Death to the Vuvuzela!
They are called "vuvuzelas" and they are virtually destroying any enjoyment of the World Cup for me. While the play on the field has, at times, been sublime, the constant cacophony of these horns being blown by thousands upon thousands of fans in the stands is starting to sound like fingernails scrooshing their way across a blackboard.
The cringe-inducing noise has been so bad there has been talk of banning the instruments of torture altogether:
Forget the USA-England rivalry; the real fight brewing at the World Cup is not over soccer, but the vuvuzela, the plastic horn that when blown correctly makes a very loud and drawn out sound.
Supporters say it's an inspiring cacophony, but critics say it sounds like a swarm of bees, drowning out fans, commentators, national anthems and generally ruining the World Cup experience for everyone.
FIFA , the soccer-governing body in charge of the World Cup, is under pressure to ban the noise-maker. It said in a statement that for now it will only outlaw vuvuzelas if they become a physical hazard, such as if fans throw the horns on the field, but that it "continues to evaluate the use of vuvuzelas on an on-going basis."
FIFA president Sepp Blatter further clarified the body's position with a Twitter post saying, "To answer all your messages re the Vuvuzelas. I have always said that Africa has a different rhythm, a different sound. ... I don't see banning the music traditions of fans in their own country. Would you want to see a ban on the fan traditions in your country?"
Blatter is a maroon. There is nothing remotely close to a "musical tradition" in the blowing of these horns from hell. For that to occur, music, it would be assumed, would have to emanate from some kind of musical instrument. There is no difference between a vuvuzela and a New Year's Eve party horn. And unless you are very, very drunk, no one will ever mistake the soused blasting of a noisemaker with Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture."
The vuvuzela is not a musical instrument -- unless you want to change the definition to include the rack, the iron maiden, and Chinese water torture as the equivalent of a Stradivarius or a Steinway.
John Leicester, international sports columnist for the Associated Press, speaks for most soccer fans outside of Africa (and a few countries in South America where they use a variant of the vuvuzela called a corneta):
The constant drone of cheap and tuneless plastic horns is killing the atmosphere at the World Cup.
Where are the loud choruses of "Oooohhsss" from enthralled crowds when a shot scorches just wide of the goalpost? And the sharp communal intake of breath, the shrill "Aaahhhhss," when a goalkeeper makes an acrobatic, match-winning save? Or the humorous/moving/offensive football chants and songs?
Mostly, they're being drowned out by the unrelenting water-torture beehive hummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm of South African vuvuzela trumpets. Damn them. They are stripping World Cup 2010 of football's aural artistry.
Vuvuzela apologists -- a few more weeks of this brainless white noise will perhaps change, or melt, their minds -- defend the din as simply part of the South African experience. Each country to its own, they say. When in Rome, blah, blah, blah.
Which would be fine if this was purely a South African competition. Fans could then legitimately hoot away to their hearts' content while annoying no one other than their immediate neighbors.
But this is the World Cup, a celebration of the 32 nations that qualified and of all the others that did not but which still play and love the game. Hosting planet football brings responsibilities. At the very least, South Africa should ensure that the hundreds of millions of visitors who come in goodwill to its door, both in person and via the magic of television, do not go home with a migraine. How many TV viewers who long for a more nuanced soundtrack to go with the show have already concluded that the only way to enjoy this World Cup is by pressing mute on their remote?
In most European venues (and some American soccer stadiums) the tradition is far more palatable to the senses: lusty singing by lusty men. In the English Premier League, the well-lubricated fans start singing an hour or more before the match and continue after the final whistle. The songs sound familiar -- sometimes using pop tunes or even religious hymns -- but the words are tailored to the specific club, or specific action on the field. Germany, Italy, Spain, France -- most European sides have their own fan clubs with their own chants and songs.
What makes the vuvuzelas so incredibly annoying is the monotone note that is a constant from the time the TV coverage of a match begins to the last second of the live feed from the stadium. It is unvarying in pitch and decibel level -- about the same as standing a few feet from a jet plane taking off or an amplifier for a rock concert. At 127 decibels, the vuvuzela is louder than a jackhammer, a chain saw, a pneumatic drill, and a subway.
FIFA's Sepp Blatter might find the dulcet tones made by a jackhammer the symphonic equivalent of a Mozart concerto, but the rest of us have a slightly different notion of what constitutes music.
The excuse being given by FIFA and their apologists is that the vuvuzela is simply "local color" and adds a distinctly "African" flavor to the games. Really? Local color might more accurately be described as the marvelous, multi-hued flowing robes worn by the South Africans as well as representatives from the five other African nations who are participating in the 32 team tournament. And as far as the vuvuzela being distinctly "African," that's a bunch of hooey. I can distinctly remember these plastic horns being in widespread use at high school football games back in the 1970s. Not quite as ubiquitous back then, they nevertheless were part of the background noise at many games I attended as a kid.
Unfortunately, it appears that FIFA has bowed to political correctness and cultural relativism, and will not ban the noisemaker:
World Cup organisers Monday ruled out a ban on the vuvuzela horns that have been driving some players and broadcasters mad, with FIFA president Sepp Blatter defending the instrument on Twitter.
After the chairman of the tournament's South African organizing committee had said he would consider a ban on the monotone trumpets, Blatter axed the idea of a ban in comments posted to the short-form web site.
"I don't see banning the music traditions of fans in their own country. Would you want to see a ban on the fan traditions in your country?" Blatter wrote.
I would love to see a ban on a fan tradition in the United States if, by doing so, it ensured the comfort of those watching the games in person or on TV. In this respect, it would seem to me that the South Africans are not being very good hosts, given that there have been so many complaints about the noisemaker. And if FIFA is supporting this affront to aural comfort, it can only be because banning the vuvuzela would bring criticism from the usual multicultural, politically correct suspects.
Avoiding the appearance of "cultural imperialism" -- no matter if it would be simple, common sense to remove an irritant that is causing mass discomfort in most places outside of Africa -- is FIFA's goal. It's why the games were awarded to South Africa in the first place (and why they will be in Brazil in 2014). The winning bid had little to do with South Africa being able to put on the best tournament. It had everything to do with giving the games to a third-world, African country whether they were capable of pulling it off or not. This is evidenced by the fact that FIFA would only allow members of the African confederation to bid on the games (a policy that rotated the venue among the various soccer confederations, since abandoned). Almost before the ink was dry on stories about the 2006 Cup victory by Italy, concerns were raised about the ability of South Africa to put on the games.
So despite most of the rest of the world not being enamored of this cacophonous tool of the devil, it appears that if you are one of the few Americas who will be watching some of the matches during the World Cup, you would appear to have two choices: hire a guy with a jackhammer to tear up your driveway while watching the games or simply grin and bear it.