Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Puma does the World Cup ad better, with African footballers and fans, Gnarls Barkley and Kehinde Wiley

Contrast the above (and its soundtrack) with Nike's bloated ad, which is seasoned with the most tired forms of machismo and sexism. Here there are even a few girls and women, presented not as sex objects or football failures, but as fans and players (asking the boys to give her the ball!). This ad, furthermore, is actually about African soccer. 

Even crazier (in a good way), is another Puma video made with Kehinde Wiley - a gay African American painter, celebrated for his brilliant and compelling portraits of Black men. Puma commissioned Wiley to make a World Cup poster and to design an "unity" shirt for Africa (below).  Wiley makes portraits in which his subjects adopt the pose of classic works of art (such as Renaissance paintings, portraits of Catholic saints, African statues). 

Below is a video about the making of this work, in which Wiley seems to be falling in love with the beautiful game, and in which we meet actual African players (Eto'o!), who speak in their own words about the sport and the African game.

Thank you Stephen, for bringing these to my attention! As he points out in his comments to the Nike post, these Puma ads are not without their politics, but they are far more interesting.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

For Nike, women are only good for laughs

People seem to like Alejandro Iñárritu's ad for Nike's 2010 World Cup campaign ("Write the Future"). I don't. Women appear in it only as sex objects and jokes. Below is a survey of the three moments in this ad in which women figure:

1. Sex objects in the background of a fantasy sequence celebrating Cannavaro's clearing the line and saving the match (35 sec). (Women appear in the audience for this variety show, but not as members of the audience watching the Italy match which inspired it.)

2. As cooks and housewives going about their business while the guys watch this (37 sec). 

3. As a joke - as in "women are funny when they play soccer" - in a sequence picturing boys and men all over the world trying out "Ronaldhino's Turn" in youtube videos, the only female athlete shown trying the move out falls over to everyone's laughter (2:00 minutes).  Note the title of the video which appears as the vehicle for this joke - "women's soccer" - not "Brianna falls over".

That's it, in an ad that is as much about soccer's fans as it is about the sport. (Women constitute at least 30% of the fan base for the men's game.)

It hardly seems worth complaining, as this is basically the primary function of women in mainstream sports media - as sex objects and jokes - not as fans, camerawomen, journalists, athletes or even, apparently, consumers. 

I am demoralized by not only the sexism of this ad but by the ease with which this sort of demeaning and insulting crap is consumed by sports audiences. It is completely and utterly depressing.  The commercial was broadcast to the audience at the Nike Montalban Theater before their screening of the Champion's League final.  I was in a major funk by halftime, and promised myself never to go back there.

Want to write the future? Edit the sexism!

Daniel Lara's Recycled Footballs

Daniel Lara is a multimedia designer and artist. He lives in Los Angeles, and is one of the best players I've had the pleasure of meeting while playing pick-up soccer.  His website charts his incredible range as a visual thinker.

A few months ago, Daniel told me he was thinking about making work using soccer balls. Now he gives kids he sees playing soccer new balls for their old ones. He unravels the old balls, and stitches their skins and bladders together to make objects like the one he is holding here. 

It's a gorgeous object, as you can see - the strange patchwork makes me wonder where these balls came from, it has me looking for traces of the groups they held together in forms of play. Now those people are playing with things Daniel gave them, too - he's left a trace of this project with them.

This isn't the first work to re-purpose soccer-objects, but it's surely one of the best.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In the shadow of the World Cup: ESPN covers the rape of South African soccer players

ESPN has done a story on the frequency with which South African women soccer players are raped, targeted as lesbians. (Female athletes often targets for rape) It is a good thing that a media outlet with ESPN's resources decided to cover this story.  But there are a couple of dots ESPN avoided connecting.

This comes two years after the murder of former national team player, Eudy Simelane. (See On the murder of Eudy Simelane and Girlie "S'Gelane" Nkosi, Eudy Simelane's teammate and lesbian activist, murdered). The timing of this story implicitly links to the opening of the World Cup next month.

I wish, I really wish they'd asked the question of what FIFA has done around this - as I've written in this blog before, were a male national team player murdered in a hate crime in a country hosting the World Cup, you can be sure FIFA would do something to address it - they would at least acknowledge it.  As far as I can tell, there has been absolutely no attempt to enlist the most famous men in the world - gathering in South Africa - in any sort of campaign condemning these violent attacks.

And - to make another point again - the situation in South Africa is extreme, but rape within a homophobic attack is not unique to South Africa. In the U.S., the most famous case of this might be Brandon Teena, a trans teen who was raped and murdered in 1993. His story is the subject of the film Boys Don't Cry.

I wish ESPN had made the FIFA link, and touched base with someone who could raise their awareness about homophobic violence. It would be altogether too much for them to also acknowledge the international importance of this story, as female soccer are marked for harassment and worse for playing "a man's game" in many more places that South Africa. This situation may be extreme, but it rests at the far end of a continuum of experiences of sexism and homophobia all too familiar to altogether too many people.

[Thanks to the reader who gave me the heads up on the ESPN story!]

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Q & A regarding Hertha provokes random thoughts on Berlin (and German) soccer

Q from Gustavo Arellano: And now for something different: a great story on the last sad days of a soccer club before it gets kicked out of germany’s top division. Jennifer Doyle: where do these fans rank on the political scale of things? Are they progressives like Barça, or fascists like Lazio? (German Capital Bids Auf Wiedesehen to Top-Flight Football)

A, of sorts: Thanks Gustavo! Read on only if prepared for the distortions of my extremely uneven knowledge regarding German soccer. Hertha has had a spectacularly bad season - they nearly qualified for the Champion's League last year, and now they've been relegated. I will leave The Guardian's Raphael Honigstein to diagnose Hertha's demotion:
In fact it's nigh on impossible to look at the terrible fate that has befallen Hertha Berlin as anything else but divine retribution for sins committed in a former life. Or last season, to be more accurate.
Supporters of the Spreesiders will probably violently shake their heads in disagreement at this point, but this column has still barely recovered from witnessing one or two Hertha matches in 2008-09, when they played (if that is indeed the right word) a brand of football so dull, negative and downright misanthropic that one opponent after another lost the will to live. By the end of the campaign the whole Bundesliga was ready to commit hara-kiri, just to make the pain go away. Forget Jorge Valdano's notorious quip about Rafa Benítez's less than aesthetically pleasing Reds: you couldn't see the pitch for all the excrement in the Olympic stadium.
This year, it's more or less the same. Tedious but very competent catenaccio with excellent results has turned into slightly less tedious general incompetence without results.
To address your query regarding Hertha supporters -fans rioted in March, when Hertha lost a crucial match to Nuremberg. But, honestly, I don't know if that incident squares with Hertha's reputation, or if perhaps if this is just typical football-guys gone wild. 

I am a little creeped out by the "Hertha girlfriend" subsection of the club's page for female fans. Not for fans of women's football. Hertha does have an LGBT fan club - as does Barça, Man City, and a few other clubs who reach out to gay and lesbian supporters.

This brings me to your question - who is Berlin's Barça?: No side in Berlin - or anywhere - has managed Barça's ability to "brand" its progressive reputation. And as to Berlin's Lazio - at least one Berlin-based club draws more than its share of fascist fans (Dynamo - formerly the Stasi's team).  But of course it isn't the high profile club that Lazio is and seems to have tried and failed to wiggle out of  its terrible history and dubious present (by changing its name, then changing it back).

The media tag line regarding Hertha's decline focuses on Berlin as now the only European capital not to have a team in the country's top flight division.  But Berlin's reputation as a European capital has always been that of an atypical capital - a capital of atypicality. 

The city's romance, as a tourist destination, is built on fantasies of cabaret life and spy romance. It's basically the only city in Germany many of the alternative set care to visit - and, drawn by the relatively cheap rent, lots of those folks stay.

So, Hertha's spectacularly bad season is perhaps a higher profile version of the other "beautiful losers" playing in "poor but sexy" Berlin (that designation might just be the official signal for gentrification).  But for those teams, one must look beyond the Bundesliga. (FYI - The Global Game reviews a recent film festival gathering work about East German football - it's well worth reading.)

For example - check out at Türkiyemspor Berlin, playing in the unglamorous domain of regional football for a few years now. Türkiyemspor, founded by players of Turkish immigrant background, threatened to rise to the 2nd division in 1990-1991. Their campaign was ruined by an administrative error (read the history on the club's site). In an incident recalling Germany's attitude towards the workers it recruited from Turkey in the 1960s (Come! - a generation later: Leave!), a player who'd transferred to the club was mistakenly ruled ineligible and the games in which he'd played were either forfeit or replayed.  The club just missed being promoted. The German national FA later apologized for the mistake (!). Things went downhill from there. But the club is still around, and it has a women's team (actually, I think it has three). 

When in Berlin last year, I was supposed to attend a match between Türkiyemspor and Hallescher FC - it was postponed, ostensibly due to inclement weather but probably due to fears of violence from Hallescher FC fans, notorious for their racism. 

Hallescher FC was at the center of a particularly miserable incident in 2006. Hallescher fans heaped racist abuse on a Nigerian midfielder playing for Leipzig. Fed up with the ape noises from fans, and from being spat upon, Adebowale Ogungbure threw two fingers over his upper lip - as a salute to the fascists. Ogungbure was then attacked by fans. Incredibly, he was brought up on charges (making Nazi gestures is illegal in Germany) - they were quickly dropped. From Der Spiegel:
"I was just so angry, I didn't care. I could have been killed but I had to do something," Ogungbure told SPIEGEL ONLINE last week. "I thought to myself, what can I do to get them as angry as they have made me? Then when I lifted my arm I saw the anger in their faces and I started to laugh."
"I've faced some sort of racist abuse at about half the matches I've played," he said, but the spitting was too much on March 25. "I've never seen anyone spit at a dog or a cat in Germany -- why should I be spat at?"
Anyway, Berlin has lots of clubs not playing in the Bundesliga - and some of them, like Türkyemspor do interesting political work - to find them one needs to follow the love, not the money!

Friday, May 7, 2010

A brief note on "Los Suns"

On Cinco de Mayo Phoenix wore "Los Suns" shirts to protest Arizona's Senate Bill 1070 - a jaw-dropping bit of racist, xenophobic legislation. The Suns' decision has sparked much discussion about the place of politics in sports. 

The idea that politics can be kept out of sport is giant fiction. If you are allowed to ignore the politics of your team's owners, it is only because this makes it easier for them to line their pockets.

For those wondering where the Suns got their "Los Suns" shirts, I thought I'd share the following: The "Los Suns" shirt comes out of "Noche Latina" - an annual NBA promotional gesture towards Latino fans, in which teams housed in cities with a large Latino market wear jerseys sporting their names as spoken in Spanish by fans (e.g. "El Heat", "Los Spurs" and, my favorite - though not my favorite team - "Los Lakers.")

A marketing gesture intended to acknowledge (and "monetize") Latino fans of NBA teams returns to the court as a provocative statement about what it means for NBA teams to support their fans.

If you want more on this topic, listen to this conversation between Dave Zirin and Greg Esposito. Zirin lists other instances in which sports is politicized openly - the owners of baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks have used their teams as platforms to raise money for Arizona Republicans, and to organize against abortion rights. It's a good long discussion and heats up pretty quickly. Well I guess we can be glad that soccer isn't baseball.  Except, of course, it is.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

WPS gives us the publicity campaign we've been looking for!

This campaign is the first I've seen for the WPS that looks like it was designed by people who play and/or watch the sport. Previous publicity for the women's game seemed aimed at parents looking for a family-friendly activity on their weekend afternoons.

The new campaign for the 2010 WPS season features game highlights, rapid editing, and a rousing, militaristic score. It's actually quite traditional - when promoting men's sports.  The nearest that an ad for women's soccer has gotten to this one was a Gatorade commercial, featuring Mia Hamm and Michael Jordan.  One of the neat twists about this new concept: It centers on defense, and luxuriates in images of toughness.  

Defend Your Turf

Accompanying this ad is a series of team-specific billboard projections. Like:

Defend Your Freedom

Defend Chicago

I can't get enough of this bill board projection of Megan Rapinoe - especially when she heads the ball into the air - as the ball goes off the screen, plaster and ceiling tile falls from the sky as if she's sent the ball "through the roof."

I look forward to more unapologetic publicity that foregrounds the strength, ability, aggression and competitiveness of the female athlete.  Bravo to the WPS for getting this one right.
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