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Friday July 14/2006
3:33 PM

 

Global Fund Cup, 2007—be there!

I am not watching the 2006 World Cup final between Italy and France. It isn't a boycott. The field is too big, the goals too few, and I just don't care who wins. Sporting events rarely excite me anymore. Watching them leaves me unfulfilled by the mere thought of what I could have been doing instead—this after a childhood of dying and resurrecting according to the losses and wins of the Montreal Canadiens.

Working on a couple of African documentaries the past year may have made me slightly more cynical. Indeed, there was a teensy thought inside me wishing that all these people watching the Final today—a billion people—could somehow instead be brought together for more pressing drama, like people unnecessarily and unfairly starving and dying.  

Don't misunderstand me. I don't think there's anything wrong with watching the World Cup, and I sure don't think writing this essay is doing more for the world.

Indeed, if our actions could be pulled back like blankets to reveal the force behind them perhaps it would show that events like the World Cup final are vital to keep the tattered fabric of the human race more tightly stitched.

Wouldn't that be cool?

***

The morning began with me walking my beautiful long-suffering girlfriend down Commercial Drive in Vancouver to meet friends for breakfast before she and her friends would settle in some chosen café to watch the World Cup Final and I would go home to write. The thing is, we were a little late, and with cafés full of partisans overflowing like an Indian flood on ill-prepared sidewalks, her friends could not be found.

We were still on the street when France scored for a one-nil lead. I don't know why, exactly, but as the crowd cheered I was reminded of the Nuremberg Rallies in Germany that exalted Adolph Hitler and his Nazi regime's rising black star in the 1930s.

Feeling guilty and cynical, I sought backup for my mood. Noam Chomsky arrived fully armed from the 1992 film Manufacturing Consent, wherein he gave an interview ironically projected on a huge Jumbotron screen in an empty sports stadium.

"I remember in high school...I suddenly asked myself at one point, why do I care if my high school team wins the football game? (laughter) I mean, I don't know anybody on the team... (laughter) I mean, they have nothing to do with me. I mean, why am I cheering for my team...? It doesn't make sense. But the point is it does make sense: it's a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority, and group cohesion behind leadership elements, in fact it's training in irrational jingoism [externally hostile patriotism]. That's also a feature of competitive sports."

Returning home I looked up the review of the film. Craig MacInnis in the Toronto Star wrote: "If you were to let Chomsky talk over the Jumbotron about sports during a sold-out football game, the scrawny little twerp would probably have a hard time getting out of the building alive."

MacInnis continued: "NFL fans might be unwitting dupes of the industrial-military complex, but some of them still know how to hoist sniffy intellectuals by their tweedy lapels and drop-kick 'em back to MIT."

As funny as that review is it inadvertently rests my case. Put a Jew at a Nuremberg Rally and what happens...? Put an outspoken social critic (and a Jew to boot) at a sports game and what happens...?

***

When the Italians tied the 2006 World Cup Final at one, I did not roll my eyes in disdain at weeping French partisans. How could I? If a 1972 quarter-final loss to the New York Rangers wasn't enough, my beloved Canadiens tumbled again in '74 to that same Rangers squad. Agony and tears besieged my little heart for weeks. What would Yvan Cournoyer do all summer? What would these old French men do now?

Watching a human being's mood (including my own) change in a split-second over a ball or puck crossing or not crossing a goal line is both remarkable and instructive—perhaps a metaphor of the more protracted human condition of ongoing (and seemingly unstoppable) discomfort and uncertainty here on earth, speckled with joy, conviction and a love for life all shrouded in inevitable death.

Perhaps our obsessions and diversions—be they sports events, rock concerts, political rallies or essay writing—soothe that human condition. Or maybe we think they do, but in fact they subtly compound the anxiety, due to a committed belief in something utterly temporary. From there, who knows what events play out? My god I'm sounding existential.

The layers of existence beneath what we see in this world are part of that passionate mystery constantly asking who and what we might truly be. Some would say that passion is not something we acquire, but our inherent nature—while all this we believe we are is actually acquired stuff. Some would say this passion is ultimately for God (for lack of a better term), and unconvinced of that we project mostly confusion, no matter how rational it appears.

Where we project these innate passions is a huge question. Speaking of existentialists, I believe it was Sartre who wrote: "If there was no Jew, the anti-Semites would invent him."

Is that cryptic enough for you? Anyway, let's move on.

***

It's well known that in the revolutionary discontent of pre-World War I Europe, millions of oppressed workers across dozens of countries were courageously organizing, marching, suffering and even dying trying to counter the exploitation suffered for centuries at the hands of politicians, kings, lords, bosses, mafia leaders, in-laws and the system in general.

Then when war was declared in 1914, these same workers (for the most part) rushed to local enlisting stations and for six brutal years of nationalistic zeal slaughtered fellow exploited workers from all over the world.

For whatever reason, patriotism trumped revolution—and ten million people died, twenty million more in the Spanish Influenza, and then another fifty million in World War II. One can be fairly certain presidents, kings and economists took note at the power of nationalist fervor. In the hopefully incorrect words of Adolph Hitler, "How fortunate for leaders that men do not think."

***

Heading home, I was café-by-café absorbed into crowds bulging out of doorways like giant arses protruding from holes that one might guess, in a different world, lead to salvation.

I asked a bull of a man in an Italia shirt the score. Before his mouth could open it occurred to me that had today been 1914, this thick-necked man with the hung-over eyes and a soul would likely have both fought against the "oppressor" for a better working wage and then just as valiantly died on their behalf in the trenches of World War I.

He grunted nervously: "One-all at the half."

Feeling his palpable distress—or maybe my own—I wished him good luck. Right then I was blind-sided by a corner kick-of-a-thought that was, upon replaying it, rather sick—and yet full of possibility and genius too. I'll state it as a question and make you an accomplice—but only if you promise now to keep reading, and to add to the plan.

Promise?

Okay. Maybe I'm crazy, but would it ever be possible to turn the dedicated emotion of this estimated one billion viewers worldwide staring at the World Cup Final towards a three-week televised extravaganza tentatively called the World Cup of Humanitarian Efforts?

I'm serious—and I'm talking about "real" reality television—but still with the perfect blend of beautiful intentions, human understanding, market exploitation, compassion propaganda and outright spectacle (half-time shows, for instance).

Now I understand the feeling of outrage at the callous thought of filming the struggle of dying or terrorized people (which we do anyway) and making it into some sort of crass reality TV sport or drama. But it would make remarkable viewing—and it's a natural progression of the life-and-death Hollywood drama we feed off in pop-culture anyway. It's CNN meets American Idol meets the World Cup.

And if—and it's a big if—this exposure helped educate and activate the privileged population to give more, isn't that less callous than a billion people glued to a football match filled with excessively pointless emotion while another billion (1.3 billion) are equally glued to the daily grind of trying to survive with chronic malnutrition and untreated diseases?

"World Cup of Humanitarian Efforts" doesn't have to be the name, by the way. It could be the Compassion Cup, the Equity Cup, Education Cup, Calorie Cup, Water Cup, Freedom Cup, Love Cup, Debt Relief Cup, Global Fund Cup—whatever.

The logic is this (and I'll give examples): Humans not starving to death are deeply attracted to relationship drama and gossip, obviously; spectacle (Live Aid); the agony of winning and losing (the World Cup); and the immense tension of life-and-death struggle (Hotel Rwanda), right?

As a matter of self-evident truth, as a species we've flocked to reality "television" for millennia: lions and Christians in the Coliseum, Inquisition burnings, modern day beheadings in Afghanistan, World Cup 2006, the television phenomenon Survivor and so on.

What if we really did do something useful with these curious passions? A propos to that, I ask, could filming the most dire conditions on the planet—live and 24/7—and somehow making a game out of it, achieve this?

Could turning this filmed struggle into an international competition not only rivet us to the tube and fulfill these human desires, but with effective and accessible interactive hardware (picture a channel-changing remote control that allows money to be sent with the push of a button that can be utilized immediately by the village or organization of whomever we're watching die) compel us to actively commit and regularly extend ourselves to those who are unnecessarily dying of chronic disease and malnutrition?

Not only that, if the individual sender is, say, American, he/she has therefore sent that money off on behalf of Team USA, and is in competition with some other team—England for example (depending on the schedule). The match could even be against the country of the dying people, but the more we (say from Team USA) do to help the people in that country come back to life, in effect survive, the more points Team USA would get.

The effect of repetitive use of this interactive hardware (let's call it a Save-A-Tron) would be to induce compassion, excitation and a glorified feeling of control and compassion through generosity.

Indeed, with the way the world is going, the addictive potential of that immediate gratification (through the Save-A-Tron) of saving a person's life (no matter how temporarily) is most likely the key to the show's success. People have to get involved, but they won't do it if they can't make a difference very easily.

Imagine, for a moment, if we really could shift critical mass focus. Imagine if all the food inhaled during the World Cup could be instead channeled to the starving of the world and we still not only got the thrill of competition and partisanship, we had a hand in victory.

One could logically argue that anything less than not devoting everything to stop the imminent unnecessary deaths of potentially millions of people, regardless of their colour or economic contributions to the global economy, is akin to doing nothing during the Holocaust.

At least in Germany, one could also add, people had the excuse of being silenced by a totalitarian regime.

But life is not so easy here, either—or simple. Who in the West with a little spare change hasn't felt the tyranny of a relentlessly attractive glut of ever-changing distractions?

By the way, it's one-all at the 72 minute mark.

In the spirit of Super Bowl halftime shows, but with a twist, globally famous people could be 24/7 side-by-side with absolutely forgotten people on the verge of death—for who can explain either condition logically?

Makeshift stages of "Western" opulence could be erected even in the slums of Port-au-Prince or Bangalore so that U2, the Stones and other legendary bands can perform their hits.

Bono, who has always been both a remarkable crusader and acutely aware of the power of image to influence the masses (both as spectacle and despair), had this to say when we last spoke:

"Those reports [of starving children] from the BBC [in the '80s] were extraordinary...We watched that image of that starving child trying to stand up. You know, it's still stuck on my mind. In a world where there is so much, in a world where there's plenty, in a world of unimaginable prosperity, a child can die of starvation! It's hard to believe.

Then later, after Live Aid, when [my wife] and I went [to Africa]—and the images weren't pictures, they were children standing in front of me. I remember deciding that I don't want to be, I will not be, in a world where that continues to be true. Now, with DATA [Anti-Poverty Foundation] informing me, I know that we can be the generation that ends extreme poverty, the kind of poverty where a child can die for a lack of immunization or having food in its belly. Because we can, we must. Yes, there will always be poverty, yes, there will always be people dying of disease, but no, not that stupid poverty."1

Alicia Keys could perform. Brad and Angelina with their kids could be there, George Clooney, Oprah. Tables for Amnesty, Oxfam and then right there, all around the stage, starving children and families with AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis everywhere just to show the hypocrisy, discrepancy and inequality of being alive; right there as the great bands rock, the beautiful people cry, and all around our fellow sisters and brothers try to lift a hand to reach out for a chance to breathe, to live. The program itself should probably have a sports feel more than either a "World Vision" or "Crossfire" feel. Consider this broadcast:

And in games this afternoon, the Malawi Magic overcame an early deficit through a stunning display of misery and hopelessness, and for the first time had just over 2% of their HIV-positive players receiving the antiretroviral medication needed to survive until next week.

The dispensing of drugs, however, remains shockingly pitiful compared to the fully-covered Team Canada—who kept the game close with well-executed compassionate gestures late in the third quarter. Malawi's eleven-year-old captain Bingu Tembo, who is rapidly dying, was still hopeful. She added this post-game comment:

"We're a young team, and if we can avoid ongoing catastrophic and preventable death by AIDS, dysentery, malaria and chronic malnutrition, I really feel we could begin to till the land again."

Speaking of sport, I just went on-line again: Italy and France have gone into overtime.

***

Putting on the Global Fund Cup, particularly by 2007, will be rife with logistical hazards, the least of which being how to fairly pit the world's only super power, the US against, say, Namibia—or the UN's darling Norway against Haiti? In one sentence, I don't know.

Points or goals will have to be achieved through myriad activities not unlike Harry Potter's wizard games (lives saved, response to disaster, humanitarian aid, comebacks). What I've written here is a first draft. The long haul is going to take intense genius (could that be you?), the best statisticians in baseball, obscene amounts of capital and even-tempered leadership.

Are the privileged of this world up to the task of once again exploiting the world's poor, but this time truly for the good of the poor?

Will Hollywood step up? Can India's information technology boom solve glitches in the Save-A-Tron? Where will Beijing stand if their UN Security Council Standing is on the line? What role will The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation play? Can Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr. take their partnership beyond New Orleans? Will we learn the names of any people in the developing countries doing big things other than Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela? And perhaps most importantly after all this, does Bono have any time left on his calendar?

A "new breed" of Founding Fathers (and Mothers) are needed for 2007—and I don't mean the pre-Taliban mujahideen "freedom-fighters" or the Nicararaguan Contras so beloved by President Reagan (who, as we all know, described them (in a pinch) as "the moral equivalent of [the American] Founding Fathers"). Nay, bleeding heart as this may sound, I mean Founding Fathers that don't necessarily rape, kill or even torture. Maybe even a woman. Who bakes.

We most likely need an updated global mythology, too, which could include an obese Jesus of colour, a female Prophet with four husbands calling for a jihad2 to defend pluralism and a "Holy Text" that describes Africans, Indians and the Inuit as "God's chosen people." It has to begin now. It has to be a priority. It has to be shot on hi-definition digital to keep the costs down. And it has to be fun.

I'm just going to check the score again.

***

The World Cup game, as you all know by the time of reading this, went to a shoot-out.

When my girlfriend and I heard this (I checked online), we had a brief huddle and then, with limited self-protest, crossed lanes to watch the outcome on our French neighbour's TV. This is not beneath me, in case I didn't make that clear.

Like I said, I would scream and cry when the Montreal Canadiens lost. And I would be lying if I didn't admit that I got rather animated in the 1998 Olympic Gold Medal hockey game when Joe Sakic put the Canadians ahead for good. Remember that pass from Mario Lemieux...?

So the kicks were taken as the players agonized. Goal. Goal. Goal. Miss! Goal. Goal. Goal. Goal. Goal. I didn't feel much when the French player's shot careened off the crossbar and out, giving the Italians (and my relieved Uncle Feruccio) a hard earned victory.

I know I was supposed to feel some sort of grand emotion. His shot dashed the hopes of a nation, after all. But what about the hopes of all the billions of people with no hope, I thought to myself. Who hopes for them?

I know I'm a downer, but fortunately my downcast thoughts mimicked the mood in my French neighbours' house, and nobody knew I was thinking of a little girl in Namibia who was born HIV-positive, and is struggling to get ARVs to stay alive.

It won't show in the record books, but I kind of felt that the Italians, as happy as they were, also lost. They strung up their beloved leader Mussolini just before the end of the war, you know.

Horace Greely once wrote: "Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, and riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character."

Okay, I'll just say it. I think until we really do have a Global Fund Cup, televised or not, that absolutely rivets at least a billion privileged people, we all lose—millions in the most horrific and unjust way.

 

 

Footnotes:

(1) Bono and I bounced a few "plans" back-and-forth huddled in a corner, backstage at the Grammys in 2005...or was it 2004? 2004. August. Yeah. And then we exchanged long e-mails and that's where he wrote...or was it..no, I, he...

Okay, Bono and I have never spoken, nor is there reason to believe we will soon—but I did water-ski with Antonio Banderas in Israel once and William Hurt has read my website. I know you don't believe me, but it's true. I made that Bono bit up to give the Global Fund Cup legitimacy, okay? So what. Truth is, the passage is from a book called "BONO in conversation with Michka Assayas," pg. 238—and Bono really is a remarkable crusader for Africa and debt relief and AIDS awareness.

(2) A little known linguistic fact is that the Arabic word Jihad is actually the root of the English American cowboy term: Yee-ha!

 

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copyright 2006 Pete McCormack