A strange sensation swept across the United States this week. At a time when income inequality is getting demonstrably worse, social issues seem increasingly divisive, and political divisions remain as bitter as ever, the country nonetheless felt united by a common cause, albeit fleetingly: sport.
The US national team’s heroic performances and agonizing exit from the FIFA World Cup captivated the country, from the president down. Audiences for the US matches on TV have been bigger than for the finals of some of America’s native sports leagues. Though the conservative provocateur Ann Coulter described America’s growing fondness for the foreign sport as a “sign of the nation’s moral decay,” other right-wing figures, like Republican senator Ted Cruz, were only too happy to hop on the soccer bandwagon—maybe because soccer fans are more likely to be young and hispanic, two demographics the Republicans desparately need to court.
It’s not clear how much of the momentum will remain after the World Cup ends; some argue the tournament will merely open Americans’ eyes to how inferior their domestic soccer league is. And it is unlikely to displace the other major sports. But America’s apparent indifference to the “world game” was one of the last holdouts of its cultural exceptionalism, and that indifference has clearly diminished.
As it happens, this coincides with evidence that that other great symbol of US culture, Hollywood, is getting more global, making an ever-larger share of its revenue from overseas. (The one thing that’s suffered as a result is Hollywood comedies; American humor still doesn’t translate, apparently.) Films and football may not be the stuff of international diplomacy, but they’re a sign that Americans and non-Americans can still agree on one thing: action, suspense and nail-biting climaxes, whatever form they take, are always fun to watch.—John McDuling
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
Twitter prepares to fly higher. The social network raised eyebrows this week by bringing on Anthony Noto, a former banker, as its third CFO in less than two years. But Dan Frommer argues that Noto finally completes the team that Dick Costolo, after four years as Twitter’s CEO, needs to take the company to the next level.
The reinvention of the American supermarket. You might not think that where the fruits and vegetables go matters all that much. In fact, it’s the key to a modern supermarket’s commercial strategy, and Max Nisen describes how Sprouts, an American discount chain, is rewriting the rules of food retail by moving them elsewhere.
Inside London’s weird world of offline auctions for online property. A vast universe of new internet addresses is becoming available, and their sellers are doing whatever it takes to drum up interest. Leo Mirani drops in on a hotel ballroom to witness an old-fashioned auction for a very new-fangled asset.
Wedding costs, then and now. The average American wedding has quadrupled in cost since 1930, adjusting for inflation. Jenni Avins dissects the data to provide an intriguing picture of how the way we get married has changed. (The receptions, for one thing, are a lot more elaborate.)
The startup that’s shaking China’s financial system. Chinese savers—the young especially—have flocked to Yu’e Bao, an online savings platform that offers better interest rates than banks. Gwynn Guilford explains how it’s forcing reform “grassroots interest-rate liberalization” on a government reluctant to cede control.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
The battle for Hong Kong’s soul. As context for understanding this week’s record protests on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China, this Reuters investigation looks at some of the behind-the-scenes ways Beijing exerts influence on the city’s officials to subvert its autonomy from the mainland.
American Jews and Israel. As yet another showdown with the Palestinians brews, Peter Beinart dissects in Ha’aretz why US Jews are equally split between hawks and doves, yet the hawks have far more sway. His explanation is convincing, and leads to an interesting, if idealistic proposal for what the doves must do to make a difference.
Deconstructing Justin Bieber. “You’re about to read a 5,200-word article on him, which may or may not be a colossal waste of your time,” Vanessa Grigoriadis warns cheerfully in New York magazine. In fact, it’s a rich and readable analysis of America’s cultural fascination with teen pop stars who become 20-something train wrecks.
A New York apartment is the new Swiss bank account. Where do the global ultra-rich hide their money these days? Where the tax breaks are good, the prices still reasonable (compared to, say, London), and ownership is easy to disguise. In NY mag again, Andrew Rice and Michael Hudson explore the world of luxury Manhattan property.
The looming longevity gap. The rich and poor already have life expectancies a dozen years apart. What happens if that becomes more like 60 years? Linda Marsa in Aeon writes about recent medical advances that could give people active lives well into their second century—if they can afford the treatment.
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