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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The World Cup Is Nice And All, But...

Posted By on Wed, Jun 16, 2010 at 2:53 PM

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Nick Baker is a new intern here at Scene. He wanted to write about the World Cup. Here's what he came up with.

The World Cup has finally arrived and has done so in such bombastic fashion that it's hard to believe anyone could perceive this event as anything less than a global phenomenon.

These events, when plopped down in countries known 'round the world for human rights atrocities, are seen as ways to put the bright Western spotlight on our favorite parts of formerly unfavorable parts of the globe.

It's the whole, "We gave 'em Coca-Cola, let's show everybody how they've made them their own!" mentality, the one that shows kids dribbling soccer balls around shanty towns then stopping to take cool drinks of Coke. And if you take to believing general media hype and all the showy pomp and circumstance that surrounds these tournaments, it's pretty easy to forget that South Africa, host nation to this year's Cup, is rife with violence against women, poverty, disease, a life expectancy that tops out around 50 and the lasting sting of that less-than-desirable apartheid thing.

The marketing campaign for the World Cup has been relentless and unprecedented. The marketing campaigns, however, are terrifyingly remiss when it comes to inconvenient truths. Even in Vancouver, the tribal-themed Olympic logo did little to ease the suffering of Native American's whose land was taken for either Olympic-related facilities or facilities built to cater to the influx of people.

This year's World Cup went for an over-the-top, hip and very Western concert as the crown jewel of the opening ceremonies. And, unless those weird cyclops mascots cooked up by the English for the London 2012 games can put on the show of their short lives (and man, I hope they are short), we will be hard pressed to forget the mechanized, precisely choreographed and technically flawless Opening Ceremony from Beijing.

Aside from the scary opening ceremonies, behind Michael Phelps' record-setting eight-gold performance and the shear amazement brought on by athletes like Usain Bolt, what people don't remember about the Beijing games is that some 1.5 million people were displaced to make way for the now-abandoned Olympic complexes, including the lavish Bird's Nest stadium. And when you get displaced in China, you are shit outta luck. Just ask the Tibetans.

The supposed highlight of this year's World Cup concert was a performance from Somalia-by-way-of-Canada's K'naan of his anthemic "Wavin' Flag," a song so uplifting that it harkens back to the likes of Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky." For the cup concert, however, K'naan totally dropped the original first verse, which makes brief and outright references to the violence and poverty he experienced as a boy in Somalia, and replaced it with a boring, impotent verse (repeated twice) which was undoubtedly encouraged by the cup's marketing squad and could've been written by a fifth-grader with an above-average vocabulary.

Though officially dubbed a "remix," the song basically sounds the same, with the same melody and hook and one of the two original verses, so it hardly has been remixed in any fashion. But why bother bringing down the mood with poverty and violence when you can sing about the celebratory atmosphere of the World Cup? It's not like any of that stuff exists in Africa anymore, and if you watch any commercials at all, you know that is solely thanks to the World Cup. I just want to know how many South Aficans missed the concert because they don't have televisions, and how many more could never afford to be there.

But for a second, let's take the advice of the advertisers and forget about shoving old skeletons back in the closet. Instead, we can examine ESPN's "Outside the Lines" which recently aired a 12-minute piece called "Human Trafficking and the World Cup," which highlighted the seedy sex trade currently experiencing a boom in cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg thanks to all the horny international traffic. Apparently, brothels have been popping up around these cities for the last year (coincidentally, many of the women exploited are Chinese). Pimps and madames have made no bones about setting up shop in anticipation of the nearly half-million people descending just on Cape Town alone.

I get it. Sports are supposed to be this great leveler. Just look at the face Hitler wore when he watched Jesse Owens in Berlin in 1938, or for that matter, look at Michael Phelps stealing China's thunder in 2008. But sometimes, sports simply act as a masking agent. It's easy to forget that while the whole country was treated to an All-Star Game at the House that Loot Built last year, the Bronx Bombers' neighborhood homeless were quietly escorted from the area by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who might as well have handed one-way plane tickets to other cities to the resident vagrants himself.

It's easy to forget, in such a sport-centric society, that certain shadowy enterprises often accompany the games we love so much. Cleveland sports get loud, historic attention for things like Ten-Cent Beer Night in 1974 or the infamous bottlegate at the Browns-Jaguars game in 2001, but I wonder if anyone would so much as bat an eye if the Browns made it to the playoffs with home-field advantage (I know, but stay with me) and a whorehouse popped up somewhere between the Science Center and the stadium.

I guess as long as we had a good enough marketing team, no one, except maybe the interested Johns or those watching "Outside the Lines," would even know. But as I learned on day one in tee-ball, you keep your eyes on the game, not what's going on in the stands or off the field. -Nick Baker

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