Wednesday, June 19, 2013

All in One Rhythm: Brazil Rejects the Pure Spectacle

The people taking to the streets in Brazil are demonstrating the only right and true response to the militarized boondoggle of international sports festivals like FIFA's World Cup and the Olympics. These are serial spectacles - a rotating cast and set acting out the same story over and over again - a massive fiction about fairness and a "level playing field." It is fiction in the sense of the lie, the scam. The complicity of any government with the production of these spectacles is a scandal.

from Christopher Gaffney's Geostadia
The level field of the pure spectacle is flattened by bulldozers, helicopters and police. The formal image of the World Cup: a green rectangle of the best grass for the best game - a painted-on Imperial green that registers nicely in HD and bears no resemblance whatsoever to the fields that the world's people actually play on. Our own lived experience of the game is mediated through it. The beautiful game is turned into a game of deficits - the distance between that artificial image of the perfect conditions and the actual conditions in which we live, work, play - that distance itself is captured, packaged and sold to us as a form of global longing - a shared spectator experience that we indulge every four years and from which we turn away, like uncertain addicts - disgusted with ourselves and with the things we want. (This is why I am not going to the World Cup.)

It may seem a strange moment for me to remind you of Brazil's women's team. The CBF has never done right by the women's team. They are still here nevertheless as embodiments of everything FIFA resents. The impure spectacle, the spectacle of intense skill and joy that takes us all by surprise every time we see it because we consume it through a system determined to forget every sick pass, every goal or supernatural save. A system that can't hold onto her joy - for that kid of joy is a poison to its system. So a women's club will win its national title before an all but empty stadium. A player might grow her hair long and indulge a manager's impulse to put her in a uniform so tight it doesn't allow her to move her arms. But she knows it won't work. She remains an irritant to the apparatus. A grain of sand, a splinter.

Perhaps this is why FIFA wants women to play their World Cup on plastic. Or why we forget that people have organized international tournaments for women (e.g Mexico, 1970) - at a time when supposedly nobody cared - and these games drew massive audiences (e.g. Estadio Azteca, 110,000). I can hardly get myself wound up about the "failure" of women's soccer. I like to think of the dogged failure of the women's game to attract as a sign. It is an unspectacular spectacle, an impure spectacle of the lowest order.
From a PRI story, "The Struggle for Equality in Brazil" 
Given that the men's world cup is in essence Moloch's game, I find it hard to root for "equity" for the women's. Instead, I like to remember the activist and egalitarian spirit of the women's game as a counterpoint. FIFA hates women, FIFA hates feminists - and in this simple fact we see that it actually hates the grassroots it purports to nurture - the same grassroots spirit it appropriates as a marketing strategy - the favela fantasy, the favela as the soul of the game - the "slum," the "street" rendered in one commercial after another (teeming with life and with talent) from an actual community into the commodity's patina.

Demonstrators in Brazil are telling us what we already know: we need to hate these systems back - properly, and in numbers. It is not enough to want a "better" World Cup, just as it not enough to want the state to be more efficient in the ways that it strips our educational, health care and transportation systems for parts, to build higher fences and thicker walls. 

There is a lot of good writing about what is happening in Brazil right now. I recommend Christopher Gaffney's blog Geostadia, from which I pulled the photo at the top of this post. It's a smart starting place for the English-language reader. Check out this post on Social Text too

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