more "Americans" are watching soccer today, it's only because of the demographic switch effected by Teddy Kennedy's 1965 immigration law. I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time.
Liking soccer is a cultural aberration that will be boiled off in the melting pot. A fondness for soccer is, in fact, incompatible with being a Real American. The same way you know a computer isn't a person because it fails the Turing Test, you know a person isn't a Real American because they like the most popular game in the world. To be a Real American, you have to love watching Real Men (never women) play HARD-HITTING, PHYSICAL games... or baseball. 

One of the awesomest parts of Coulter's unwound rant is her oblique takedown of the metric system. 
  • Soccer is like the metric system, which liberals also adore because it's European. Naturally, the metric system emerged from the French Revolution, during the brief intervals when they weren't committing mass murder by guillotine.

    Despite being subjected to Chinese-style brainwashing in the public schools to use centimeters and Celsius, ask any American for the temperature, and he'll say something like "70 degrees." Ask how far Boston is from New York City, he'll say it's about 200 miles.

    Liberals get angry and tell us that the metric system is more "rational" than the measurements everyone understands. This is ridiculous. An inch is the width of a man's thumb, a foot the length of his foot, a yard the length of his belt. That's easy to visualize. How do you visualize 147.2 centimeters?
The switcheroo is precious. "Liberals get angry" and say the metric system is "more 'rational,'" but that's "ridiculous," because the real reason they like it is because "it's European." Liberals are under the weirdly hybrid thrall of "Chinese-style" social engineering and "European," I don't know, anarchism? Constitutional Democracy? The failed project of Revolutionary violence and terror? Whatever it is, it can't be good! But don't sweat it, because "any American" uses the U.S. system of measures, despite the fact that it is actually a holdover from provincial, pre-Enlightenment Europe. 

Seriously, check out the wikipedia article for the foot. The foot, which is as long as a man's foot, is clearly more rational than a universal standard of measure: "Historically the foot, which was used in Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, England, Scotland and many Continental European countries and which varied from country to country and in some cases from city to city, was part local systems of units. Its length was usually between 250 mm and 335 mm and was generally, but not always, subdivided into 12 inches or 16 digits." Which is why architects, carpenters, and civil engineers never go anywhere without "a man's thumb," "his foot," and a "belt." Because they really want to get things exactly right.

Seriously, though, what do people see in Ann Coulter? She's like your college friend's girlfriend whose appeal you just can't fathom, but your friend is like "dude, she's a completely different person when we're alone together," except there is no "alone together" version of Ann Coulter -- she is just, purely and simply, this awful ipecac dram of a public persona. Go away, Ann Coulter. In the immortal words of Edward Albee, you make me puke.


L'esprit de l'escalier

In some ways the most interesting people to deal with, for me, are the ones whose two most pronounced feelings towards me are, so far as I can tell, disdain and fear.

They are interesting, partly, because whenever I see them, it's a surprise to both of us -- we rarely plan to meet up, these people I scare and disgust -- and the way they choose to cope with the situation is by very, very studiously ignoring me. You know, the kind of ignoring that takes way more concentration than actually paying attention to someone -- making sure you're always keeping them in your peripherals so you can make sure you never actually have to focus on them.

There's a girl I had a crush on for like ten minutes a year ago. I don't know her very well. She seems very nice. Point of fact, I really don't know her at all. She's charming, and that's usually good enough for me. The barebones backstory here is that, the day after I met her, I asked her out via facebook message; she responded guardedly but not forbiddingly; and then I didn't respond for like a year, during which year we basically didn't interact with one another because MEN ARE FROM MARS AMIRIGHT, though when we ran into each other was generally polite and decorous, if sort of tense, because MEN ARE FROM MARS AMIRIGHT. Then, one day, I had a very bad day indeed, and a very unpleasant conversation, during which conversation I had a couple of beers. When I got home, I saw that she had liked something I had written on the facebook machine, which she had never done before. And I thought to myself -- though I reserve the right to disown this whole line of thought with the benefit of hindsight -- well, that was nice of her and makes me feel good; I will write her a message to make her feel good about herself! 

The effect of the message I wrote seems to have been precisely the opposite of that intended. Though I will not analyze why this is the case, I will include, in its entirety, the message itself, to enable the armchair diagnosis (and assuage the curiosity) of the reader:
Hey [redacted]. I'm writing to say that, when the above exchange happened, almost a year ago, I was asking you out because I totally thought you were rad, and also completely adorable. I didn't respond because it made me anxious, because I thought that it was totally sweet and also completely unexpected that you did respond, and frankly I just kind of savored it and didn't want to screw it up. I am writing now to say that -- while I don't think you should ever go out with me, because you are way too pretty for me, and I'm not stupid -- it remains the case that you are totally rad, and every time I see you I'm like, wow, she's awesome and adorable, and also says really interesting things. All I'm trying to do, here, is acknowledge your objective level of radness. Well played, and be well, and good day!
I imagine you can see how the good-hearted but somewhat vertiginous and swirling motives in back of this missive could, depending on the recipient, make it fly astray and hit the "I am confused and he is a stalker what the fuck" part of the brain instead of the "Aw what a nice little unremembered act of kindness and of love" part of the heart. 

Anyway, the upshot of this message is that I cannot have an interaction with [redacted], now, that does not result in:
  1. Her just stone-cold, straight-up ignoring me
  2. My feelings being hurt
  3. Me giggling uncontrollably right after it's over
Once, for example, while she was studying in the lounge, I walked in through the door directly behind her and said "Hey!" She reflexively said "Hey!" back. But then, when turned around and saw it was me who had said "Hey!" the automatic affectation of good humor and camaraderie just instantly crumbled out of her face and her posture, and she swiveled back to scowl at her laptop with an unbreakable focus until I left the room. I had had every intention of sitting in the lounge and reading (in the chairs, incidentally, directly in the path of what would have been her sightline if she had looked up from the screenglow) but it seemed too much like social terrorism, so I just pretended to look in my mailbox -- which has not actually contained mail for something like two years -- and bolted. And then, I collapsed into a chortling heap in the hallway. And, at the same time, felt like a real piece of shit.

Today, on the other hand, I was sitting in the lounge reading, headphones over one ear the way I do sometimes when I would rather interact with people than a musty old book, when she walked in. I gave her the ol' reflexive "Hey!" greeting and it was met with -- or rather, I guess, decidedly not met with -- the contemptuous silence one associates with the caste system in India, or the treasurer of the A/V Club trying to get a ride home from the homecoming queen. 

So why is this funny, to me?

Because this reaction -- this posture of obviously counterfeit zenlike disinterest -- presents to the ignored party an absolute ocean of possibilities, simply because, when it's so obvious that someone is paying painfully close attention to you, but so obviously does not want to be paying any attention to you, and is not willing to seem to be paying any attention to you, you can do ALMOST WHATEVER YOU WANT with absolutely no consequences, and with absolutely no reaction from the ignoring party. It's a social carte blanche, and they're just giving it to you, begging you to take it, with no conception of its pricelessness. As long as you don't ask that person a direct question -- "What time is the talk later?" -- or indicate that person's concrete state of being -- "Your fly is unzipped, you dumb bastard" -- you can get away with everything. If they refuse to look at the register, it's the perfect crime every time.

In the maybe three seconds it took her to run the gauntlet from door to mailbox to door, I thought of the following things that I really wanted to blurt out, apropos of nothing:
  • "I like hamburgers better than I like hotdogs, but today I want a hotdog!"
  • "I smell amazing because of clean laundry!"
  • "It's such a nice day, it makes me want to fucking blow my brains out!"
I didn't say any of these things, because I am not the worst person -- I am merely a terrible person. I let her off the hook kind of easy -- just said "Bye!" in the dopey, mocking voice of the untipped bartender -- because I don't want her to dislike me more, or to think I'm scarier, than she already does. But I resent her resentment and I'm afraid of her fear, so obviously I dwelled on the situation for some minutes after she left, chuckling to myself merrily and sadly, self-loathingly and misanthropically. And, while I was sitting there, unable to read for the mild adrenaline rush that comes with a good, solid spurning, I came up with the following other things I could have, and in some ways would have really relished, said to her, all of which, I imagine, she would have just pretended not to hear, because people are crazy and interacting with them is a nightmare clusterfuck of anxiety, unspoken rules, and implied boundaries that are deep and black as the Styx:
  • "The Ultimate Warrior died, but he'll live on, in the hearts and minds of millions."
  • "Haven't wet the bed in a while, but I can't imagine the last time was the last time."
  • "If I had a million dollars in ones, I would make it rain on the Quad."
  • "It's hard not to admire Oprah, but what has she really done for people of color?"
  • "Artie Lange, R.D. Laing, K.D. Lang -- wow, that's weird."
  • "I can eat a whole box of popsicles, but maybe not all in one day."
I will be coming up with more of them throughout the afternoon, because people are crazy and interacting with them is a nightmare clusterfuck.