Friday, June 11, 2010


The 2010 World Cup's inaugural weekend is complete. The games so far have been of varying quality, without any real shockers or barn-burners as far as I can tell. I'm not entirely sure what would constitute a "barn-burner" in soccer terms. More than three shot attempts that had a realistic chance of going in? Any game that actually ends with a decision one way or the other? It's possible we had an amazing epic game already, and I watched the whole thing without realizing it.

Like many American children, I played soccer for a little while. Like most American children, I eventually picked a "real" sport focused on that. In my case, the "real sport" was...swimming. Not too flattering to the Beautiful Game, but she's no spiteful mistress. She took me back as long as I agreed to get up at 7:00am on weekend mornings to watch the World Cup. And I did it, because I want to put my best foot forward and make this relationship work. And what do I hear when I turn, at 7:06, to the broadcast?


It's like every game is being played inside a giant beehive. The noise comes from cheap plastic trumpets called vuvuzelas, which grow naturally on various trees and shrubs in sub-Saharan Africa. It's true; you can just pick them off the vine and (after a brief drying period) start annoying the shit out of your neighbors. Many of the continent's political crises can be traced back to vuvuzelas. The Ivory Coast (home of Chelsea star Didier Drogba, who wears the same flashy Nike cleats that I use for Ultimate) is currently fighting a bitter civil war that started when vuvuzelas were permitted in their legislature. Hours later, the opposition party had decamped to a jungle stronghold and everything turned to shit. Even now, UN peacekeepers are trying to get the sides to lay down their obnoxious fucking trumpets and come to the negotiating table. As a compromise, kazoos will be provided to the warring parties.

Every single human being who's watched a World Cup broadcast hates these things. Maybe not the African fans, but how many TVs are there in Africa? That's right, I said it. I'm all for cultural sensitivity and the fan experience, but this is ridiculous. If you're running the World Cup, how could you decide that the needs of 30k trumpeting assholes at your live event trump the TV distribution to the whole goddamn World? These are the most-watched broadcasts on the planet. Is it really that hard to ban giant plastic trumpets from the games?

I have heard an argument for cultural sensitivity; this is, it has been said, how African fans like to watch their games. I respect this argument, but there are a couple obvious problems with it:
1) How much of a tradition is this, really? The wikipedia article states that the stupid things weren't even popular in South Africa until the '90s. So they have the cultural legitimacy of parachute pants.
2) Not all cultural products deserve respect. Japanese wood prints have existed for a thousand years and are inextricably linked with Japan. However, starting in the 19th century an entire tentacle-rape wood print industry (women having sex with octopi and whatnot) sprang up. We need to respect one of these things and not the other. You figure it out.
3) As noted in the article linked above, this isn't even a South African tradition. It originated in Mexico, which should surprise nobody. Mexican culture places a premium on cacophonous noise for its own sake; this is why they adore fireworks 365 days a year and have the loudest weddings ever. Related story: on Sunday I went to my sister's college graduation. The vast majority of students received a faint smattering of applause from family members when their names were called--everyone had been asked to keep it low-key until the ceremony was over. However, whenever a student with a Hispanic surname was called an EXPLOSION of noise followed. Not only did the student's family scream--not only did they bring noisemaking maracas and other devices--but there were 20 people making noise at a time.

You can't fool us, South Africa. The world wouldn't tolerate mariachi music piped into the stadium and they should demand an end to the vuvuzelas. You ended one of the most insidious regimes of the 20th century without a shot fired, and you're willing to sell all that national respect for a cheap plastic horn that, in addition to irritating the shit out of spectators, also spreads disease by spraying saliva out of a meter-long cannon all over the crowd? I was trying all weekend to think of a silver lining, and came up with this: in big set-piece moments when they get REALLY loud, the horns are kinda epic. They are vaguely reminiscent of an orchestral trumpet section. But only if the entire section consisted of 10,000 imbeciles who'd only been handed their instruments that morning and had never met each other. And if their instruments could only play B-flat. Speaking of which, isn't anyone worried that a World Cup crowd will eventually produce a massive coordinated Brown Note and cause the entire world to shit themselves? I'm worried. We'll wrap this affair up with a quick soccer Q and A, since I have done lots of research and am massively knowledgeable.

What's up with the players escorting children onto the field?
In modern soccer, this tradition goes back to the early English Premiere League. Under-privileged children are selected by charitable organizations to be escorted. The idea is to raise money and awareness for good causes and to do something nice for the kids. The tradition actually reaches back further, though; to ancient Greece, where the first organized soccer matches were played. In those days, young boys were escorted onto the field by patron players. It wasn't so much a charitable gesture as declaring the stakes of a wager.

What's up with the big USA-England game? Did we own those limey fucks?
It wasn't really that big, given that they played only one pool-play game and probably won't see each other in the elimination rounds. It was more a psychological test for both sides. But it wasn't a fair test. See, if we'd lost it would have been no problem. A bummer, nothing more. But if the English had lost...holy shit, it would have been a disaster over there. An English soccer fan is similar to an Ohio pro sports fan (any sport, any team): a broken, neurotic husk who's just waiting for his team to shoot themselves in the foot. The 2008 film Doomsday was actually set in a near-future England just after a major World Cup collapse. Harrowing stuff.

Why are teams in the World Cup allowed to tie?
This is just you being an American jerk. The World Cup has a stage of pool play, where teams play each other in a round-robin format and accumulate "points" based off results. So whether or not you declare a winner and loser in each pool game, the top two teams move on while the bottom two don't. Just shut up and enjoy the games, because when elimination comes you'll have the winners and losers you want.

Why does everyone hate Italy?
The Italians would tell you that everyone hates them because they're the defending champions and they're the best. One of these things is true. In fact, everyone hates the Italian team because they are douchebags. They flop like a mixture of Vladi Divac circa 2001 and Derek Fisher circa 2010. They are known for their defense, and routinely employ it to secure 0-0 ties (why risk losing if you don't have to win??). Essentially, they are that friend everyone had at 12 years old who played every video game exclusively to win. No amount of "Dude, don't be a fag" and "Dude, stop playing like a bitch" would persuade him, because he didn't understand what he was doing wrong. You eventually had to drop him from your friend circle, and then you watched him go to Princeton and get into investment banking. And you nodded soberly, because the Self-Important Fuck gene is bred deep. That's the Italian team, only they also grow long greasy hair and awful beards. It took just over 30 seconds of World Cup play for the first Italian player to take a cartoonish dive. I bestow upon them the most dire curse that can be leveled at an Italian Catholic: fuck you, and I hope black people marry into your family.

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