Christopher Gaffney

Christopher Gaffney is a Visiting Professor in the Graduate School of Architecture and Urbanism at the Universidade Federal Fluminense in Niterói, where he teaches courses on urban planning, the construction of Olympic Cities, and theoretical approaches to urbanism. On Twitter he is @geostadia.

The standard FIFA TV feed serves up a steady diet of gruesome injuries, babes, and men in funny costumes

This may be the most violent World Cup in recent history. The average number of yellow and red cards per game is the lowest since 1986, yet the players seem to get bigger and faster, the conditions hotter and wetter. As a result, the ball moves more quickly, there is less space, less midfield play, and coaches like Brazil’s Luis Felipe Scolari have set out to destroy their opponent’s rhythm through systematic fouls. Referees are allowing very physical play. We have seen concussions, broken bones, torn ligaments, and fractured vertebrae, and the number of injuries would be even higher were it not for the incredible physical condition of the athletes and their almost comical tolerance for physical abuse.

The FIFA television producers have delighted in bringing us the violence in ultra slow motion. The beauty of dribbles, crosses, and feints are shown with as much care and detail as the kicks in the face, cleats to the knee, stomps on the ankle, and collisions of heads. We are glued to the set as we watch the violent meeting of sweaty, striving human bodies performing for our benefit. There are no consequences at home, just a grim pleasure in the money shot of human pain.

Violence has become such a fundamental element of spectatorship that we don’t give it much thought, nor consider our own reactions to it. Yet when a big name goes out with an injury no one can talk about anything else. This violence exists in visual contrast to and in philosophical concert with the infantilization and sexualization of World Cup marketing. All over Brazil there are ads for the World Cup that feature cartoon characters or beautiful people with their mouths wide open. The mascotization of professional sports lures children and their parents into a hyper-commercialized arena where events happen but have no consequence. How are children to react when they see a boot to the face or a knee in the back? They will take their cues from those around them. Sadly, no one seems to mind that the fusion of football and mixed martial arts with open-mouthed, infantile, consumerist desire—just don’t bite!—are hidden behind a handshake for peace.

Of course, FIFA has no consistency when applying discipline. Suarez received a four month ban for an impulsive and childish but ultimately harmless bite, whereas Neymar received no further punishment for his deliberate elbow to Croatia`s Modric and Matuidi was not censured for breaking Onazi`s ankle. Many other instances of ultra-violence have gone unpunished throughout the tournament.

Many years ago, there was more variety in the ways the world watched the Cup. There were more television camera stands in the stadiums, and television producers could choose the cameras and sequences that they wanted to show. Now, the narrative of each game is formed and delivered by FIFA’s own production crew, then delivered to each rights-holder to layer their own commentary. The cutaways to coaches on the sidelines, the slow motion replays, the camera angles for particular moments of the game—everything we see and interpret from the game is dictated by a FIFA producer in a truck. This homogenization allows FIFA to control completely who represents fans (beautiful women and carnivalesque men—the supporting actors in what I call FIFA porn), what sequence of events led to a particular outcome, and the global interpretation of localized events. Ands it means we are exposed to FIFA porn for as long as we continue to watch.

There is a human desire for the dramatic, beautiful, terrible, and violent that makes this a profitable endeavor. I am transfixed, and yet I wake up after 120 minutes of soccer with a hangover. The athletes wake up in traction. And while the degree to which Brazilians have rallied to Neymar’s bedside is impressive, there has been a greater outpouring of public sympathy for the broken vertebrae of a multi-millionaire footballer than for the families of the people who were killed in an overpass collapse in Belo Horizonte last week.

I was expecting that there would be some questioning, some insinuation that the World Cup projects were too hastily constructed, with not enough oversight. I thought the collapse might expose the problems of the mega-event business model, in which national and local politicians use the political smokescreen of the event to contract their friends to build over-priced infrastructure with public funds, whether or not that infrastructure serves the long-term needs of the public (when it isn’t collapsing upon and killing them). This is the deeper pornography of the World Cup that we should think about as traffic gets rerouted for the semi-final in Belo Horizonte.

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