Saturday, March 10, 2012

Of British-Style Media Bias, Lost Empire, And Football

RUPERT MURDOCH is known in these parts as a multinational equal opportunity smut peddler and anti-"journalist," whose American-based media holdings — Fox, NY Post, The Wall Street Journal — are a hybrid of biased news reporting, incendiary talk, and right wing editorial screeds. But Murdoch's tabloid culture in England, even as it slowly unravels in a metastatic hacking scandal, is to print media in England what the National Enquirer and the supermarket tabloids are to the U.S. For example, take this "business news" article in the Barclay brothers' online tabloid, The Telegraph, reporting that "Brazil overtakes UK to become world's sixth-largest economy;" or rather, it "managed to overtake the UK as the world's sixth-largest economy."

Evidently, the story laments that Brazil's economic slowdown, the result of a worldwide trend, "managed" nonetheless to leave the UK's economy in the dust. If that's the usual media bias we have come to expect from any British tabloid fake "news" outlet, what makes it all the more offensive is the accompanying photo. What, pray tell, does the image of a bejeweled "Carnaval" celebrant with clown makeup have to do with Brazil's ranking as the world's sixth-largest economy? Certainly, the tourism industry is important and profitable, but hardly the driver of Brazil's economic growth that are its agriculture, oil and gas, mining, auto, and yes, aerospace and defense industries.

So why this passive-aggressive hostility in the British tabloid media toward Brazil; why the compulsion to demean and belittle the nation's economic accomplishment with the image of a clown? Why the Republican-style excuses for such a significant economic milestone in the offensive photo's caption with the snarky comment, "[d]espite Brazil's potential, official growth figures showed it narrowly escaped a technical recession at the end of 2011"? (Emphasis mine.)

Here's why. England is credited with inventing the modern game of football (known as "soccer" — not to be confused in these parts with the game of football played with one's hands) even though it was actually invented by the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations, among them the Mayans and Aztecs, that populated present-day Mexico and Central America. The game had many versions and was played by many cultures (as it is today) but at its most infamous it was the original blood-sport. There was ritual human sacrifice associated with the game, and in the Aztec version it is speculated that the skulls or severed heads of losing team members were used as balls.

Fast forward to 1966-1970. The pinnacle of the modern game for England was when it hosted the World Cup in 1966. Defending two-time world champions Brazil were a side in transition, with a mix of veteran over-the-hill players from the earlier campaigns and younger players feeling the weight of their success. The team was an epic FAIL with a few glimpses of brilliance. The eternal Pelé was hunted on the pitch as the referees looked the other way and violent play rued the day. Football-art represented by Brazil was unceremoniously declared dead. The physical European game was ascendant as England notched its one and only World Cup triumph. Hail Britannia and God Save the Queen!

The significance of this event to British imperial aspirational identity is elegantly explained here:
'The ball used in the 1966 World Cup Final is a case in point. Since Geoff Hurst thumped it into the back of the net three times during that match, it has travelled the world and been presented to fans, players and Prime Ministers. It is, like the game itself, a symbol of identity and national pride. “When you look at an object, you are looking at a person’s thoughts,” Moore says. “Football has become symbolic of the popular perception of the decline of England. It is linked to the end of Empire and the decline of the country. It often represents a more hopeful past.”'
The United States in the 20th century was a bona fide colonial empire. Of late, the American empire is fraying at the seams, and some may argue it is by definition rotten to the core; but it remains the world's leading economy and a formidable military power that has grown, insanely, stronger as the economy faltered and former Cold War enemies dissipated. Where once we lived in a "bipolar world," today the neocons dream of restoring empire by creating out of whole cloth a bipolar clash of civilizations between the U.S. and Islam — to be confused with its terrorist cadres, the new communists. By decimating Al Qaeda and killing Osama Bin Laden, President Obama threatens to undermine this tenuous right wing claim of a new mortal threat to America akin to the vanished Soviet Union. Once again, predictably, the neocons and their acolytes are beating the drums of war against our new manufactured enemy, Iran. Such is the burden — and curse — of empire.

As the colonial empire of old, mother country England has seen its nostalgic illusions of a lost empire on which the sun never set reflected in the glow of America's imperial wars. The vicarious British imperialists including most prominently Rupert Murdoch, live in the lost British Empire through America's wars with splashy tabloid jingoism, even as they endure the pointed American humiliation of being called our "junior partners."

It was against this hubristic backdrop of imperialist ethos that the vaunted defending world champions, the England Football Team, descended on Mexico, host of the 1970 World Cup. They arrived like conquerors of old, the second coming of Cortéz, the imperial inventors of modern football, there to show the descendants of vanquished civilizations how to play the game their ancestors had played thousands of years before the British Empire existed. And then, the inevitable, imagined clash of civilizations, happened:

For Brazil, the early World Cup exit in 1966 was a blessing in disguise. A new generation of players was coming on, anchored by Pelé the greatest player ever to have played the game. The team came together almost organically. The coach was a former teammate of Pelé's from the 1958 Cup, Zagallo. He tossed the old ways and simply fielded the best of the best, even if they might be playing out of position. It was a collection of superstars the likes of which had never been seen on a football pitch before, nor since.

Jairzinho, a forward, was moved to the right flank; the brilliant Tostão, a starter on any world side relegated to being Pelé's reserve, played beside the eternal number 10 with the 9 jersey of center-forward, and their similar styles meshed beautifully; Rivelino, the fiery midfielder with the left-footed cannon terrorized opponents on the left wing, because the midfield creative job was taken by Gerson, the chain-smoking field general with the magical pinpoint passes from his left foot; Clodoaldo, the fluid midfielder who dribbled four Italians in the build-up to Carlos Alberto's magnificent Cup-clinching goal (see below), moved to defensive midfielder, as defensive midfielder Piazza plugged a hole in the center defense. This was an awesome constellation of superstars revolving around 29-year-old Pelé at the height of his greatness, their supernova.

Thirty-two years later, the two nations would meet again in a World Cup elimination game. New era, same result. It was David Beckham's team now, but it was Ronaldinho the one to bend it like Beckham — and send England packing.

We can forgive British imperialist moguls like the Barclay brothers their passive-aggressive digs at Brazil's rise as a first world economic power. The British nostalgia for a lost imperial past, given new life with a World Cup final win over Old World enemy Germany in 1966, was dashed for good in 1970 by Brazil, slayer of empires. Today, Brazil's triumph over England is sealed in the global economic sphere. So better luck in 2014 on the football pitch, boys, when Brazil hosts the World Cup. Stranger things have happened. And to the Barclays, next time one of your rags runs a story on Brazil's burgeoning economy, might I suggest this photo of 100% Brazilian-made aerospace technology. The clown picture makes you look, well ... petty and humbled.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly named The Telegraph as a Rupert Murdoch holding. Although identified with Conservative politics and formerly owned by Conrad Black, and while its tumultuous history and politics parallel those of the Murdoch media empire, this one in fact he does not own. My apologies to Sir Rupert.

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