So, that was 2014. Almost all the news was bad, from the resurrection of the Soviet Union to ebola to the outing of hardcore radical misogynists and the rise of the Islamic State (with some crossover in between!). Like Florida all the time, this year possessed all the colors of the awful rainbow.
Still, there were signs of good: by all measures, America has left the Great Recession. It has done so with troublingly little in the way of economic reforms, and you’d think that now with the crisis averted, we’d continue business as usual. But it seems not, with more and more labor movements gaining traction and attention, and US states raising the minimum wage– even Wal-Mart workers had the courage to walk out. Actually quite a lot has happened that would be pretty unthinkable in 2008, when the Recession began: a French socialist manifesto was the #1 book in America, Weird Al had a #1 album, gay marriage became legal almost everywhere and the majority of Americans want pot to be legal (both to the ire of almost no-one, thanks to our political culture’s equally sudden abandonment of cultural wedge issues).
But if one crowning achievement can be salvaged from the ashes, it should be the 2014 World Cup.
Two years ago, I was traveling with a friend when we called in with a school acquaintance in North Carolina. The Euro Cup had just ended, and the subject of American football and soccer came up. The acquaintance predicted that American football would be totally marginalized in a few years. I was dumbfounded; Football is still the most popular sport in America to watch. And yet, here we are: the NFL and NCAA, football’s governing bodies, are now widely loathed for their abusive labor practices and corruption, rampant violent crime among players has turned many away from their TVs, and the risk of brain damage is causing young talent to leave the game. Meanwhile, the World Cup was a massive sensation.
Part of the World Cup’s success in America was a reaction against the most recent Summer Olympics. The London Games may have saved Britain’s economy, but the American coverage was an unmitigated disaster. NBC, in its constant quest to prove you can go broke underestimating the American people, variously delayed, interrupted, and ignored the festivities while the commentators took valuable time to profess their own (patently affected) ignorance of British history and culture, to the point that people are still complaining about it more than two years later. Meanwhile, the World Cup was covered by ABC and ESPN, which are owned by Disney, a company that has rightfully regained the love of the American people after over a decade of brand-cheapening blunders.
In addition, America did well. Watching this summer, I remembered seeing the World Cup final in 1994, two miles from my own house in Pasadena, and realized that mine was the first generation of Americans to grow up with soccer. Now as adults, we’ve cultivated some serious talent. And, in spite of some previous statements, I now meet people who genuinely care about the LA Galaxy. That’s pretty incredible. Of course there are places where soccer is not seen as sufficiently hardcore, but Clint Dempsey’s a soccer hero, and he’s as Texan as they get.
I think it’s a testimony to soccer’s newfound relevance in our country that the World Cup brought some new terms to our vocabulary: Socceroos, the Orange Wedding, the Secretary of Defense.
Speaking of which, the next time I go to England, I’d like to go see and Everton game before Tim Howard retires. Imagine saying that a year ago?
So, if there’s one good thing to draw from 2014, and equally from the World Cup, it’s that after a long, confusing period of turmoil, we can look back and say that yes, even after decades of cultural entropy and posturing entrenchment, change can come to America.