Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Vuvuzela-Free Zone in Cleveland Park?

Today's column is about the World Cup Soccer games going on in South Africa (go USA!) but more specifically, it's about that infernal buzzing noise coming from the stands as South African fans blow incessantly on their plastic horns called vuvuzelas. How is that a topic fit for "All Life Is Local," you might well ask. I have a couple of answers to that, but first let me give you the context of the question.

If you have watched even the briefest bit of any of the World Cup games on TV (and here's the schedule, if you'd like to start: World Cup Soccer Schedule ), you already know what the problem is. The vuvuzela, when played by lots of people spread throughout the stadium, produces a tremendously loud droning, like a gigantic swarm of bees, or worse, like a concert of dental drills. The constant din makes it hard to follow the commentary, and the sportscasters on site say that it's so loud down on the field that the players can barely communicate with one another. There's already been an instance in which a player said he did not hear the referee's whistle because it was drowned out by the blowing of these horns.

Despite complaints from the players, fans at home, and fans in the crowds, FIFA, the governing authority of international soccer, has ruled that the vuvuzela can't be banned because it's part of the culture of the host country. FIFA's official position is that polite guests (that is, the soccer players) should not tell their hosts how to behave. What's wrong with this analogy is that the host country is not inviting guests into their parlor to enjoy a vuvuzela concert. The guests are actually the ones called upon to perform, and it's the sort of performance that requires full attention and ability to communicate with each other -- skills that are impaired when it's too loud to think straight. And why should the musical culture of the hosts be allowed in the stands, anyway? If the World Cup were played in Scotland, could the stands be filled with bagpipers piping nonstop? If it were played in Switzerland, would alpenhorn blowers be allowed to boom throughout? If it were played in Japan, could taiko drummers drum through every match from start to finish? You get the idea.

The buzzing of vuvuzelas isn't just an annoying sound but it prevents one of the more pleasurable sounds associated with the World Cup games: the cheering and singing of the fans of different countries and teams. This time around, there's no possibility of hearing chants of USA! or GOOOAL! or "Allez, Ola, Ole!" that livened up the experience of the great World Cups of the past. It's all bzzzzzz-bzzzzzzz and no chance to hear anything else.

There may be a solution, however. The techie web site Lifehacker reports that you can attach an equalizer to your TV and set it to balance out the frequency of the buzzing of the vuvuzelas, which will go a long way toward muting the sound. Here's the web site that explains how to do this: Lifehacker anti-vuvuzela page\
. And that bring me back around to question I alluded to in the second sentence of this edition of All Life Is Local: How is the problem of vuvuzela noise at the World Cup in South Africa connected to life in this corner of the world? Well, I'm hoping it's possible that there's a sports bar somewhere around here showing World Cup Soccer games for people like me who want to watch them without getting a vuvuzela-induced migraine. A bar with big TVs hooked up to an equalizer, right here in Cleveland Park, or perhaps a metro stop or two away. If you know of such a place, please direct me to it! Getting an equalizer and hooking it to our own TV just for a few weeks of games is not a practical solution for us, but we figure it could make economic sense for a venue that could draw in patrons by the busload. A bar with a super hi-def screen could also offer superior World Cup viewing as well as listening pleasure. Plus I'll throw in the incentive of free advertising on this Listserv (9,500-plus subscribers) to any bar that can offer us vuvuzela-free viewing.

Beyond my quest to find a place to watch the World Cup without the being driven insane by that buzzing sound, I want to use this space to urge you to join the movement to get FIFA to reverse its disastrous tolerance of vuvuzela-blowing in the stands. Please add your name to the international petition: .

Finally, I want to end on a positive note. (I wrote in my second "All Life Is Local" column that I would do my best to stay upbeat and keep this space from being a repository of my natural curmudgeonly tendency to pile up complaints.) There is one very good thing that I want to point out about the vuvuzela: It is an amazingly point-worthy word if played in Scrabble -- a game I know and appreciate far better than I'll ever know soccer (and may well make the subject of some future "All Life Is Local" column). If you ever happen to have that bizarre combination of letters and you can find someplace on the board to play your seven, connecting to an eighth already played and accessible, you'd have a bingo (that is, a play that uses all seven tiles at once) earning you a bonus of 50 points, on top of the minimum score of 25 points you'd earn for those letters played on the plainest possible squares, for a total of 75 points. Now consider this: if you could manage to play "vuvuzela" starting on one triple word square and stretching to the other triple, that would place the Z on the double letter score, so that the whole word would be rack up 33 points, which would then be tripled and re-tripled, for 297 points -- plus the 50-point bingo bonus, for a whopping total of 347 just for that one word! Of course, that would be a once-in-a-lifetime play. If I ever made such a play, I would definitely want to blow a vuvuzela in celebration!


Published on the Cleveland Park Listserv, June 18, 2010.

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