This may be the most violent World Cup in recent history. The average number of yellow and red cards per game is the lowest since 1986, yet the players are bigger and faster, the fields smaller, hotter and wetter. As a result, the ball moves faster, there is less space, less midfield play and coaches like Brazil’s Scolari set out to destroy their opponent’s rhythm through systematic fouls. The injuries are not worse only because the physical condition of the athletes is so high and their tolerance for physical abuse nearly comic. It is clear that FIFA has told their referees to keep their cards in their pockets and the result has been shocking injuries (concussions, broken bones, torn ligaments, fractured vertebrae).
This is also the World Cup in which the FIFA television producers have delighted in bringing us the violence in ultra slow motion. The beauty of dribbles, crosses, feints and smooth athleticism is not shown with as much care and detail as are the kicks in the face, cleats to the knee, stomps on the ankle and collisions of heads. We are glued to the set as we watch the violent meeting of sweaty, striving human bodies performing for our benefit. There are no consequences at home, just a grim pleasure in the money shot of human pain.
Violence has become such a fundamental element of spectatorship that we don’t give it much thought, nor consider our own reactions to it. Yet when a big name goes out with an injury no one can talk about anything else. This violence exists in visual contrast to and in philosophical concert with the infantilization and sexualization of World Cup marketing. All over Brazil there are ads for the World Cup that feature cartoon characters or beautiful people with their mouths wide open. The mascotization of professional sports lures children and their parents into a hyper-commercialized arena where events happen but have no consequence. How are children to react when they see a boot to the face or a knee in the back? They will take their cues from those around them. Sadly, no one seems to mind that the fusion of football and MMA and open-mouthed, infantile, consumerist desire (just don`t bite!) have been hidden behind a handshake for peace.
Of course, FIFA has no consistency when applying discipline. Suarez received a four month ban for an impulsive and childish but ultimately harmless bite whereas Neymar received no further punishment for his deliberate elbow to Croatia`s Modric, Mautidi received no further punishment for breaking Onazi`s ankle. Innumerable other instances of ultra-violence have gone unpunished throughout the tournament.
Many years ago there was more variety in the ways in which the world watched the Cup. Television producers could choose the cameras and sequences that they wanted to show and there were more television stands in the stadiums. I’m not sure when it happened, but now the only narrative of a game is that which FIFA’s production crew delivers. The cut away to coaches on the sidelines, the slow motion replays, the camera angles for particular moments of the game, in short, everything we see and interpret of the game is dictated by a FIFA producer in a truck. Not only are we “all in one rhythm” in the stadium but on the outside we are all in a singular televisual sequence. This homogenization allows FIFA to control completely who represents fans (beautiful women and carnavalesque men), what sequence of events led to a particular outcome, and the global interpretation of localized events. This also means we are exposed to the FIFA porn for as long as we continue to watch.
|An overpass fell on Neymar, now do you care?|
There is a human desire for the dramatic, beautiful, terrible and violent that makes this a profitable endeavor. We don’t wake up after 120 minutes of football with anything but a hangover. The athletes wake up in traction. And while the degree to which Brazilians have rallied to Neymar’s bedside is impressive, there has been more outpouring of public sympathy for the broken vertebrae of a multi-millionaire footballer than for the families of the people who were killed in an overpass collapse in Belo Horizonte last week. I was expecting that there would be some questioning, some insinuation that the World Cup projects were too hastily constructed, with not enough oversight, with few control mechanisms and that this bridge collapse would expose the problems of the mega-event business model in which national and local politicians use the political smokescreen of the event to release public funds to contract their friends in industry to build over-priced infrastructure that may or may not serve the long-term needs of the public, when it doesn’t fall and kill them. This is the deeper pornography of the World Cup that we should think about as traffic gets rerouted for the semi-final in Belo Horizonte.