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Wednesday, July 7, 2010
The Golden Scrotum
How ugly can a sports trophy get?
Once again, a midweek post that wanders far off the Hollywood reservation...
The World Cup has sports pages around the globe abuzz these days, despite (or maybe partly because of) North America’s typically lame performance in the tournament. That buzz has been everywhere the past few weeks. When I walked into the studio commissary the other day, the entire staff -- line cooks, prep people, cashiers, clean-up staff and dishwashers -- stood like statues, intently focused on the television screen as the Mexican team played a tight early round. The normally relaxed, jovial atmosphere was gone, replaced by a palpable sense of tension in the room.
For all of these people, soccer and the World Cup are a really big deal.
For me, not so much. I caught some of the action on TV in our set lighting room on stage, and although soccer (football, futbol, whatever...) isn’t a game that fills me with rapture, I can -- after some tutelage from my more soccer-fluent crew mates -- understand the appeal. It’s just not America’s game, though, for many reasons, among them the simple fact that to play soccer, all you need is a ball and a field – no bats, sticks, nets, clubs, rackets, or other fancy (read: expensive) equipment is required. Such an elemental game is a great leveler -- kick that ball from one end of the field to the other until somebody scores or it gets dark, and you’ve got something the whole world can play on equal terms. For once, the Third World actually has a fair shot at beating the wealthy First World nations at something other than terrorism and guerrilla warfare.
Thus the “World” Cup.
The essentially egalitarian nature of soccer is antithetical to the "bigger, better, more" ethos of our culture. Above all else, we love stuff – gear and equipment – the fancier and more expensive, the better. Exhibit A are the weekend warriors who storm golf courses every Saturday and Sunday, the vast majority of them duffers who will never get within shouting distance of an honest par, yet happily blow thousands of dollars on high-tech golf clubs in the hope of shaving a stroke or two off their score. In a society that has known little but growth and abundance since the end of World War Two (a situation only now beginning to turn around in a serious way), a game that emphasizes the highest levels of discipline, athletic ability, and improvisational skills over helmets, tight pants, and smash-mouth violence doesn't have a prayer of taking the cultural center stage.
That’s all well and good. We’re already a nation obsessed with our own version of football, basketball, and the former national pastime, baseball. Professional hockey remains a fringe sport in the market, hugely popular in Canada and cold weather states, but largely ignored everywhere else. That's fine too -- the last thing we need is yet another absurdly popular, hyper-violent professional sport to further juice the jingoistic, adrenaline-fueled fantasies of hardcore fans.
When it comes to trophies, though, the World Cup could certainly use an upgrade -- that thing is butt-ugly. They call it a "cup," but the only way to drink from it would be to turn it upside-down -- and seriously, who wants to drink from something that looks like a giant golden scrotum? Granted, championship trophies in general seem drawn to cheap, gaudy flash rather than a sleek, understated look. One of the ugliest trophies around is the ancient Stanley Cup, which resembles nothing so much as a spittoon stolen from a Gilded Age saloon. Millions of Canadians worship this clunky piece of tin not for its inherent beauty – which it does not possess – but for what it represents: blood, sweat, and broken teeth all over the ice. And if the Stanley Cup is ugly as sin, at least it honors a long tradition, however obscure. It's an actual cup, too -- a person really could drink from it, although it's a mystery to me why anyone would want to.
More modern, but just as bad in it's own way, is the World Series Trophy. It pains me to say this, since I do love baseball, but the game's symbol of ultimate success looks like a tiara made for the Bride of Frankenstein, or maybe something that belongs atop a sugary, frosting-encrusted cake. Then you have the NBA Championship Trophy, which seems to represent a giant golden shot glass about to be crushed by a bowling ball. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to see adorning the red velvet interior of one of those trailer park whorehouses that have made Nevada the destination of choice for so many overamped young (and not so young) men over the decades.
Oddly enough, America’s most brutal drug-fueled gladiator sport* -- a rabid national obsession during the Fall and early Winter months in this country -- is celebrated by the surprisingly graceful Super Bowl Trophy. Who’d have thought a game that has turned so many young athletes into middle aged cripples or drooling, brain-dead zombies would come up with such a sleek symbol to celebrate the championship?
I don't suppose it matters what the World Cup looks like. "Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone," the bible says -- and given the abundance of ugly, classless trophies celebrating sports champions in our country, I should probably just leave those rocks where they lie.
Besides, it's not like we in America will ever have to worry about keeping that damned thing polished, shiny, and dust free...
* Other than that cage-fighting nonsense, of course.