Despite demonstrations against the expense
The World Cup proceeded with ratings immense.
So why are Brazilians looking so sad?
Their team, it appeared, was appallingly bad. 


            For satirists a chilling prelude to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil came during that nation’s 2012 elections. The Brazilian Congress, 40% of whose members have been found by the watchdog group, Transparency Brazil, to have been guilty of corruption, passed a law prohibiting broadcasts “in any way degrading or ridiculing candidates, parties or coalitions running in the election for president, Congress and state governments.” One TV comedy show host said of the law, “If you want to find a bigger joke, you would have to look to Monty Python”. Fortunately, after furious criticism from the nation’s humorists, the Supreme Court partially lifted the ban.

             Then, as Brazil ramped up preparations to host the World Cup, the politicians were unable to suppress angry public opposition to the huge projected costs. Massive demonstrations were illustrated by an outbreak of satire in  parodies of popular on YouTube, and in street art contrasting the lavish football expenditures with the neglect of starving children, such as this this mural by Brazilian street artist Paulo Ito, posted on Facebook.





            The demonstrations, delays in construction, allegations of corruption, and a number of other problems led the media around the world to predict that the competition would collapse in disaster. But they had made the same predictions before the 2012 summer Olympics in London and the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi. They were wrong in both cases. And once again despite some glitches the host nation received highly positive reviews. Brazilians were applauded for their hospitality and for presenting an entertaining feast of football watched by vast audiences around the world. It all gave recognition to the nation’s status, along with Russia, India and China, as one of the BRICs, the group of countries challenging the former dominance of the U.S. and Europe.  

            Even so, the competition provoked an international eruption of satire, much of it  directed at Brazil. Here was a nation whose devotion to football was almost a secular religion. Over the years Brazil has won five World Cups. But it still remembers being beaten 2-1 by Uruguay in the 1950 final. How much more humiliating, then, that in 2014, as host for the competition, to lose to Germany by the extraordinary margin of 7 goal to 1 – and then to lose 3-0 to the Netherlands in the contest for third place. The only consolation was all too petty– that the nation’s bitter football rival, Argentina, lost the final to Germany – hardly sufficient to offset the damage to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s political standing.

             Commentators around the world were taken equally by surprise. Humorists in the U.S. took note. There was a crop of late night jokes: “Welcome to the Tonight Show. I’m Jimmy Fallon – and in the time it took me to say that, Germans scored five more goals against Brazil.”  David Letterman offered: “Germany took care of Brazil. Now it’s on to Poland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia.” Online the SatireTimes speculated that  Dilma Rouseff had pledged to send $100 million dollars to members of the German Football Asssociation but the money hadn’t reached them because of a technical error which infuriated the German players who set out to embarass the Brazilians..

            The fact that there were so many jokes about football-soccer in America might suggest that the sport was finally gaining traction with the U.S. public. On the other hand the game’s usually low scores  and lack of commercial breaks has yet to make a decisive breakthrough in the U.S. media. One cartoon showed a group of construction workers  watching the World Cup in a bar and complaining “Let’ go outside. There might be some paint drying or a chrome bumper rusting.” Iron-E News, riffing on American football’s different scoring system, declared that Americans were shocked to learn that in winning 7-1 the Germans were only scoring one touchdown.

            And there was an ideological dimension to the question. Ann Coulter informed us that the growing interest in soccer “can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay,” for it lacks the American value of individual achievement, and it’s an immigrant game. Ian Crouch in a New Yorker blog  took us further into the pleasures of Coulter-land: “The announcer is British. Foreigners shouldn’t be allowed on American television…Just a few more minutes and then the U.S. will lose and we won’t have to think again about the World Cup until a Republican is President….What is this extra time? In Reagan’s America, forty-five minutes meant forty-five minutes. It’s like giving kids with learning disabilities extra time on their tests.” Well said, but can anyone really parody the reality of Ann Coulter?











Posted on Sunday, July 20, 2014 (Archive on Saturday, April 15, 2017)



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