“Protesting and I lost my sign/ standing up ‘cause they crossed my line” speaks Open Mike Eagle on his 2018 song “Happy Wasteland Day,” a ballad about a post-apocalyptic wasteland – the result of “elites” shaping society without the input of the common citizen. This “line” is something we all have. It’s our barrier that protects what is ours from being tainted by those who possess no understanding of our personal worlds.
The lyrics evoke the desire to preserve, to push back against the force which leads you towards the edge of organised, comfortable living, into chaos. What we look to protect and the point at which we fight back is rarely the same for any two people but the results of your battle may rely heavily on your social class.
Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite and Dietmar Hopp’s influence on German football share a DNA in that they both observe this phenomena. On the surface, these two topics are worlds apart, but bear with me. The former sees a family of a low social class infiltrating the space of a rich family while the latter situation is one where the realm of the common citizen is invaded by a member of the 1%. The lines of each social class are crossed, let’s observe the outcomes.
It’s So Metaphorical
Extending the metaphor set up by Open Mike Eagle, the character of Park Dong-ik, from the 2019 movie Parasite, repeatedly stresses the line he draws between himself and the people he hires. A massively wealthy man, Mr. Park’s stance lends his professional relationships to remain professional and nothing more. Initially, this seems like a perfectly reasonable way to run a workplace seeing as too close a relationship with an employee can cause problems with productivity and discipline. However, Mr. Park’s true feelings rear their ugly head in the third act when he scolds his driver, Kim Ki-Taek, for making too personal a comment to Mr. Park.
At a birthday for the Parks’ youngest son, Mr. Park hires Ki-Taek to enact a dramatic performance and entertain the child. While briefing Ki-Taek on the details of the show, Mr. Park alludes to the silliness of the act, but how that matters little if his wife stays happy. It is then when Ki-Taek crosses Mr. Park’s line and comments on the love Mr. Park has for his wife. Park Dong-ik’s tone changes from jovial to condescending as he puts Mr. Kim in what he sees as his place.
In this moment we see more than a man wanting his employees to remain professional, we see someone fiercely protecting his personal space from someone he perceives to be beneath him. It begs the question; what does Mr. Park have to lose by creating even the slightest casual relationship with Ki-Taek? What Mr. Park fears is his need to look inward and analyse the way he sees people outside of his social class.
The threat of a casual conversation with someone he needs to be a machine leaves Mr. Park with the options of changing his perception or reinforcing the backwards mentality he already possessed. Of course, the latter is the easiest of the two and is the chosen route since with money comes control. Mr. Park knows that Mr. Kim has no choice but to abide by his ruling and that power is abused to reduce his employee to a subhuman status.
Parasite is a fairy-tale scenario in the sense that Mr. Park’s actions are punished. Had his treatment of Ki-Taek played out in the real world, the employee’s breaking point would not have inspired any kind of reform. Instead, reality would see Ki-Taek replaced like dysfunctional brake pads. The film asks us to look at those with success and question who was exploited on their path to supremacy. Who do they continue to silence? The road to the dystopia described by Open Mike Eagle is paved by the silence of the common person.
Fifty Plus One
Contrasting Parasite’s dynamic we have German football. At the highest level, football is a sport full of wealthy people, but is also a sport that is nothing without the common fan. The modern football landscape can be ugly. While there exists some beautiful football being played on the field, all that surrounds it becomes murkier as the years go by. The 2010s saw an upsurge in the corporate runnings of football clubs across Europe with many billionaire entities intruding on and swallowing the voice of the match-going fan. Look no further than my beloved Arsenal FC where Stan Kroenke’s ownership of the club has seen fan opinions referred to as mere “noise.”
But Germany is different. The appeal of German football owes its every debt to the passion and beauty of the fans. They are the reason why German games have the highest matchday attendance and some of the lowest ticket prices amongst the top leagues in Europe. Where other countries have bent to the will of the wealthy and ignored supporter outrage at having their space intruded on, Germany stood strong(er) and created the Fifty Plus One rule.
The reason for the above successes can be traced to the Fifty Plus One rule. It dictates that no club can have more than 50% of its shares owned by one person. This leaves room for fans to hold voting rights in everything that happens in their club, creating an experience shared by and belonging to the people. To say that sport is nothing without the fans is rarely better applied in this case with the German Football Association (DFB) drawing a line between corporate entities and the passion of fans. The functionality of this rule is what made Dietmar Hopp the most hated figure amongst German supporters.
While protecting fan interests, the Fifty Plus One rule guards against clubs buying sporting success. Majority ownership of a club allows someone to throw limitless money at a team. This means they could simply buy the best players available and eliminate competition from clubs whose model is based on tactical knowhow of the game and do not have access to the same resources. One only has to go as far as this year’s Champions League semi-finals to see RB Leipzig, a team founded in 2009, battling with teams with historic success just over a decade later as a result of being bankrolled by a larger entity.
In the eyes of many, this approach dims the silverware won so unceremoniously with the rust of blood money, contaminating that which is pure. Software company leader and billionaire Dietmar Hopp was accused of doing exactly that through his acquisition of the club Hoffenheim. The DFB allowed an exception in the Fifty Plus One rule for Hopp allowing his pockets to propel Hoffenheim to leagues above, absolutely shattering the celebrated line between fans and billionaires and leaving supporters with no choice but to push back against the idea of a league without competition.
This allowance can only be applied if the owner can prove that they supported the club in question for over 20 years. Because of this, Hopp’s ownership of Hoffenheim is completely legitimate, yet he and the DFB still receive fair criticism for that arbitrary rule. This willingness of the DFB to allow a loophole in one of the most celebrated laws in European football has gotten fans protective over the sanctity of competition. They have seen the country bend to the wealthy, jeopardising the very beauty of the German game. Mr. Park was able to shut down the lower class intrusion in a swift movement but the German supporters remain in battle with the outside forces invading their arena.
The fans in Germany have seen victory over the DFB before as a result of large-scale protests and most recently the vigorous protests of Hopp reached a fever pitch early in the year. Opposition fans created offensive banners referring to Hopp as a “son of a whore” and depicting the billionaire in crosshairs. The extreme nature of these banners have caused matches to be stopped midway as they cast a dark shadow over the sporting event. The very fact that German fans, renowned for pure passion and love for the game, have been pushed to the point of such provocative protest displays the extent to which a community will come together to protect the sanctity of something they love shows the scale of this battle; a battle they are yet to win. The DFB have rightly condemned the harsher protests but are yet to resolve the unrest.
The energy and time spent by German fans in an attempt to shut down intrusion from the upper class is gargantuan in terms of that spent by Mr. Park to avoid true human interaction from a man of a lower class. Obedience is expected from the wealthy as society is set up to suit them. Normalising such dominance has brought us much closer to Wasteland Day than we would like to admit.
This Is Normal Now
“They said it’s normal, it’s normal now” sings Open Mike Eagle, in an unnervingly reassuring voice.
Polar opposites in almost every way, the above situations are a microcosm of the growing disproportionality between lower and upper classes. While one man can brutally reduce each person in his workforce to a mere cog in a money-making machine, hundreds of thousands of fans face an uphill struggle to protect something that would never exist in their absence. Mr. Park and the fans both experienced intrusion from another class, they both fought back but only one of these parties is still in conflict.
When celebrating the rich for gathering their wealth, many conflate the value of their humanity with the accumulation of their cash and we end up with a society which considers them more worthy of rights that should be available to us all. This leaves the needs of the lower classes with the perception of petty complaints. Corporate entities creating “superteams” only works to suck the magic and emotion from a sport that is at its best when the playing field is level. This matters to fans, but is inconsequential to owners. However, there is hope in fighting back. German fans have gotten their way in the past because the DFB recognises that it cannot survive without them. Protecting the Fifty Plus One rule is important for football and more so for society – to set an example. Once it becomes clear that modern society is only able to function because of the labour of the very people taken for granted, their voices are treated with value, and the timeline that leads us to Open Mike Eagle’s wasteland is eradicated.