Shadows, Modernity and Drama at the World Cup

Agony.  Pure unadulterated agony.  If you just watched the USA squeak by Algeria as I just did you know what I mean.  I wanted to wait to see if the USA qualified to advance before this second post to determine my authorial sentiment from this point on.  Hope lives for the USA.  (Please excuse my bias once more…it’s just been a long time coming to not be embarrassed on the world stage)

Hope almost lived on for South Africa and Bafana Bafana.  For the space of about 26 minutes there was the sentiment that perhaps the miracle would happen, particularly after the second goal of the first half.  For that brief interlude when the commentators referred to the possibility of the host country advancing, the parties that would be occurring throughout the country, the unification of the population not felt for years, and pondering if Madiba himself in his frail condition was watching somewhere….I could not help but think of Allister Sparks and his book Beyond the Miracle and the whole idea of South African democracy, perhaps waning in an ever increasing neoliberal era. But, unfortunately the goal count would not occur and the French scored as well.

In what would have been a wonderful francophone neocolonial reverse gift the French almost fully imploded in order to let South Africa possibly advance against all odds.  The stellar and redeeming performance by Bafana Bafana thwarted what would have been an overwhelming commentary on the drama of the French side.  The commentary on the French implosion and it’s linkage to a stereotypical French national identity have been overwhelming to say the least. The whole world was watching the French team on Tuesday for all the wrong reasons. My favorite moment came from the PRI show ‘The World’ when a French journalist recommended that the coach only come back to France in a rowboat.  I would have thought this to be a bit over the top until Raymond Domenech refused to shake the hand of the South African coach after the match.  Well, as the ESPN commentators noted, “Perhaps a little too much drama.”

The French implosion threatened to overshadow the tournament, which leads me to James Ferguson and the book Global Shadows. As Ferguson discusses and offered up by a conversation with one of my students, globalization supposedly refers to the entire globe, but in the current world market Africa is most often secluded and is seen as an “inconvenient case” wherein they are unable to provide a significant market and depend upon foreign investment.  In this sense, a shadow is cast over the entire continent symbolizing the political, economic, and sovereign weakness that is often recognized from a western standpoint. The fact that capital within the world market does not “flow” from one place to another is often overlooked. Rather, the exchange of capital, images, and goods work in a criss-cross motion, skipping over and excluding large areas. These excluded regions are often criticized for lacking modernity (as determined by western standards). But, Ferguson suggests that there are alternative forms of modernity that exist in every society and documents this in several instances while warning of an advancing neoliberalism.

Are we seeing that alternative form of modernity in Africa recognized now by the fact that South Africa is actually succeeding as a host for this global event?  Does this mean that South Africa and perhaps Africa will be regarded in a different sense?  Ethnic based tourism is already there (more on that next post via the Comaroffs), but the infrastructure…that’s the issue.

In the meantime, the morphing of the vuvuzela into a punch line in joke after joke may deserve its own treatise now.  In a discussion of that other global event going on now involving a little yellow ball you hit with a racket back and forth across a net, the venerable columnist Frank Deford brilliantly let the sweet sound of the horn come up before saying that, no, he was not falling into that commentary trap.  Kudos to you Frank.  Has anyone checked out the Budweiser United website?  See you after a dramatic weekend assuredly.

6 thoughts on “Shadows, Modernity and Drama at the World Cup

  1. I am in Durban at the moment. Fact is when South Africa got the world cup (and for a few years after) it was pretty much presumed that (a) we’d never get the infrastructure built on time – especially the stadia (b) we wouldn’t have the electricity (c) no one would be able to get around the country (d) mobs of baying criminals were waiting to pounce on world cup visitors to rob and murder them.

    well: (a) the stadia all got built and are fantastic (b) we have the electricity (c) transport has not been a problem (d) so far (hey this is South Africa let’s not tempt fate) there have been no major incidents.

    What I find heartening from the world cup experience (sugaring the pill of the massive cost of it all) is that South Africa demonstrated to the world and itself what it is capable of when it applies its mind to something.

    Also – it is really nice to see SA get some positive press for a change.

  2. I watched in agony as Bafana Bafana beat France. Considering that SA was supposed to crash and burn as a host nation, and as a football team, I think that we can feel proud. And of course the victory of Ghana over the US last night was very sweet indeed.
    Some days it is easier to ignore the bad sides of the SWC!

  3. “And of course the victory of Ghana over the US last night was very sweet indeed.”

    The World Cup is barely on the radar of American popular culture, and yet our team beat out dozens of countries that are incredibly passionate about it. Consider it a gift. Can’t we all just be satisfied in the fact that France didn’t win?

  4. Rick,

    Sorry for only responding now on your (perhaps) rhetorical question. The broad American public may not be into the game, but the US team is ranked number 14 by FIFA. A Ghana win (ranked number 32) is a sweet victory for a team punching somewhat above its weight. The fact that it is an African team makes it even sweeter.

    Of course the Bafana Bafana victory (83) over France (9) is also very very sweet but also bitter sweet since SA didn’t make it pass the first round.

    My tickets are booked for Friday’s match between Uruguay and Ghana, and I hope that they will once again be able to knock out a higher ranking team.


  5. “The broad American public may not be into the game, but the US team is ranked number 14 by FIFA. A Ghana win (ranked number 32) is a sweet victory for a team punching somewhat above its weight.”

    That’s true. Actually, it’s pretty American to root for the underdog. If we were gonna lose then I’m glad it was Ghana and not England or France.

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