Thursday, June 19, 2008

because my country is all I know

All that complaining about the heat? Well, it got way worse. Today, I got home and the heat actually caused me to break into hives. Either that or a swarm of mosquitoes descended upon my arms without me noticing, in which case, maybe the heat has melted my brain.

Of course, I didn't get home from a hard day's work or anything, so I suppose I ought not complain at all. I was over at a friend who has air-conditioning, watching an entertaining soccer match between Germany and Portugal, part of the Eurocup. Yesterday, I had waxed all cheesy about basketball and the silly meanings we derive in such sports, but I completely forgot that nowhere are sports more hyperbolized than in European soccer.

This time I was watching as something of an observer rather than an active participant. I was hoping Germany would win, simply because the friend who had invited me was German, and extremely engaged in the match. If she talked about the win incessantly (which she did), she would have talked about the loss to the point that I might have had to run away screaming. When the Germans won, she let out such a high-pitched squeal, I could have sworn that dogs in the neighborhood seemed suddenly agitated.

Still, it was fun to watch with someone who really enjoys the sport and has some allegiance to a team. Thinking more about it, I find that sports walks this fine line. There is something beautiful, and I noticed it when I was visiting Spain last year. AL and I were walking along the river in Sevilla while a soccer match was ongoing. Each bar we passed, everyone was gathered around cheerfully watching the game together, no matter how small the television in the establishment. When Sevilla won that night, you could hear synchronous cheers from either side of the river, and there were cars honking in celebration well into the morning. The town, which had seemed rather sleepy and calm the night before, had transformed into a ticker tape parade instantaneously.

And that's beautiful, the banding together of an entire town around a team. And then, with soccer, consider this- all these individual regional rivalries are set aside for tournaments like the World Cup and Eurocup, where suddenly players are on a national team. An unfortunately faux-hawked/mulleted wunderkind from Manchester United is suddenly playing for Portugal. And now the entire country joins together to cheer for their team. There is something really inspiring about that unity.

Yet, something frightening and scary too. It's like patriotism carried one step too far. Just as fanaticism can lead to riots on the streets, brawls and bar fights, so can patriotism that has gone one step too far lead to limits on free speech, lack of tolerance, violence, blind faith. And perhaps the most disturbing part about it is how easy it is to get swept in all the vigor and frenzy.

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