Friday, January 12, 2007

Soma

Aldous Huxley’s groundbreaking dystopian novel ‘Brave New World’ introduced us to the fictional drug soma.
Soma is a drug that keeps the masses in check. It deludes them into thinking they’re happy in the utopian state, even though the world around them is actually crumbling.
As stated on Wikipedia, soma is an ‘…”opiate of the masses" that replaces religion and alcohol in a peaceful, but morally controversial, high-tech society far in the future.'

This idea got me thinking about football.

In general, football is a sort of soma. It diverts attention away from the struggles of society and onto the happenings on the pitch. Man vs. man on the soccer field, not the battlefield. And should your tribe win, you’re giddy with excitement.

All over the world, people are exploited and abused. People starve, individuals die, wars are raged and despot’s pockets are filled.
Yet the one constant is this: football is the most popular sport in the world.
How does this relate?
Well, I don’t have the memory space to get into that. That’s one of the scopes of this blog. I hope over the years to have a broader understanding of this phenomenon; how football, politics and society mix.

But the idea is this, as stated to me by a dear friend (ok, my girlfriend! Love ya, babe!):

“Football -- it all has the same meaning in the end. An escape, a brotherhood, something to put above the hardships and struggles.”

I’m recalling anecdotes in Phil Ball’s wonderful work about La Liga, ‘Morbo’. In it, he talks about the hardships Catalans faced under the fierce dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. He banished their language, ideals and customs and instilled a forced Spanish way of life.
But one thing he allowed was Catalan to be spoken at the home stadium of FC Barcelona, the Catalan football club.
It wasn’t only spoken, but shouted from the terraces.
People took this time to voice their vicious opposition to Franco’s mistreatment.
During General’s Cup games, when Franco was present, supporters took the opportunity to let ‘El Generalisimo’ know exactly how they felt.

Why did Franco allow this?
It’s argued Franco thought the people wouldn’t revolt if they put all their suppressed nationalistic energy into their football club. Instead of fighting him, Franco thought the people would use the club as a vehicle to confront injustice. Franco’s pet football squad, Real Madrid, became the whipping boy.
Long after Franco’s death in 1975, El Clasico is still the fiercest, most passionate, politically charged football match in the world.
Games in Barcelona’s home pitch, Nou Camp, look like political rallies when Real Madrid visits. The crowd takes the time to show their opinions by holding aloft giant placards that spell out ‘Catalonia is not Spain’ in English for the nearly 3 billion people watching worldwide.

Just an example, but a brief look as to how football can shape society.
But what got me thinking is, what about these extreme injustices we read about everyday? War in Iraq, genocide in Sudan, AIDS rampant in Africa and on and on? The hardships of the working class, the rotting of our cities, the general indifference to our fellow man’s suffering, especially from the First World?

Football is a diversion in a world filled with hardships. This is just a hypothesis, but I’d think it to be true:
There’s not much fun in a poor person’s life. Getting up in the morning is a hardship. Little food, little discretionary leisure time, backbreaking physical work, even getting on the bus is an act of faith, what with the wild driving and faulty brakes.
People eek out small moments of amusement. Drinking, unprotected sex, drug use. And soccer.
Clan mentality plays into it. Relations with others and the ‘water cooler’ mentality of having common interests to talk about is a big draw.

But there’s more and I’m not sure I can put my finger on it.

Is it the artistic nature of the game? The way it dulls the pain of everyday life? The joy of seeing a neighborhood child run out onto the pitch and become a local hero, even international superstar? The identification with the poor who becomes rich?

Soccer’s a beautiful game. But in some ways, it clouds society. Instead of facing the daunting problems, we play them out on the pitch. This isn’t a bad thing.

I’m just wondering if we’re drinking too much soma.

More on this later …

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