Thursday, June 17, 2010

Stop Blaming the Players and Start Blaming Yourselves: Thoughts on the First Week

Note: I am too slow. Thoughts and observations come quickly; connecting them is a bloody crawl. And so, since I started writing this Switzerland has upset Spain and Forlan has scored a hundred goals. In 24 hours this little note has become a historical document, and I’m forced to rewind myself into yesterday, before a couple of open games convinced us all that our lives were worth living again. 
This week’s panic didn't seem to build: it was right there, obviously already coiled and ready, waiting within us. The whole world hungry for meaning and for something pure. Hovering and set to pounce. In a way, I think we all needed this World Cup too much. We longed for this terrible month long high, this instant transport to our fractured pasts, to our personal timelines of World Cups. So much more than a madeline, or an accidental song on the radio: the World Cup has become a sort of nostalgia corporation, pumping out projections of a more innocent time. It’s a ghost world of man-boys, queueing up for a tour of their childhood room: these are my model airplanes. This (bounce bounce) was my single bed. Do you wanna look at my Panini albums?

But it's absurd to ask a worldwide commercial event to soothe us into accepting our linear histories. We’re treating football like some 2-bit whore, flinging our pasts and meanings onto her like she has none of her own. All right. Perhaps a bit dramatic. But I was determined to say 2-bit whore in this piece somewhere. I mean- I'm hardly exempt from pushing meanings and interior lives on football. On the contrary, I’m the most indicted of all. God knows I’ve suffered through moments of paralyzing nostalgia since the tournament began. I suppose my only deliverance is that I muddy football on a weekly basis with my emotional agenda, and not once every four years.  

I’m not denying that there are concrete issues: while everyone in the bar was glued to the England v. USA game I had to look away, the bouncy Jabulani offended me deeply, so completely disrupted the flow of the game. And of course: we like goals. The world needs goals. We deserve them. True true. But the speed of the denouncing was outrageous. So many indictments exerted on each oxygenless game. We turn to each other and ask again and again: why are the games so stilted and deadened? Well, could it be that the suction of our conversation has suffocated the football? Can we not bear to not be in control, to be only receiving and not writing the story? If only Twitter controlled the muscle memory of the players on the field. Why can’t they adjust as fast as we can type? I’m only half kidding. If we’re not careful, we’re going to strangle the very thing we’re so desperate to protect.  Look at them, the players and the teams. They’re terrified. Despite all their cash and contracts, they are just people, not mythical creatures or goal machines. We are crushing them under our demands for immediate transcendence. 

And when are we going to admit to ourselves that the World Cup belongs to a world that doesn't exist anymore? Or more precisely- how do we stop asking nostalgic questions of it?  We spend four years creating interwoven cultures, economies, and football teams and then we spend a month regressing into an amnesiac state of unquestioning nationalism. The things we seek from our football teams: narratives, suspense, experiments, teamwork, identity- aren't these things that can more readily be found from our clubs than our countries in this day and age? All week, as the roar of disastifaction grew, I’ve been wondering if the problem isn’t that our clubs have become our countries. I realize I’m a specific case, but I care more about Arsenal than I do about USA.  From a human point of view, I’d just as well commit to a Russian, a Belgian, a Dane (ok, maybe not the Dane) and a bunch of French guys than to a bunch of guys from Southern California. I am loyal to those players than I watch every week, not these random guys that happen to be born in the same country as me that I see play once every for years.  Why wouldn't I be? And the assumption that national football is somehow more pure, or less financially-driven, confounds me. 

Right now, the whole world is like a kid staring at a chimney waiting for Santa Claus. Holding vigil over the plate of burnt cookies. We need to stop looking for a moment. Or at least- stop judging. Turn our heads. Get back to our lives and allow the football to breathe a little bit. Let it seduce us instead of demanding that it fill us up. Or at least that’s what I was going to propose, despite the utter ridiculousness of asking the world to stop watching the World Cup, but then Switzerland upset Spain and Forlan scored a hundred goals and we all rejoiced and were excused from having to take another moment to consider our complicity and the panic that was revealed to be lurking under the surface of our everyday lives. Please don’t misunderstand me: I have no interest in looking at said panic lurking under the surface of my life. I can’t think of anything I’m less interested in. I watch football to avoid it. I’m just in favor of acknowledging the fantastical expectations we brought to the World Cup. Until we can program players with our IPhones, we need to remember that those expectations weigh on the 22 men we most want to be weightless.  

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