After the jump, a recap of last night’s softball game against n+1.
When Brazil and North Korea kick off this afternoon, it will be a one-sided matchup of, perhaps, the two most fashionable teams in the tournament. Brazil’s Seleçao is the tournament’s most skilled team and, under head coach Dunga, might be also its most disciplined, but international supporters find themselves drawn to the squad less for its status as favorites than for its country’s exported image of an enviable Carnival culture—exuberant, indulgent, scintillating, sexy.
The Hermit Kingdom is a more improbable fan favorite—an unknown team from an unknowable country, “as secretive about its. . . training as about its weapons buildup,” as one newspaper put it. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the North Korean team is, on average, two inches shorter than their South Korean counterparts—a height difference mirrored in still-diverging national averages—and it’s hard not to read into that fact the horrific history of growth stunted by North Korean famines.
North Korea does boast one star—Jong Tae-Se, known as “the People’s Rooney,” a native Japanese who plays in that country’s J-League and who has never lived in North Korea. Off the field, he seems to have what counts as flair among his teammates—traveling with a PlayStation and an iPhone, declaring his desire to play in the English premiership—but in the lead up to the Cup he has also shown himself a model subject of the Kim dynasty, promising a Stakhanovite output of one-goal-per-game. He has also guaranteed that his team will advance over Brazil, Portugal, or the Ivory Coast—showing an even more deluded sense of national purpose. For this, he and his compatriots have been celebrated by just about every media outlet covering the cup—including, even, the normally gimlet-eyed New Republic, with their “Five Things You Don’t Know About North Korean Soccer.” An earlier version of the DPRK team was called “a squad of Charlie Chaplins,” and for the next ninety minutes, their great dictator won’t be the only one going crazy for these unfortunate tramps. The loyalties of imperious fans run impulsive and contrarian, and sport may be the only form of international relations in which irony can freely reign.
Jeff Antebi’s photography appears in the summer issue of The Paris Review. Below, he describes his time in Cité Soleil, Haiti.
I went to Haiti for the elections in April, 2009. When I got back home and started showing my work, people were most gripped by the photographs from Cité Soleil. People kept asking me what they could do to help improve the lives of people there. I think it was a profound awakening for Americans to know that only an hour and a half from Miami, people were existing in deplorable conditions. It was the proximity that drew people in. It’s one thing to say “the largest slum in the Western hemisphere.” It’s quite another to show people what it’s like to live on top of eight feet of garbage, where during the day, toxic fumes burn off the plastic bottles and waste. That was really the first time I had ever experienced that kind of reaction from one of my essays—people specifically asking what they could do. I immediately started making plans to go back and focus exclusively on Cité Soleil. I returned three months later.
I had put a lot of my photos from my April trip on to my phone. Once I was back in Cité Soleil, I was able to track down a lot of the kids and show them the portraits I’d taken of them. The kids went nuts. I mean, these are kids who are so funny to begin with—animated, humorous, curious, engaging kids. They had a lot of fun scrolling through photos and recognizing their friends.
For the soccerati, the fashionable book for this World Cup is Soccernomics by Simon Kuper, which is, as the title suggests, Freakonomics but about soccer. It has the first explanation of game theory I’ve ever understood and the unlikely thesis that England would do better at the game if they let the posh kids have a go. Its main point though is that thanks to the spread of globalization, the game is about to get a lot duller.
Everybody knows everything about everyone. Teams that have been thought of as tactically naïve (read African), weaker (read Asian), and overly gung-ho (read Latin American), have now adopted a much stricter tactical acumen—they set up defensively, invite the other team onto them and then hope to catch them on the counter attack. It started with South Korea’s run to the semifinal in the 2002 World Cup, took real hold when Greece won the European Championship in 2004, and reached its apotheosis when Inter Milan defeated Barcelona in the Champions League semifinal this year, despite being down to ten men and ceding seventy-five percent of possession to the Catalans.
The pleasures of truly bizarre play or utter annhilation have vanished. Instead we’ve had France versus Uruguay, a game in which both teams looked genuinely frightened of scoring and the 1–0 victories of both Argentina and Ghana, both of which were convincing without being particularly thrilling.
And then there was the US–England match, which had anticlimax written all over it. In England, where I watched, ITV managed to cut to a commercial just before England scored and cut back in the middle of the celebrations, thus denying the nation the collective roar that they had been preparing for since the draw was made, or since 1812 depending on which way you look at it. The less said about the American goal the better. There has been plenty of talk about the unpredictability of the Jabulani but until Rob Green’s howler, the main effect of it seemed to be long-range shots endlessly flying miles over the bar. There was something rather end-of-Empire about the ball squirming into the net. The teams took turns in the second half to press, both had one good chance to score and both, predictably, failed. (There is something Paxil-requiring in thinking about Emile Heskey, the misser of the England chance who has the astonishing goal-scoring record of seven goals in fifty nine internationals. It never seemed to cross his mind that he might score, let alone ours.) A draw had been emotionally agreed upon. Even the fans in the stand looked rather similar in their red, white, and blue; you had to really lean in to see if the focus was on stars or crosses.
It’s strange that, right as you confer on me the undeserved (but I hope not wasted) honor of Southern Editorship, this region would reclaim its hold on the American imagination. I refer to the underwater live feed of the oil leak. Are you watching it? Down here we do little else. I made these notes on the experience. They may not be appropriate for the new blog. You said on the phone, if I remember, that you wanted to cover “the intersection of culture and everyday life.” But the leak has simply overpowered culture, to the extent that anything happening in that department now assumes a ghoulish cast.
You can feel the other millions of people watching, especially late at night, and at times there has even been a Lincoln’s Death Train quality to this thing, a sense of shared, and deliberately prolonged, mass shock.
On YouTube, collections have formed of people’s favorite moments from the feed, sequences they found beautiful, or ones that appear to support a theory they developed about something BP did and lied about.
When something odd occurs in the frame—when three orange sponge-looking objects float by, for example, or when a striped tube-shaped thing rises up at the left and vanishes into the oil—there’s this reflex to call out to the others, and verify that they’ve seen it.
One clip going around shows an eel that swims up to the plume and hangs out for a few seconds, like, What the . . .
It looks as if they’ve somehow beamed a Victorian-era smokestack to the bottom of the ocean, and it’s billowing brown ash.