ABC’s Rock-N-Roll Sports Classic (1978)

Music was different. Sport was different. Television was different. Courtesy of Please Kill Me.

Second Sex, Artificial Turf

images

If we needed proof that the people who govern the beautiful game do not see women as real athletes, we need look no further than FIFA’s decision to play the 2015 Women’s World Cup on artificial turf. Players have been angry since was this announced; a complaint of gender discrimination has been filed with Canadian courts. Artificial turf forces a different game: tackling is different, injuries are different, the speed/pace of the game is different. You can play harder when the ground is softer. Football’s Sith Lords probably figured that women would prefer the artificial turf because it’s prettier and doesn’t stain.

The women’s game is treated by FIFA as charity work that serves to justify its monopoly over the “real” sport. Note the opening page of “The Laws of the Game,” which categorizes women as disabled players for whom the rules might be adjusted. If FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association wanted to move the goal posts, make the field smaller, the match shorter, if they wanted to make women play with smaller balls, they could. They could do none of these things for men, unless those men were not men but children. Or over 35. Or disabled.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 11.00.53 PM

If I were going after FIFA as a player, I’d call for a BOYCOTT. I’d demand that this “exception” for the women’s game be wiped from the books, and that FIFA change its leadership—dramatically. A few professional players might have a lot of success organizing amateur and semi-pro players—the bulk of the Women’s World Cup roster—especially players from countries where the administration of the women’s game is fucked up. Which is most places.

Sepp Blatter is as much a sexist bastard as Avery Brundage was an abominable racist. Why stop with a demand for real grass? How about a demand for real change!

 

Super Slow Motion and Rocky’s Ghost

skycam view

a skycam view

While watching the 2014 FIFA World Cup I got obsessed by the cameras used in the production of the broadcast. FIFA produces a single feed for all media outlets through a company called Host Broadcast Services. There were, according to HBS, “up to 34″ cameras in use at each match. The field was saturated with cameras. Sometimes we got a thrilling bird’s eye view thanks to the Skycam. But at other times it could be hard to assess the field of play: instead it was all close-ups and slow-motion. The constant use of super slow motion could sometimes squeeze a sense of agony from any gesture or action, no matter how banal. Or it could remove all force from a tackle, all intention from a dive. I’m not convinced, in other words, that more is more when it comes to visual information.

I watched the tournament with an artist who happens to be researching the development of different kinds of cameras. He explained to me that many of the cameras that define sports broadcasts were invented by the same guy—and that the story of those cameras goes back to one of the most famous sports films of all time, Rocky. I wrote about my friend’s project for KCET’s Artbound. Below are the opening paragraphs, and a link to the full story.

Rocky Balboa’s run up the wide steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the most iconic scenes in American cinema; we can easily recall his gesture, on reaching the top: hands in the air, in triumph. These steps are in the local news again: The Philadelphia Museum of Art is expanding. Frank Gehry’s design involves cutting out a large section right down the middle: straight along, in other words, Rocky’s path.

As part of an ongoing investigation of the relationship of the body to the camera, the Los Angeles-based artist Adrià Julià found himself climbing those steps. In the past year, Julià has interviewed cinematographers and camera operators in Los Angeles and Paris and conducted a series of experiments. These short films, sculptures, lenticular prints, choreographic studies attempt to pull the embodied experiences of filmmaking into his own practice.

Julià was drawn to Rocky’s ascent because that scene is associated with the origin of the Steadicam — one of the most important inventions in cinema history. The Steadicam moves with but also against the cameraperson’s body; balancing itself as that person moves. A 2008 profile in ICG magazine (the magazine and website for the International Cinematographers Guild) reviews the history of its development with reverence, tracing each step in the process as Garret Brown and his collaborators arrived at this device that seemed to have a life of its own. One cinematographer remembers, “‘in the early days, the Steadicam operator was treated like he had his own little bag of voodoo.'”

Brown has gone on to create more magical devices, including many of the cinematic tools used in major sporting events — such as the World Cup — flycams that run with the athlete along the length of a track or a field; skycams suspended by wires that can swoop over the field of play like a bird. He has even created underwater cameras, used to capture the swimmer’s body as she races down the lane. The Steadicam, however, is the device that made Brown’s career.

In 1974, Brown produced a reel demonstrating what his camera could do with the aim of bringing his invention to Hollywood. On that reel is a film of Ellen Brown, his wife, running down, and then up, the museum’s steps. (The two lived in Philadelphia.) When the team producing “Rocky” saw Brown’s reel, they decided to set the film in the city of brotherly love so that its hero could run up those steps, just as Ellen had done. Ellen, in other words, is the reason “Rocky” is a Philadelphia story.

[FULL STORY]

A People’s Cup

Each broadcast of FIFA’s World Cup opened with plastic samba and cartoon favelas—the actual streets of Brazil were off-limits as far as FIFA’s marketing department was concerned. They are not up to standard, and so they were replaced, like so much else.

Around the world, however, people practice the sport according to a different set of guidelines.  Las Futbolistas, for example, offer a weekly kickabout where “anti-sexist, anti-imperialist, liberation-minded lovers of the sport [can] go to relearn the game.” This past weekend, the Los Angeles collective staged a small game in Skid Row, a neighborhood in downtown LA with a large homeless community. They then marched to the Federal Detention Center, and projected the 3rd place match on a wall across the street from the building. Las Futbolistas were kind enough to share video highlights from the day.

 

Sports Play (an excerpt)

Two passages from Austrian playwright Elfriede Jelinek’s Sports Play (trans. Penny Black):

So many people with personal drive. Then, all at once, as if the stroke of an invisible clock had smashed something in their skulls and reset them to an imaginary tune, they are ticking to the same beat. They grab their sports equipment and thrash each other, smash the bowls that previously they’d held up in front of a prettily-set breakfast table or in the pub, in order to take a swig from their neighbor’s. Well, cheers! Now they are giving him one and how! Bottoms up! Heads down! (40)

Bones crack, tendons rip, veins burst, ligaments stretch, but somehow someway they survive. In sport the human bodies are like pizza boxes or disposable cups: at first they’re beautiful, and then they’re used, even abused. Nevertheless they’re washable and easy to clean…. (52)

All in one rhythm!

FIFA, Adidas, and Marina Abramovic

Above is an Adidas-sponsored re-performance of a collaboration between artists Marina Abramović and Ulay. The original work was part of a long series of experiments in the possibilities of relation-in-performance. Many of those performances had strong durational elements to them: the 1978 performance cited here involved just the two of them moving stones around in buckets. Abramović outsources the work to 11 performers for this contribution to the Adidas World Cup campaign. We watch 11 people engaged in a pointless task. Seems pretty apt.

Folks in the art world are furrowing their brows.

The FIFA/Adidas/Abramović collaboration is grotesque. But I don’t recall art critics frowning when Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno collaborated with Zidane—and Adidas, and La Liga—in their production, Zidane: un portrait du 21e siècle (2006). That work was only possible because Adidas saw it as good publicity. A reminder of this, for me: about five years ago, I tried to develop a program on experimental football cinema to propose to the Nike theater in Hollywood: the project fell apart because the Nike folks saw Zidane as an Adidas film.

I also don’t recall there being much irritation when Kehinde Whiley produced his 2010 advertisements for Puma. LACMA has been using that work all summer to advertise its exhibition Fútbol: The Beautiful Game. You will see this gorgeous ad for Puma’s “Africa Unity” kit on banners across Los Angeles. When male artists work with the commercial structures of football, folks in the art world enjoy the chance to feel like one of the guys. But when a woman does it, she’s whoring herself?

Kehinde Wiley, Samuel Eto'o (2010)

Kehinde Wiley, Samuel Eto’o (2010)

I’m not one to give Abramović a pass. But, excepting the medium (performance-based work v. visual art), I don’t see that she’s doing anything that much more awful than what blue-chip contemporary visual artists do pretty routinely. Why, review FIFA’s expensive special edition art posters. A complete set costs $6,589.99. There you will find an impressive (shameful!) array of artists who have licensed their work to FIFA.

Marina Abramović’s recent collaborations with dumb celebrity annoy most everyone in the neighborhood of performance art. The performance cited here was developed outside the charnel house. Her collaborations with Ulay were intense. In their own way, they could be painfully sincere. The deployment of that performance history and archive (with its serious affect, black and white photography, etc) within the World Cup economy is gross, but it is perhaps no more or less gross than anything else circling this particular drain.

FIFA’s Official Poster for 2015: It’s Pretty

Canada 2015 Women's World Cup Poster

Long, flowing hair. Clearly beautiful. At the center of this poster’s story is an ambiguous relationship between a woman and a ball. Something about this reminds me of the association of women with “the land.” The beautiful game is beautiful, we are reassured, even when women play it. Especially if they have long flowing hair. Isn’t the poster beautiful? It’s is! Because I can’t see anything good in anything that FIFA does, I am a wee bit afraid of this:

pocahontas

So some things to celebrate. No ponytail, for example. Some things to furrow one’s brows over: no image of a woman in action.

A reminder of how the men’s game is pictured:

pressrelease_282663_1379007819

Not only are players figured into the design above; they are figured into the design as in competition with each other. It would be interesting to see a similar gesture applied to representing the women’s game—but, from an advertising/marketing perspective, this is one of the “no-go” zones in the women’s game. Women competing directly against each other, physically challenging each other? Not as pretty as flowing hair, pretty eyes and high cheekbones.

That said, the 2015 Women’s World Cup has the best World Cup mascot ever. EVER. Someone please make me a lucha libre version of this:

owl

Goal Deficit: a note on Brazil’s loss and David Luiz’s tears

Luiz

The World Cup is an intensely produced spectacle. Each goal is a world-defining event. The televisual audience watching from home, thousands of miles from the stadium, luxuriates in the experience of proximity to the match. We race down the pitch behind an attack, we are inside the goal as the ball hits the back of the net. Players rush across the field to celebrate, a camera suspended from wires flies behind and above them, like a bird. Suddenly, we’ve parachuted into the celebratory huddle. We are as close to the players’ ecstasy as they are to each other. Cut to views of jubilant crowds watching in public parks and in bars across the country. A goal yields a surplus of joy.

But oh, when the event goes sour!

A goal is only pleasurable in an economy of scarcity. In a match like today’s, in which a team is simply annihilated, a surplus of goals ruins the story. One side takes what it wants; the other is helpless.

There is no suspense, there is no release. First there is only shock, and shame. Then we settle into the grim situation. Perhaps a cold curiosity takes over. A team knows that it is lost, and there are still 70 minutes to play. We watch the rest of the match, bearing witness to the humanity of the losing side.

A realism shadows the broadcast. It is the shadow of an alternate world to the World Cup—the shadow cast by the world in which we live.

David Luiz, in a post-match interview, cries openly. (The women in Émile Zola’s novels grow more beautiful as they are beaten by their lovers; something about this scene reminds me of this.)

Through his tears, Luiz apologies. He “wanted to bring joy to the people who suffer so much.” He and his team failed—of course they did. Not even the people running this event—the show runners—believe that the success or the failure of the World Cup rides on any single team’s performance, or even that it will be measured by the quality of the spectator’s pleasure. It will be measured by the seamlessness of the production and the direction of capital flow.

As Luiz cries, he and his teammates are carried away by the tide.

The Last Minute

Godfried Donkor, SANTO MARADONNA vs SIX OPPONENTS, 2006

Godfried Donkor, SANTO MARADONNA vs SIX OPPONENTS, 2006

At the knock-out stage of the World Cup we march through 90-minute deserts, or we are teased with the possibility of another world only to have those hopes dashed by a victory which asserts the relentless stability of the order of things.

A match may take the form of a siege. Opponents wear each other down with a negative effort. Play feels slowed down or sluggish. As one gets deeper into a tournament the fear of losing overcomes the desire to win until, finally, the latter asserts itself in the form of a late substitution (Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku, in the 91st minute, against the US) or cynical play (Netherland’s Arjen Robben, in the 94th, against Mexico). Did Argentina and Switzerland play a match? It was hard to tell.

The conservative smothers the creative. Is this why the stadium was nearly silent as Brazil sank into a quagmire of anxiety? For the host country, even fans are done in by this particular form of dread—the misery of the winner who is really a loser, the most spectacular loser of them all, afraid the world will suddenly discover this ugly truth. What do we do with the fact that Brazil advanced not on the back of its play, but by virtue of being the luckier party in a Russian roulette penalty shoot-out? Even the one point they scored during the match was negative: although attributed to Luiz, it was at least partially an own-goal, having been deflected by poor Jara (who would miss his penalty and thereby sacrifice Chile to the Order).

If we are lucky, we see action in the form of the save. A team strikes at the goalie, over and over again. This excites us but it also distracts us. After we relaxed into the delusion that Tim Howard’s goal line is a wall (perhaps because it is past the point at which the match should have ended)—a new player pops onto the field and shows us that all along his team was only toying with us. We—by which I mean not the players so much as the fans—were always cannon fodder. Our delusions, food for the television camera.

Mexican Gothic (puto is a curse!)

Mexican Gothic

In honor of today’s match—at once startling and completely predictable—I share Ángel Zárraga’s gorgeous 1927 portrait of Ramón Novarro as a futbolista. Novarro (who moved to Los Angeles early in his career) was one of the original Latin Lovers. He starred in Scaramouche (1923), Ben Hur (1925), and Mata Hari (1931). He played Juan Diego in La virgen que forjó una patria (1942), a film celebrating one of Mexico’s origin stories: the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Diego in 1531. Diego was beatified and canonized only recently; he is the first indigenous person in the Americas to be recognized by the Roman Catholic church as a saint. But I digress.

Ramón Novarro was gay, and he was murdered in Los Angeles by two (white) men on, of all things, October 30, 1968 – the day before Halloween and Day of the Dead celebrations. The murder was a grisly, awful affair.

This brings us to today’s match. The ESPN broadcast opened with an awkward explanation of the “puto” situation. It was, perhaps, the first trigger warning issued in sports broadcast history.

Fans of El Tri shout “PUTO” every time the opponent kicks a dead ball (goal kicks, free kicks, etc.). After Mexico’s first match, a watchdog organization filed a complaint with FIFA regarding the use of the word by fans in the stands. FIFA, unable to use the word “homophobic” in a sentence, decided that the chant is “not considered insulting in this context.” Obviously it is insulting; the question is whether “puto” is homophobic. No one can defend the word itself as never homophobic. Juliana Jimenez Jamarillo (writing for Slate) explains:

Fans yell puto, which roughly means gay prostitute, at the opposing team’s goalkeeper as a tactic to distract him from his task, a common enough practice in all sports. In this case, the chant is a very specific, homophobic double-entendre, playing on the concept of letting someone “score a goal on you.” In Spanish, to score a goal is meter un gol. That translates literally as to put a goal in, so when a goalie fails at his job, he dejó que se la metieran, or allowed someone to stick it in. You see where this is going: The embarrassment of allowing a goal in your net is akin to being on the receiving end of anal sex—you know, like a gay guy. (Jamarillo, “What’s the Puto Problem?”)

There wasn’t much anyone could do, ESPN host Bob Ley explained. The feed isn’t controlled by ESPN, and who can control fans? (One might say FIFA—they bans drums and trumpets and changed Brazilian law so that alcohol—Budweiser!—might be sold in the stadium.)

Lest we shrug off a stadium of (mostly) men shouting “puto” as merely a jinx on the opponent, let us remember gay men who have been brutally murdered at the hands of other men. Maybe by inviting men into their homes, or maybe by simply walking down the street.

For a couple weeks, we have listened to tens of thousands of fans chanting a word that means gay, but also “fucked.” And we’ve had little good commentary about how that situation is fucked up. It isn’t new (I’ve heard “puto” at Chivas USA matches, for example), but that doesn’t make it OK. Behind that word are quite specific histories of violence, aimed at quite specific people.

Also not new—Mexico fans exiting, with their team, at exactly this point of the World Cup.

Were I in the stands supporting El Tri, I might choose a different word when taunting the enemy. Not only for how “puto” works in a homophobic lexicon, but for how well it predicts Mexico’s path through every international tournament. If understanding the word’s homophobic resonances does not work for fans, perhaps a vocabulary shift might be made in the name of superstition.

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