Let me not suck any marrow about this: listening to people discuss in detail the minutest actions of different body parts of strangers/sport-stars playing a [partially/fundamentally irrelevant] game on the other side of the planet is gut-wrenching and hair-yank-reflex inducing. “But it was just a matter of his foot, then and there, the left one, touching the line, as the ball was bouncing… and it was clearly on the line” Or “No, his foot barely grazed his thigh but the Greek! The Greek just flung himself to the pitch so thespianly!” and the listeners and the by-standers and the occasional eaves-dropper know exactly what the raconteur is going on about because they too have seen the gazillion super slow-mo’ replays of the 2010 FIFA SA World Cup Qualifying Round Group C game of Nation X-istan VS the Z-nese, in which the referee unjustly did such and such. It could be stated more elegantly: soccer is a global phenomenon, a planetary spectacle. And to myself I wonder… hmmm….soccer and scourge, soccer and sucker, these all sound so similar by accident?
The people who gather in little droves to discuss the day’s World Cup matches are not just listeners or story-tellers, earlier they were spectators. Instead of participating in some athletic activity themselves, for the most part, they spectated TV, paralyzed by the moving images they participated viscerally. That’s not such an inappropriate word, viscerally, because the good spectator can feel her viscera, her guts go either up or down depending on how their favored team is performing. Anyway, the spectator is passive and somewhat aware of this passivity. However, since our hyper-active present glorifies mobility, flexibility and competition [as well as sex] the sedentary sloth of the TV-viewer needs to be glamorized via an image make-over. At the surface level. Marketing has come up with glorious term for the self-conscious spectators: witnesses or followers, one implying the sense of a judicial process at the end of which judgment will be passed, the other falsely evoking imagery of a movement, of something being achieved crypto-politically simply by following [a celebrity on twitter] or following [the games of the World Cup]. The truth is spectation1, looking then talking ad infinitum.
Listeners not only to each other but to the drone of tens of thousands of Vuvuzelas, which one either must love or hate without thinking about what that might imply [more on this later].
The World Cup [as do the Summer Olympics] gives hundreds of Millions of people one of the best excuses in life to be glued to the new flat-screen TVs for a good two to five hours a day. Spectation as an endurance sport, championship-grade retinal stamina compulsory. The plasma and LCD flatscreens [which already have become throw-away products and must shortly be replaced by 3D capable apparati to end up washed up on foreign, tricontinental shores as disease-and deathbringing electrotrash, you know, Capitalism’s chronic disfunction of over-accumulation], the sleek tellies have once again assumed their proper rank as fascist dictators of the living room: nobody can escape the magnetic charisma of their large, [brady]kinetic images, especially if those images are the ones of marketing-engineered, athletic demi-gods The latest tag-line is that one “writes ones own history”, except that nobody is writing, just kicking and viewing. Ronaldo can be seen as a large stone statue and I found myself atheistically praying to the cosmic principles that this will never come to pass; the hideous bronze likenesses of other sports heroes are quite enough2. Item, the TV once again rules the living room supremely. Ronaldo, Messi, Drogba, Kaka. The dictators cannot get enough of them, showing us muscular bodies and faces screwed up in infinite self-adulation, effectively keeping us seated on our subservient asses.
Or no, perhaps one should not view matters so gloomy. I am given to pessimism in a world that still has a few sunshiny patches left. The soccer players are just a few people meeting to play out ancient national antagonisms [e.g. Brazil vs North Korea3] and we, the viewers, fall in line with the ritual for the fun of watching spectacular sporting competition… it seems good, at some level, to know that human beings are capable of such difficult yet elegant feats . Even though, somewhere inside, the four-year intervals between giving shit seem strange and moaning for an explanation.
I’ve been paying close attention: people don’t usually say “Well, excuse me, I would now like to go watch the men from Australia compete against the German soccer squad”, no. In my lmtd experience it is phrased the following way “Sorry, I would love to chat a bit longer but I HAVE TO go watch the Aussie play the Germans. Wish me luck”. For the duration of the FIFA World Cup 2010 if you don’t watch the game it becomes pretty damn difficult or awkward or impossible to make conversation-lite. You don’t know who kicked the ball into whose goal the other day or earlier today, who flopped most egregiously, who is not living up to high-pegged expectations and which filio di putana4 of a referee is to be absolutely resented. Knowing what is going on, participating in a discussion of strangers, feeling one’s heart go out to one’s national squad – there is the pull of something that is bigger than oneself into which one can be subsumed: the nation as embodied by the national squad.
In the case of Switzerland this is indeed particularly interesting. As much as I like the social achievements of this country and enjoy being a citizen of it [something one must always say before a critique so as not to be told “go home to where you came from”, even if in fact one comes from Switzerland], lately I couldn’t resist of trying to think of a generalization that could capture or reflect or embody the essence of what our self-satisfied classe politique and infantile media has been up to. The result I came up with seemed sober but poignant: national embarrassment. That is, if I think about how Switzerland lately has been portraying itself on the world-wide stage [entitled to everything, self-importance in no relation to international relevance, intransigent, engulfed in parochial issues, basically a little rascal] then, despite my lack of patriotism, I do feel a degree of embarrassment: Do we want the other nations to think we are spoiled little brats? Do we really think we can always have it our own way and keep even the most backwards legislation on the books? To the extent that I am “proud” of the social system [how much more abstractly can I describe this country… social system…which has somehow survived our classe politique and capitalist cut-throats], I am also embarrassed by the figure we’ve been cutting on the global stage.
This misperception of self also has spin-offs in other areas, e.g. Fandom. Championship for championship, be it European or World, great expectations of soccer glory are stoked rather unreasonably, which are then not just wiped away but crushed. There was the example of the infamous soccer shoot-out when the Swiss Squad was the first team since the Big Bang or so not to score a single penalty shot. On the negative scale a pretty impressive feat. And but so anyway, it seemed that this time around the cycle of unnecessary harsh disappointment would be repeated, after the Team was given an outside shot against the Spanish kickers and hyped up to “black horse” status. And then the impossible, the unforeseeable happened, the Red&Whites somehow defeating the Red&Yellows, a turn that appeared to shock both sides equally.
• • •
The Vuvuzela, such a lovely sound, the drone of tens of thousands of fans blowing their appreciation to the sport of soccer. Non-stop. Luckily there is this one conflict-free issue that needs not be further analyzed because everybody agrees: the Vuvuzela is a delightful part of South African sporting culture and will be accepted. Who, after all, would come to another continent and try to tell people how to run their culture, what is acceptable and what not. No, thankfully the bad old days of colonialism and imperialism, two different beasts, are over. I can see Nkrumah and Padmore and Fanon and Carmichael smiling down upon us.
• • •
NBA Finals 2010
The NBA finals this year are one of the best finals in years, goes the commentators consensus. Boston Celtics versus Los Angeles Lakers, Pierce&Garnett&Rondo&Allen VS Kobe&Gasol&Fisher&Odom. As I stated in an earlier post, listening dozens of journalists ask the athletes, as every year, as they have been doing for decades, what they need to do better against this defense or how they felt about their team’s effort in the fourth quarter, the feeling is that of mind-blowing senselessness. Kobe Bryant as the NBA Samuel Beckett.
These sports reporters are so flipping earnest you can imagine them saying in the same tone and with the perfectly same facial expression what Kobe thinks should be the longer term energy policy of the USA. And though calamities perennially abound, the ongoing fiasco of Deepwater Horizon is particularly disturbing a backdrop. I think it has to do with the fact that one knows that it is going on now and now and now and now and now and now and now and now and now and now….. and will keep going on, through every fucking jump-shot-second of the NBA Finals 2010 and beyond. The two events have near-nothing to do with each other and yet, in my mind, following the schizophrenic method delineated by Dali in which the most far-fetched relations are established as relevant, in this way they do.
The “junk shot” failed badly but might it have succeeded with Spalding Balls, that is, if they had cancelled this year’s playoffs and instead ferried the entire National Basketball Associations’ stock of high-quality professional grade basketballs out onto the Mexican Gulf, pumped them down the 1.5k clicks and fired them, under extremely high pressure, into the blackly bleeding leak? No, it probably wouldn’t have, not in a world that is dominated by facts rather than ficts. Or not. No matter. What a slam dunk that would have been!
• • •
The Cove – Farceumentary
The Cove is a fascinating, perplexing movie. On the one hand there are all these unbelievable secrets and interconnections coming to light and interwoven story-lines [the most intriguing being the one of the former trainer of “Flipper” on a quest for personal redemption] at the same time, a blindness on the side of the producers that is even more astonishing.
They note the main problem [that Delfinariums across the world create the demand for these animals by coming to that village to buy “harvested” dolphins] but then totally ignore it and instead make a big production of an epic battle of good, US of A documentary movie-maker versus shit-ass, backwards little Japanese Fishing village [evil, evil, evil]. And instead of just trying to collect the relevant facts and making a few pictures, they turn it into an epic Hollywood-scale production, as though its their personal little techno-documentary adventure. They are in an abstract way doing good, bringing mass attention to this horrific issue but the way they go about it seems absurd and bewildering, especially that free-diver woman tear-jerking about the young dolphin getting killed, as though she’d given birth to and raised the little cetacean. The Cove is such a singular mélange of tragedy and larmoyant farce that it becomes difficult sorting out one’s opinions and feelings about it, extremely difficult.
What is even more fascinating, and clearly completely ignored or misunderstood or not even realized by the movie-makers is the Japanese half of the story. For one, the Japanese fishers follow them all around the place, which is not surprising as they are trying to find out why these strangers that have begun “invading” their little village [with a huge secret] are up to. What is most striking is the fact that the fishers “fight” cameras with cameras of their own. So when the Americans begin shooting with huge digital cameras, some of the fishers and village folk get right up in their faces or lenses with little, hand-held high-tech cameras of their own to make footage of them. It’s like a big “fuck-you we got digital high-tech too”. The USA crew doesn’t grasp one bit that them coming in as evidently wealthy US Americans into a not particularly wealthy JAPanese fishing village might have anything to do with the dynamic or antagonism or conflict going on. It seems they are unaware that there is a certain historical depth to USA /vs/ Japan relations that cannot, can never be ignored…
They disregard other aspects too. Par exemple the fact that the source of the problem, much less telegenic, as they point out at the very beginning of the documentary, is created by Delfinariums across the globe. How do you shoot illegit Delfinariums across the world, boycott them, lobby the relevant political authorities in a cinematically attractive way? You don’t, you go fuck with poor fishermen in a little village who have to resort to exposing themselves to criminal charges by selling third-rate dolphin meat as whale meat. The movie could be advertised as a farce-umental, really, create a whole new genre.
NOT that this, the killing of the dolphins and the sale of the live ones, is not an appreciable problem, NOT that the movie is not excellently executed, is not brain-blisteringly interesting but that it is somehow drowned out and pushed into the wrong direction by this partially blind approach that sets out to expose the problem and, as they Flipper-guy would have it, “fix it”.
3The leader is doing fine. He is playing Tennis and enjoying his Daffy Duck cartoon collection. Just fine.