This World Cup is a wallet-draining commitment that starts with a seventeen-hour flight. WWOZ and JazzFest fans will understand why we do it.
It's that same commitment you took after your first JazzFest. Remember? New Orleans music, food and the city were the initial draw but the commitment to keep returning came during some magical moment when time and memory were suspended as a bolt of excitement and pleasure scrambled your consciousness. You had come as a visitor but crossed a line and married the culture. You became a New Orleanian.
This World Cup is the same experience. Soccer, its fans and the experience is to US sports like New Orleans is to the rest of the US. The contrast is so great that it defies understanding. It's better to start from scratch and use abstract touchstones to describe the World Cup experience.
It is remarkably internationalist. A living embodiment of the ideals that birthed the United Nations. Cultural differences are accepted and celebrated. North Koreans don't play like Brazilians but both teams can understand and admire the differences. There is an acceptance, a celebration of people's differences.
There is a strong sense of fair play. When Algeria's nation anthem was played, we turned off our cheers and conversation to give our opponents their moment. When an opposing player is on the ground hurt, we kick the ball out of bounds until he recovers. Then the opposing team throws the ball back to us. Beautiful unselfish behavior.
The US is new to the soccer experience and we're strangely intimidated. We're still an ocean away from being international. 'Bama's on a world stage. Perhaps we'll grow out of it like the awkward teenager. Maybe we need bit of direction.
Hold that thought and experienced the celebration before the US versus Algeria game in Pretoria.
US Versus Algeria Fans
The Algerian fans are fun to watch. They are the Saints or LSU fans of the Arab world. More colorful, boisterous, humorous and costumed than their opponents and they're happily engaging everyone on the street. The Algerians consistently approach Americans in costume to pose with the Americans in photos. Americans accommodate and enjoy the interaction but we don't ask to pose with them. We're reticent or maybe even afraid. Afraid of Arabs or afraid of enjoying ourselves?
Oh we try to celebrate but our attempts mimic more experienced fan's World Cup celebrations. Not surprisingly without reflecting our culture, the celebration falls flat. For instance, too many fans dress like Uncle Sam and just drone our three letters, “U.S.A., U.S.A.” It's an embarrassingly lame representation of the rich culture that dominates worldwide media.
Really, who cares about Uncle Sam? On a scale of endearing Americana, Uncle Sam is light years behind even the bloated Elvis. And the chant; “USA, USA”... USA what? Finish the sentence. We're as tongue-tied as Elmer Fudd. Elmer Fudd, now that's a good representation of Americana. I might try the Fudd costume next World Cup. "Be wery wery quiet. I'm hunting the indomitable Wions of Camawoon."
New Orleans to the Rescue
Here at the World Cup, Americans are like those goofy tourists who are too self-conscious to mask at Mardi Gras. We need to use New Orleans culture to redeem ourselves on the world's stage.
Here's the deal:
After Katrina, we New Orleanians told the US that New Orleans must be saved because of our invaluable contribution to nations culture. Today, we're being called on to inject a Mardi Gras sensibility into the US soccer fans. Do your duty when you watch today's game. Go to the bar dressed in your best Mardi Gras costume. Let's unveil the Flying Elvii and the Cameltoe Steppers to the world. What Would Krewe Du Vieux Do? Injuns! Here they come.
The only reason we're not the best of the best fans is we haven't pulled upon our inner-Mardi Gras. Today, we start a social contagion to put the soul in US soccer. By the 2014 World Cup in Brazil we become the fans a team can be proud of.
Usually I'm on from Saturday night midnight until 3am Sunday on WWOZ