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The Great Lie of the World Cup

Why 'the Global Game' is anything but universal

July 14, 2014 2:55 PM ET
Brent Chesanekr's World Cup Memories.
Brent Chesanekr's World Cup Memories.
Brent Chesanek

Brent Chesanek is a filmmaker and designer living in New York City. He is currently crowdfunding his second feature film, ACADEMY, about the training lives of elite American soccer players. 

The year is 2002. I've been up all night. From the other side of the world, the U.S. Men's National Team has just put 3 past Portugal's golden generation and held on to win. I did what I imagine absolutely no other American did: retire to my high-school bedroom and open up Jerzy Kosinski's Steps, a novel about skiing in the Alps and seducing the world's most beautiful women.

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There is absolutely one legitimate reason why I remember that book: it's not because it was any good, it's because I read it during the World Cup.

In my head, every few minutes, I would uncontrollably repeat the words the TV announcers had bellowed for days – "THE SAPPORO DOME" –  which made me think I liked Sapporo beer more than I really did. I still get a bit nostalgic in certain bodegas.

That summer was the last time I recorded the games. I remember debating in my head which VHS tapes from 1994 to record over (we'd long ago used up all the tapes from 1998). I knew the results of all the games on those tapes. One of my all-time favorites to watch was the Nigeria v. Argentina game from Foxboro. The overcast sky, the green of the grass (and also of the Super Eagles' shirts), the litter strewn about the field. That videotape was the last to go. And maybe with it, the memories of what was happening in my life when I watched the game live.

There was gravity to each overdub. We had preserved our memories of the event like home movies shot on our own Handycams. And it felt personal to be erasing them. But it felt collective at the same time. Yet no one else watched those tapes. There's no collectivity there. I talk about my memories like they're a chapter in a Houghton Mifflin book.

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Broadcasters love to tell us the backstories on these players, their pre-tournament struggles laid bare in voice-over across pictures of their decrepit home towns, usually shot near magic hour, pierced by a terrible lens flare courtesy of an ENG camera. Violins swell. The networks try their best to add drama and meaning to an event that needs no extra seasoning. I did not see Landon's goal versus Algeria four years ago. I get no rush of blood to the head when I see that moment replayed over and over. I missed it because I was working a day job in order to pay for my first feature film, already in production. But that moment does have significance for me, in its own way. I'm sure it does for every American supporter. We use the Cup to create our own memories.

Those of us who watched the World Cup in 1994 remember it with plenty of commonality: the O.J. chase, the U.S. beating Colombia, a shirtless Lalas draped in the American flag, Leonardo elbowing Tab Ramos, the murder of Andrés Escobar. But how many of you remember being tasked with feeding your vacationing soccer coach's ferret? I held that little bastard in my hands and it licked my face with its gross tongue and it smelled funny. And I only remember it because it happened during the World Cup. There will of course be some universals, but the beauty of the tournament is that each supporter of each nation is entitled to his or her own beautiful takeaway.

I know what you're thinking: this writer has no idea what he's talking about. You're correct. But that's my point. This is something that writers dream of poeticizing, but should we bother? Who deserves to have this World Cup contextualized for them in a way they can't do themselves? I can't fetishize or sensationalize what it is or what it will be, and if you refuse to allow the tournament to do just that on its own, well, your loss. To each and every one of us, it is something, at some point in time, that happens somewhere else. And yet it happens to us. It stays with us, it does all the things we ask of writers. It frames things for us, it dominates, it is the true Hand of God: a momentary and everlasting event.

How can one begin to describe what a collective people feel during an event as massive as the World Cup? Don't ask me. Also, I can't care how it impacts your life, because I have no idea, and no sense of empathy, clearly. Just like the game itself.

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We more fondly remember ourselves, individually, which when you think about it, becomes a collective action. The only universal to this event is that everything is personal, amplified. The sheer scale renders it too large to be viewed in a universal light. We can only stick to what's in our field of view. And we as humans are just too miniscule, too irrelevant. Yes, I wrote that, and I usually hate this kind of poetic crap. Maybe Ayn Rand is all jacked up right now based on what I'm writing. She's Persieing in pure joy, I'm sure. Ayn Rand and the ego, joint champions of the 2014 World Cup, no longer dark horses but finally recognized as the favorites and now, victors.

And I already know how I will remember this tournament – stuck in the trenches of running an IndieGogo campaign for my own soccer documentary. Where was my guardian angel when I decided to launch this campaign during the one month every four years that I wish to stop working completely? What was wrong with me?

The rest of you had it figured out. I saw your photos, your happy hours. Don't think it didn't hurt. I had no idea of the jubilation anyone else was feeling. My joy almost came in spite of my priorities. Because as much as I tried to repress it, I still enjoyed this tournament as it was.

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