Before air travelers sported fashionable multi-colored, noise- cancelling headphones, flight attendants would offer passengers a tiny handful of plastic-wrapped ear-buds and coo sweetly, “You may take them with you,” as if they were your new priceless Bose-buds.
You had to face-plant yourself in your seatmate’s lap and plug them into some unreachably intimate place behind their knee. They never worked. Thus, over years of air travel I have watched many movies without sound and have had to make up my own storylines. “Snakes on a Plane” is an allegory about Adam and Eve, right?
I live with Sporty Spice, so I’m also a big fan of sports mutability. While watching Wimbledon, unless I want to share a pova, I mute the semi-porn shrieking and groaning during rallies, then un-mute for Martina Navratilova’s insightful commentary. Though I always found John Madden’s Monday Night Football commentary a helpful sleep aid, I am not allowed to touch the mute button during football games. I’ve learned to disassociate through the Sunday NYT crossword puzzle. The NFL Red Zone, crack for football fans, is more compulsively seductive for excitement addicts, but I have learned to resist.
For a week now, World Cup Soccer coverage has been on, mostly muted, in our house. Since we seem to have work to do, we walk by, check the score, watch for a few minutes, then go back to whatever. Next Cup, I want split screens of the amazing footwork, so coverage doesn’t look like 22 tiny figures swarming back and forth on a pool table. We could get a better TV. I love the crowd reaction shots. But perhaps because we have had it on mute, or ESPN has, we had not heard the ugly racist and homophobic slurs in what they call The Beautiful Game. No doubt the omni-present buzz of vuvuzelas of South Africa’s World Cup had drowned it out four years ago.
Of course, I knew the ugliness. For years there have been drunken hooligans rioting at soccer games. I assumed they weren’t fighting over parking. In an Eastern European game, a racist tossed a banana at the feet of Barcelona’s Dani Alves. But Alves picked it up, peeled it and with cool, slow defiance, ate it. At the World Cup, Croatian and Russian fans have been reported unfurling neo-Nazi banners. Mexican fans chanted ‘puto’ during Cameroon and Brazil’s kicks on their goal. ‘Puto’ a male variant of ‘puta,’ Spanish for prostitute, translates into ‘fag,’ ‘man-whore’ or ‘coward.’
The racism and homophobia are not new. The sexism that implies that it’s still OK to yell ‘puta’ is as old as machismo. What is new is that it is not being muted by Univision or conversation-stifling excuses of ‘you don’t understand our culture’ or ‘free expression.’ The accusation of political correctness is not working. PC always translates as ‘shut-up’. What is new is that FIFA has an anti-racism task force and FARE is an anti-discrimination group monitoring abusive fan behavior at the World Cup. Slowly, the made-up storyline that it’s all in good fan fun is changing.
Time will tell if FIFA’s zero-tolerance stance on racism will also apply to homophobia. Actually changing fan behavior would involve an examination of colonialism and nationalism, and there go the Adidas, Hundai and Coke sponsorships. It also involves pumping up the volume in a full-throated condemnation of the dislocation of poor people for stadium construction, the exploitation of workers, the suppression of protest and the graft and corruption in hosting huge sporting events. Did someone just yell “Putin”?