Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why Americans Talking About the World Cup Suck, Part 1

As I've said before, Rick Reilly is probably a nice guy. A sports columnist that full of warm-hearted cliches about sportsmanship and the joys of competition has got to be a decent human being, or at least a rough approximation of a decent human being. But Reilly suffers from a disease that many writers, actors, cartoonists, and other creative types become afflicted with late in their careers—call it the Success Syndrome. When they finally become widely recognized and praised for their work, they lose a little bit of that hunger that made them worthy of recognition in the first place, and they have less of an incentive to break new ground. Some artists, the ones who are motivated entirely by an internal drive, overcome the Success Syndrome and explore new ground—think of the Flaming Lips, for instance. Others seem to get lazy. Watching Jack Nicholson chew apart the scenery in The Departed, or Al Pacino yell his way through any of the nonsensically-plotted thrillers he's starred in, you forget that both of them were some of the best actors of their generation. And if you listen to that recently re-released album Exile on Main Street, you'll be shocked that the Rolling Stones were a great rock band who wrote and recorded great songs before they became victims of the Success Syndrome.

Maybe that's a bullshit theory, but it's the only way to explain Rick Reilly's latest column, which reads as if the author went on a three day crack binge, stole a car, wound up in an Oklahoma City bar where he annoyed the other patrons with overwrought speeches about John Wooden and the “right way” to put on socks, got thrown out of the bar, charged a motel room to his ESPN expense account, and wrote the column in a speed-driven deadline panic while drinking cheap whiskey and watching Spanish-language recaps of the World Cup games before falling asleep with his head in the lap of an underage prostitute. Now, I'm not saying that's exactly what Reilly did—he's probably a good family man blah blah blah—but given the sloppiness and borderline incoherence of the column, it's a distinct possibility.

The basic thrust of the piece is that Reilly has some problems with the World Cup, and has chosen a list of ten of them to comment on. It's sort of like that “Top 10” thing David Letterman does, which incidentally started out as a way for Letterman and his writers to make fun of hackneyed list-based humor. Three of Reilly's ten complaints are actually the same one: he doesn't like the vuvuzelas, which are horns that the World Cup crowds have been blowing continuously during matches—I guess the joke is that Reilly really, really hates the vuvuzelas and can't stop thinking about them, and also can't mute his television.

Reilly's other points are a little less sensical. He thinks the things that players on the bench wear are ugly, he thinks the goalie gloves are ugly, he thinks the World Cup trophy itself is ugly. “It looks like something you'd use to prop open your Tuff Shed door during spring cleaning,” Reilly said, using some drug slang I didn't fully understand. He calls the refs pussies for handing out yellow cards, noting that a card wouldn't stop Rasheed Wallace from punching Carmelo Anthony, which was even more confusing than the Tuff Shed line. They don't hand out yellow cards in the NBA, but they have technical fouls, which are exactly the same thing. Is Reilly complaining about the physical properties of the cards themselves?

Things get more mysterious still as Reilly bitches about how you never know how many minutes exactly are left in a match because of stoppage time. He claims this confuses the players, which sort of seems unlikely. He complains about drawn matches, saying, “All these ties are about as exciting as a Jonas Brothers roundtable on sex.” I would actually be very interested to hear the Jonas Brothers' opinions on sex, but then again I thought that the 1-1 tie between the US and England was a really exciting game.

Of course, there's always the possibility that Reilly was joking. There are a lot of sentences that are supposed to be jokes, I'm pretty sure. He keeps talking about “Ace Young,” who I guess is a widely known singer--maybe Reilly's kid or underaged prostitute is a fan of his? The stuff about vuvuzelas was definitely meant to be a joke. I bet the idea for the entire column originated when Reilly was staring at his bloodshot, dilated pupils in the mirror and repeating “vuvuzela” to himself and realized it was a funny word. Maybe the resemblance to “vulva” made him laugh. Maybe he wrote a whole bunch of jokes about the vulvas of the European players had because they're a bunch of queer trannies who play a sport where nobody won or lost ever and they didn't physically attack the refs, but those bits got cut by his editors at ESPN.

More likely, this wasn't edited at all and Reilly only wrote it because he felt obligated to write about the biggest sporting event in the world. He had no knowledge whatsoever of soccer, however--despite being a professional sports columnist—and watched maybe one game before writing some stream-of-consciousness one-liners that he didn't even bother connecting to one another with transitions. So what if it isn't funny or analytical or anything at all, really, other than a nice example of anti-soccer attitudes held by Americans? Reilly's a famous sports columnist who gets paid enough money to buy all the uncut heroin he wants—he can afford to do work that would embarrass any self-respecting amateur blogger.

World Cup Buzz Kill [ESPN]

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