Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Boredom’s joy: the music of the vuvuzelas

Football is one of the world’s most boring sports, for the fan the boredom being attenuated by constant gnawing tension that is enlivened by anger, rage, moments of euphoria, incredulity and despair. Or at least that’s my experience living in England. For amusia, however, the current world cup is a constant joy because of the general annoyance caused to the world’s broadcasting networks and much of its global audience by the mass buzzing of the vuvuzelas, major networks having lobbied FIFA to get the Thing banned. Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s President has refused, however, letting his German unconscious do the talking when he avers, liberally, that ‘I have always said that Africa has a different rhythm, a different sound’. Remarkably unifying the extraordinarily diverse and geographically remote nations and cultures of Africa, the sound of the vuvuzela nevertheless becomes the universal sound of ‘Africa’s’ specific mode of enjoyment, the rest of the world’s noisy neighbours. For Blatter, it seems, the Africans should be allowed their exotic mode of enjoyment for our enjoyment. People are annoyed, but at the same time annoyed with themselves for being annoyed, the only recourse being to point a liberal finger in the annoying mirror of annoyance. The vuvuzela is ‘only annoying to the annoying’ says a caller to BBC Radio 5, annoyed by white middle-English intolerance.

The vuvuzela is the South African name (apparently derived from a Zulu word) for a stadium horn that has been around for years – in Brazil it is apparently known as cometa. In this world cup, however, it has indeed taken on a new dimension. It is not simply that the vuvuzela is South Africa’s ‘12th Man’ in the tournament as this report suggests. One is tempted to sound all D&G and speak of a plane of intensity or a human-horn assemblage becoming elephant becoming hive etc. etc, the crowd producing a sonic war machine that transforms the site and sound, the whole milieu, of world cup football. The music of the vuvuzelas drowns out applause, cheers, singing, conventional means of support; on the field, players exhausted through lack of sleep having been kept awake by all night vuvuzela parties, cannot hear each other above the din produced in the stadium, described as a massive beehive.

But for the neutral South African supporter, what is watching a boring football match between England and the USA, say, and blowing on a vuvuzela in unison with thousands of others? The buzzing of vuvuzelas is only a mode of ‘African’ enjoyment where it becomes the (phallic) signifier of all the lost enjoyment of TV viewers, especially in the West. But I’m not sure there is anything specifically African or even South African about the stadium horns. An effect of spaces real and spectral, actual and remote, these thousands of thin plastic phalloi vibrate spreading viruses and tele-techno annoyance around the stadium and around the world: they are the pipes of boredom’s joy. Jamie Carragher on TV last night says his kids have demanded that he bring a bunch of them home. Better than the world cup.