Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The World Cup

Every four years, I TRY to become a soccer / futbol fan.  There is something very appealing about an event that the whole world can get excited about.

And honestly, I am something of a sports fan even though this is something of a no-no for those of us who are well-read and sport intellectual pretensions.  My favorite historical intellectual Thorstein Veblen listed sport as one of the approved occupations of the Leisure Class believing that sport was the preferred method they used to teach the arts of force and fraud to their children and once wrote "football is to physical culture what bullfighting is to agriculture."

Yes Veblen, you were probably correct in your analysis of the role sport plays in a culture but that does not negate the fact that sport can be exciting, graceful, and aesthetically quite wonderful.  My favorite sport, ice hockey, is played on a sheet of white ice by players in colorful uniforms who rocket around at speeds approaching 30 mph / 50 kph.  Anyone who lives with long dark winters is probably susceptible to a spectacle involving so much light, color, grace, and speed.  I will also watch USA football and basketball mostly because I appreciate the difficulty associated with large men doing anything so complex and difficult with style.  Baseball, I loathe with a passion because the idea of watching seven guys scratching themselves while two guys play a one-sided game of catch lost its appeal about seventh grade.

In spite of some serious attempts to appreciate it, futbol / soccer has never quite caught on with me.  I don't have a lot of difficulty understanding what's going on because it is a lot like ice hockey except played in extremely slow motion with a nice big ball.  Yet even though it requires exceptional skill to play a game with one of the least graceful parts of the human anatomy, I keep wondering why anyone would actually want to do this.  Yes I understand the idea of giving the weak part of any performance skill extra training--sort of like left-hand exercises given to right-handed piano students--yet no one actually performs left-hand exercises in concert.  And while futbol is undoubtably a marvelous training exercise (and playing it certainly makes for better ice hockey players) it just looks strange as a spectator sport.  I keep wondering when a PETA-style group formed for the protection of the interests of the human handicapped will mount a protest of futbol because it makes fun of people who have lost their arms.
Football: a dear friend to capitalism
The World Cup is another setback to any radical change. The opium of the people is now football
Terry Eagleton, Tuesday 15 June 2010 21.00 BST
If the Cameron government is bad news for those seeking radical change, the World Cup is even worse. It reminds us of what is still likely to hold back such change long after the coalition is dead. If every rightwing thinktank came up with a scheme to distract the populace from political injustice and compensate them for lives of hard labour, the solution in each case would be the same: football. No finer way of resolving the problems of capitalism has been dreamed up, bar socialism. And in the tussle between them, football is several light years ahead.
Modern societies deny men and women the experience of solidarity, which football provides to the point of collective delirium. Most car mechanics and shop assistants feel shut out by high culture; but once a week they bear witness to displays of sublime artistry by men for whom the word genius is sometimes no mere hype. Like a jazz band or drama company, football blends dazzling individual talent with selfless teamwork, thus solving a problem over which sociologists have long agonised. Co-operation and competition are cunningly balanced. Blind loyalty and internecine rivalry gratify some of our most powerful evolutionary instincts.
The game also mixes glamour with ordinariness in subtle proportion: players are hero-worshipped, but one reason you revere them is because they are alter egos, who could easily be you. Only God combines intimacy and otherness like this, and he has long been overtaken in the celebrity stakes by that other indivisible One, José Mourinho. more

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