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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Watch The World Cup

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s list is inspired by my newfound (and bewildering) fascination with the World Cup. Bewildering because like most Americans, I have a hard time getting terribly excited about this game. Although my son’s interest in football has forced me to learn way more about this sport than I ever imagined, I myself am not an avid football fan. My best sports continue to be pool and bowling.

But this World Cup has been amazing not just for the quality of football played, but the things it has revealed “off the pitch,” so to speak.

Here are five reasons to watch:

1. It allows for a global redistribution of power. Granted, it doesn’t take much to animate my inner Marxist. But you’d have to be pretty hard-hearted not to feel inspired when countries like Ghana and Paraguay make it into the quarter-finals. Because soccer is a truly global sport, there’s always a bit of an upstairs/downstairs quality to the matches every four years. But this year, the balance seems particularly tipped towards poorer countries. To wit: while five out of 8 quarter-finalists this year hail from the Global South (Argentina, Brazil, Ghana, Paraguay and Uruguay), only two did in 2006 (Argentina and Brazil; I’m not sure how to “count” Ukraine). In a world marked by growing income inequality, this is a welcome turn of affairs. Viva la Revolucion!

2. You get to see a nation’s true colors. Again, this has always been true, but national personality has been super-sized this time around. Take the gutsy, aggressive, free-wheeling Argentine team and their pop-star-like coach, Diego Maradona. Argentinians have long been famous in Latin America for their over-sized egos and brazen self-confidence. (And yes, some of my best friends are Argentine. Really.) Or the spectacularly haughty French team, which went on strike – how French! – to protest the explusion of one of their players after he swore at the team’s Manager. (Mon Dieu!) Slate even ran a piece by Anne Applebaum analyzing the ways different countries have responded to the Vuvuzela and what that says about national character.

3. New words get invented. While we’re on the topic of the vuvuzela, let’s talk about the way in which – over the course of, what, three weeks? – this word has managed to insinuate itself into all of our consciences. Inspired by the word and concept of “vuvuzelas,” Schott’s Vocab blog at The New York Times went so far as to launch a contest where readers were asked to list their favorite sounds, descriptions of sounds and onomatopoeia. (The prize? A set of vuvuzela-canceling headphones. Brilliant!)

4. It produces great ads. Much like the Superbowl in the U.S., the World Cup leads to some top-notch advertising. If you haven’t seen the Nike World Cup Ad – Write The Future – promoting the event itself, it’s a must. Another must see (which I linked to a few weeks back on my Friday Pix list) are the string of World Cup moment re-enactments in Lego that have been running at The Guardian. (Here’s the now-classic botched England save in USA v. England, rendered in Lego.)

5. You learn about ethics. You know when a world-famous philosopher – Peter Singer – uses a World Cup goal as a “teachable moment” about ethics and cheating that the sport has transcended low-brow entertainment and is now a form of art.

Yesterday, I was over at www.PoliticsDaily.com talking about how scientific advances are changing our understanding of what “having it all” means for women. Have a look.

Image: 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa by phallin via Flickr in a Creative Commons license.

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