Higher Ground: How We're Watching the World Cup

Hua's note: Technology, as Pete reminds us below, is amazing. I'm posting this from a car, as I stream the Greece-Nigeria match in a neighboring window. (Courtesy of Univision and alternate-side parking rules.) Perhaps not the most exciting environs, given that I'm parked about a dozen feet from an actual Greek restaurant, but it'll have to do for now. A running commentary box on the right-hand side—culled from the world's Facebook users—simulates togetherness, all the way down to the among-friends banter, nearly-racist taunting and CAPS LOCK backslapping. All we're missing are some beverages.

The World Cup, as we've been reminded infinity times the past couple weeks, is an occasion for unity. Merely quadrennial, understandably alluring and ever durable, this special World Cup unity activates any number of multitudes: South Africans as a people; Africa as a continent; the formerly colonized; all non-North Korean humans; cosmopolitan-types in America; anyone with a fast Internet connection; etc.

But now that the first matches have been played, the real divisions have begun to emerge: we aren't the world, after all. German legend Franz Beckenbauer dissed England for their "kick and rush" tactics, prompting testy, huffy replies that will probably, in the retrospective lucidity of a future mauling, seem ill-advised. Meanwhile, Argentinian legend Diego Maradona responded to some sideways comments from Brazilian legend Pele by telling him to "go back to the museum."

The lesson here, besides the obvious one about the evanescence of World Cup unity: when legends catch hurt feelings, we listen, for it was their majesty that brought us together in the first place.

Your average worker? Not so much.

Keep us bookmarked. Just to recap: I wrote about the World Cup TV commercials, the vuvuzela-as-zeitgeist and the North Korean national squad. Anmol Chaddha considered the meaning of rooting for South Africa and R. Kelly's allegiances, Pete L'Official measured the dimensions of Louis Vuitton's World Cup trophy case. Piotr Orlov recounted the beauty and tragedy of Dutch football. And yesterday, on the anniversary of the Soweto uprisings, Anmol meditated on Mandela and the lines marked "out-of-bounds" by FIFA.


In Search Of...
By Pete L'Official
SKY HIGH, somewhere between MA and NC—Everyone loves an ethnic joint. Or, rather, everyone loves to love an ethnic joint, especially during the World Cup. "Have you heard about that cute little Kiwi-Slovakian tapas bar downtown? Perfect for Group H action. No? Well, my boys told me about this ill Irish pub to watch Cameroon v. Denmark. It's called Indomitable Brian's." Maybe you've been desperately searching your city for bands of Uruguayans or the places that they frequent. Maybe you read about a place in the New York Times.

And hey, who am I to stand in the way of people wanting to be around other people who have a reason to cheer for the French beyond simply admiring the density of Yoann Gourcuff's eyebrows? Soccer, and the World Cup in particular, is a more than suitable window through which to look—however briefly, perhaps superficially, often satisfyingly—at other cultures and their respective propensities to invite noble, exquisite tragedy upon themselves, on or off a soccer pitch. One of the soccer fan's simplest pleasures is had just listening to the soothing tones of a silken-voiced announcer rhythmically calling out the surnames of a team's players set to the beat of their passing movements, especially if those names are Dutch, Brazilian, or if your last name happens to be Tshabalala. Why? Because those names are awesome, simply put. Yet soccer's proverbial window-onto-culture ought not be one composed of one-way glass. Authenticity is most attractively not worn as a badge or sought out like an incredible banh-mi.  

The World Cup provides what you might call an "opportunity" to gaze longingly upon other cultures whom many will forget once they are mercilessly defeated by Germany in penalties, but it is also a chance to look at American culture, not inwardly, but as part of and connected to the world in a myriad number of ways different than those to which Americans are accustomed. Viewership should never be so opaque, so one-sided. Jerseys are not the only form of exchange on offer. Never forget: as you stare out at the world, marveling at the metaphysical mastery Lionel Messi seems to wield over the ball's destiny while tearing into the ojo de bife that you believe holds the answers within, the world is looking back at you, too. (And you may have a bit on your chin there.)  

What, then, might that same search for American authenticity look like? (For whatever reason, the job of answering this question often tends to fall to those with Francophone surnames.)  

Presented by

Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College and writes about music, sports, and culture. More

Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College and writes about music, sports, and culture. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Bookforum, Slate, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe Ideas section and The Wire (for whom he writes a bi-monthly column). He is on the editorial board for the New Literary History of America.

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