Orin Starn on Tiger Woods’s Masters Victory

978-0-8223-5210-5_prOrin Starn, Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University, watched the Masters Tournament along with the rest of the world on April 14 and offers his thoughts on Tiger’s victory here. His 2011 book The Passion of Tiger Woods brought an anthropologist’s perspective to the scandals and struggles that made yesterday’s victory such a triumph.

It was an amazing moment in America sports history yesterday.  Tiger Woods won the Masters Tournament, one of golf’s four major championships, capping a remarkable comeback from deep troubles on and off the course.  Most pundits had written off the great champion after an ugly divorce, four back surgeries, and, less than two years ago, an arrest for driving under the influence of pain-killers.  His vacant mug shot eyes were those of a man who seemed to have lost his way altogether.

That Woods would rise again felt almost foreordained and even biblical in its way.  He’d once been acclaimed as golf’s black messiah, redeeming the sport from its whites-only past, and becoming its greatest player with an astonishing knack for drama and the clutch shot.  Then, after self-destructive serial cheating destroyed his marriage, Woods was crucified to the cross of public opinion and media frenzy.   He resurrected his career with a public apology and double fusion back operation.   Now, with his Masters win, Woods has been transubstantiated, rising into celestial new heights of fan adoration at least among the golfing public.  At 43, balding, having sinned and suffered so much, Woods is more human than he had been as an invincible young superstar.   His powers of concentration and genius skill remain altogether otherworldly beyond even the imagination of us mortal weekend players.

I could not help shedding a few tears as Woods raised his arms in triumph on the 18th green yesterday.  Anyone of a certain age who has learned how hard life can be could identify with his struggle and take pleasure in his victory. There is always new drama in the Woods story, and perhaps he will now go on to reach his childhood goal of overtaking Jack Nicklaus for the most major tournament titles.  It felt yesterday, as the thunderstorms rolled across Georgia, that this Masters victory will remain as the greatest moment of all in his extraordinary story.

Gender, Queerness, & Sports


Caster Semenya at the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Photo by Flickr user Citizen59CC BY-SA 2.0.

Runner Caster Semenya’s performance in the Olympics this year is significant not only for South Africa, the country she represents, but also for its implications for gender and sex in sports. Jennifer Doyle discusses the controversy surrounding Semenya in her introduction to “The Athletic Issue,” a special issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies:

“Semenya’s sex was in question before she crossed the finish line in 2009. Her ‘case’ became the biggest story in women’s sports that year. …  When she powered past her opponents, it looked as if she were built of different stuff—as it does in a race that is not close. Such an increase in a man’s speed provokes questions about doping; in a woman it raises a different kind of suspicion. She was accused by many of being a man, of being not ‘100 percent’ woman; she was diagnosed in headlines as a hermaphrodite, as intersex, as a gender freak. She was subjected to diverse tests, the invasive nature of which we can only imagine. Her ‘case’—that of a gender-nonconforming woman who is also one of the fastest women on earth—inspired international bodies governing a range of sports to adopt problematic policies for deciding just what, exactly, makes a woman athlete female.”

ddglq_19_4Read the rest of Doyle’s introduction, “Dirt off Her Shoulders,” made freely available.

Contributors to “The Athletic Issue” address sport and the regulation of gender; gender and authenticity as refracted through race and class; queer feminist engagements with physical culture; and affect and the disorienting animality of the gendered, athletic body.

In her article “Court and Sparkle: Kye Allums, Johnny Weir, and Raced Problems in Gender Authenticity,” Erica Rand compares two 2010 controversies: one involving Kye Allums, the NCAA basketball player who came out as transgender with plans to remain on the women’s team, and another involving figure skater Johnny Weir, whose feminine presentation drew sexist and anti-gay responses.

“I think of putting these case studies together as staging a bit of a queer sports-studies date (and queer-sports-studies date) between two people whose sports profiles suggest little reason to bring them together. Allums plays a team sport firmly ensconced in educational, recreational, and professional realms and dominated at the top by competition among men. Weir competes in an individual sport pursued largely outside educational and professional contexts and with a shaky status as sport, partly because of the perceived dominance of females and feminine-coded characteristics like artistry and dance. Even the athletes’ 2010 gender ordeals differ in significant ways, including that Allums’s has been framed largely as serious business and Weir’s as cruel humor. … Yet as with many such unlikely meet-ups, connections emerge in the unfolding of their stories—You, too? Me, too!—that open up promising topics of shared import.”

Mary Louise Adams continues the exploration of sport and gender nonconformity in “No Taste for Rough and Tumble Play: Sport Discourses, the DSM, and the Regulation of Effeminacy.” Adams examines how gendered ideas about sport came to influence the diagnostic criteria for Gender Identity Disorder in Childhood that appeared in the third and fourth editions of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual:

“In the DSM-IV, there were two parts to the diagnosis. Part A demanded that a child show a ‘strong and persistent cross-gender identification’ manifested by four of five listed diagnostic criteria. Only one of these criteria involved the child’s explicit statement that he or she was or desired to be the other sex. The other four involved behaviors related to dress or to play, including the ‘intense desire to participate in the stereotypical games and pastimes of the other sex.’ Part B of the diagnosis demanded that a child experience ‘persistent discomfort with his or her sex or sense of inappropriateness in the gender role of that sex.’ For a boy, the gender discomfort could be made evident by … ‘aversion toward rough-and-tumble play and rejection of male stereotypical toys, games, and activities.'”

To read more on gender, sex, queerness, and race in sports, check out the table of contents for “The Athletic Issue.” Subscribe to GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies at

The Other Olympic Big Ben

He’s on his way home now, but before he left Daryle Williams sent us another Olympic update from Rio. Williams is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland and co-editor of The Rio de Janeiro Reader: History, Culture, Politics.  Follow him on Twitter @DaryleWilliams and with the hashtag #RioReader.


“Ele é o nosso Big Ben.” “He’s our Big Ben.” That short phrase stuck with me when I heard it my first time in Rio in 1988 and it came back to me when I headed out to watch Olympic canoe slalom in the Deodoro X-Park. I knew little about this extreme sport, but I tried to make sense of the competition by thinking about an iconic clock tower in London and its Carioca counterpart. Neither the English Big Ben nor the 135-meter tower above Central do Brasil rail station is located anywhere near the white water stadiums of London 2012 or Rio 2016, but I figured the pair might serve as a shorthand guide to this Olympic experience.

In 2012, the Elizabeth Tower was a grand symbol of British traditions, familiar the world over. On Opening Day, the Union Jack and Olympic Rings were projected onto the Houses of Parliament, alongside the golden illuminated clock above the Thames. The Rio tower, completed in 1943 atop a train station that dates from the 1850s within sight of the Morro da Providencia, could have figured in the praiseworthy 2016 Opening Ceremonies that told the story of Rio to a global audience of 3 billion. The structure hung a huge banner for World Youth Day (2013) and the Rio state government has used the tower for a public campaign against homophobia. In August 2016, however, the quadrilinear spire remained outside the frame of a nighttime flight from Maracanã stadium across the illuminated city to the white sands of Ipanema.

That omission was not so surprising, as the symbolism of the Carioca Big Ben is hardly stirring. The Central do Brasil station is a crush of human, car, bus, and train traffic devoid of greenery, baristas, and chill. The tower fronts Avenida Presidente Vargas, a soul-sucking thoroughfare that runs from Candelária to flood-prone Praça da Bandeira. In February 2016, the notoriously unreliable clock face was vandalized by a 21-year old whose daring feat — posted on social media as an act of protest over earlier acts of police brutality — fed white upper-class disgust for disorderly, anti-social grafiteiros. Without having to see Walter Salles’ 1998 masterpiece Central do Brasil, most residents of Grande Rio could associate the tower with the scene when Dora (Fernanda Montenegro) is denied a seat on her miserable trip home to a shabby apartment along the suburban train tracks. Although an icon of the Olympic City, surrounded a great many landmarks of Rio’s development as independent city and national capital, the clock tower at Brazil’s Central Station keeps the time of urban alienation.

Accordingly, the SuperVia train trip to a new extreme sports park began in a decidedly un-marvelous way. Prior travel to the Olympic Park in Barra had been highly orderly, surveilled, and virtually commerce-free. Conversely, the trip to Deodoro began with a fend-for-yourself navigation through the gates, grates, and public urinals that surround the station entrance. Beyond the McDonald’s installed in a repurposed ticketing office, the station’s cavernous hall was filled with vendors, buskers, and hustlers. The air was filled with a cacophony of megaphone announcements for trains to Rio’s suburbs in the Zona Norte and Oeste and the far-flung municipalities of the Baixada Fluminense. Olympic signage, volunteers, security, and bilingual welcomes were plentiful, but it was impossible to overlook the muvuca of everyday commuters headed to and from work, home, shopping, assignations, errands, appointments, worship, and school. (Rio state schools would theoretically be on break, but a prolonged teacher strike had forced schools to make up lost time, Olympics notwithstanding).

IMG_7411While waiting for the train to depart, we passengers were bombarded with offers of Bauducco cookies, Kit Kat bars, Grapette, Guaraplus, Antarctica beer (ice cold, Olha a Boa!), iPhone covers, keychains, wallets, and knife sharpeners sold by a legion of casually-dressed, unlicensed vendors who walked up and down the train corridor barking off product names, promotional discounts (one for R$2, three for R$5!), and the promise of refreshment and problems solved. One man, dressed in slightly more respectable attire (a worn blazer and jeans) attested to his former life of sin, asking that we join him in salvation. Another demonstrated the amazing efficiency of a manual cheese grater (first carrots, then potatoes, and zucchini too). Just five reais. Cin-co re-ais! A saucy thirtysomething women talked of the fireworks to follow when her candy pop-rocks touched your tongue. Like the other vendors, she was a woman of color. Passengers were mostly pardos, morenas, and negros of varying skin shades, hair textures, and ages.

As the train pulled out of the station, into former industrial suburbs towards what remains of rural Rio, most Brazilian passengers looked on dispassionately, toying with their smartphones, reading, or sitting quietly. Before the Olympic visitors disembarked at the exceptionally militarized park adjacent Vila Militar, a handful of passengers gave in to the temptations of an impulse purchase.

As we passed gritty yet functional train stations that extended to Japeri, the faces of the Olympic tourists (also dressed casually, with a few tell-tale additions like money pouches and pocket maps) ranged from bemused to confused. It’s unlikely that the outsiders were specifically thinking of the train station that we had left behind, but I could guess that our journey confirmed preexisting expectations of a popular class, mixed-race, ingenuous, and slightly dangerous Rio. It was a glimpse into the lives of authentic Rio. It was an antidote to homogenized, globalized Rio in Barra. The Cariocas and Fluminense passengers surely had a much more nuanced read of the journey — making distinctions between Méier, Madureira, and Marechal Hermes, noting the cleverness of one vendor over another, perhaps identifying with the narrative of redemption. Yet together, locals and visitors shared a part of a Rio nowhere in sight of the warm oranges, yellows, and greens that frame Rio 2016’s visual identity of Cristo Redentor, Pedra da Gávea, the cable car at Sugarloaf, and the sinuous lines of Oscar Niemeyer and Roberto Burle Marx. Together, we moved to Carioca rhythms different from the pasteurized bossa nova piped into the frighteningly over air-conditioned MetrôRio line between Ipanema and Jardim Oceânico.


On the return from Deodoro, another legion of vendors sold their wares. The train was extra crowded, but a woman selling homemade empadas still managed to weave through the crowd, telling us about the quality of her fare. When the train slowed suddenly and those standing had to take a slight jump to regain balance, she began a little fancy footwork, half-laughing about the need to samba to get through life, before quickly moving on to the next sales pitch. Like the Opening Ceremonies, this mini-performance of Carioquice (Rio-ness) ended in samba. But in the shadows of nosso Big Ben, this Olympic-time samba spoke to something different from the postcards and panoramas of our television feeds from Copacabana, Lagoa, and Barra. For me, and perhaps for all of us heading out and back to Deodoro, nosso Big Ben and the Cariocas it serves shall form an equally indispensable part of the global imaginary of an Olympic City.

Learn more about The Marvelous City by reading The Rio de Janeiro Reader . Buy a copy now and save 30% with coupon code E15RIO or purchase an e-book from one of our partners.

The (Big) Olympic City

Here is another Olympic update from Rio by Daryle Williams, Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland and co-editor of The Rio de Janeiro Reader: History, Culture, Politics.  Follow him on Twitter @DaryleWilliams and with the hashtag #RioReader.


Brazilians (and Brazilianists) possess a deep fondness for top rankings. Brazil is the world’s fifth largest in territory. The Amazon is the world’s biggest river. The national soccer team has the most World Cup victories. The highly distressed national GDP still ranks above all but eight other countries. The City of Rio de Janeiro appropriately follows suit. Carioca Carnaval has branded itself A Maior Show da Terra [The Greatest Show on Earth]. The city was recently ranked third in the world for traffic congestion. By some measures, Rocinha is the largest favela in Latin America. The XXXI Olympiad has brought to Rio the largest contingent of female competitors in Olympic history.

At 486 square miles and approximately 6.5 million inhabitants, Rio is not the Brazilian federation’s largest in territory, population, or economic output. Nonetheless, The Marvelous City is Big. The Olympic City is Really Big.

Since arriving last Thursday, it’s been hard for me to wrap my mind around the size and scope of Olympic Rio. I was comfortable enough with the map of venues dedicated to the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, archery, sailing, beach volleyball, and rowing  — an arc from the close-in neighborhoods of the Zona Norte and Zona Sul that basically map the Rio that I know as a historian and sometimes resident. From futebol at Maracanã to a samba school desfile in the Sambódromo, from the Brazilian National Archive off Av. Presidente Vargas to the Brazilian Historical and Geographic Institute in Glória, and between my former apartments in Laranjeiras and Copacabana, I can easily envision the principal locales and locals of the central Olympic zones. On the other hand, my grasp of the Olympic Park in far-away Barra da Tijuca is tenuous, having been to the region just a handful of times over the past quarter-century. My knowledge of Engenho de Dentro — home of track and field competitions at the Olympic Stadium (Engenhão) — is purely theoretical. Deodoro — site of dressage, pentathlon, and various extreme sports — is absolute terra incognita for me.


Since the start of competition, I have attended men’s gymnastics at the Rio Arena in Barra and watched Teams China and Japan roundly beat Italy and Cameroon, respectively, in women’s volleyball at Maracanãzinho. (The crowd was decidedly in support of the losing teams.) Although I was disappointed to witness a sudden wind storm scratch Sunday’s rowing competitions on the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, the setting was a pure picture postcard of a Rio known the world over. Engenho de Dentro is on the agenda for Friday morning, and I just purchased tickets to Thursday’s canoeing and kayaking in Deodoro. By week’s end, I will have stitched together a more expansive geography of Olympic Rio.

Thus far, we have traveled around on a familiar mix of bus, metro, taxi, and private car (hello Uber!). There’s been a sense of comfort with the streets and tunnels of my movement. I have tried to map Rio Antigo onto modern Rio. The recent wholesale reorganization of municipal bus lines has not squelched an obsessive urge to recall former routes and itineraries. A ride along the Aterro do Flamengo’s stunning combination of speed and beauty is still a thrilling journey through two centuries of urban evolution along Guanabara Bay.

rio light rail

Rio’s new light rail line, which began operating in June

But there’s been something new and disruptive to these travels through an Olympic City that appears ever bigger and larger. The 90-minute trip to Barra involved a new metro line between Ipanema and Jardim Ocêanico, followed by a rapid bus to the Olympic Park. “Where are we?,” I wondered aloud. “Where do we go now?” A evening stroll along the Boulevard Olímpico, in the renovated port region, revealed a once-prohibited streetscape liberated from a soul-destroying elevated freeway. The long-forgotten enchantment of Av. Rio Branco returned with a ride on the new light rail line. For me and my fellow passengers, including Cariocas who quizzically asked where to get off or how to use a transit pass, these travels afforded the opportunity to re-discover a familiar city in unfamiliar ways. (Whereas the revelation of the bay shore has been especially striking for a historian working on the nineteenth-century slave trade, the specialist of Belle Époque Rio will be struck by the restored rights to walk downtown streets without fear of being flattened by a truck.)

In combination with new signage and crowd control barriers, a legion of uniformed Olympic volunteers, ticket booth vendors, transit police, and Força Nacional soldiers impose a certain order and discipline to these itineraries of discovery. Nonetheless the trips from my hosts’ apartment in Laranjeiras to the competition venues to meals at Largo do Machado, Vila Isabel, and Botafogo have enabled an unscripted opportunity to grasp a cityscape upended by massive urban reforms and new means of urban mobility. With new eyes, we see a city that was already there, and one in the making. These travels show a metropolis 450 years in the making whose sites of historicity, cosmopolitanness, and Carioca-ness cannot solely be reduced to comparisons with my provincial circuit along MetrôRio’s Linha 1, from Tijuca to Ipanema. Olympic Rio is a city much bigger and more varied than any of us can grasp all at once.


A protest sticker found by the author

Yet the rights and delights of this Olympic flâneur have already unmasked the unfulfilled promise of a unifying Games of Inclusion. The impressive vastness of the Olympic Park in Barra makes known a larger truth of a city of physical separations and environmental injustices. Across long elevated walkways, tall iron fencing, wide streets turned over to automobiles, and sewage-choked canals, the Park and nearby Olympic Village isolate the Olympic City from the rest of the Zona Oeste. They exclude city residents without the proper means to get there in the first place. The destruction of the Vila Autodrómo, immediately adjacent to the Park, figures into the larger narrative of removals that have opened up spaces for competition venues, transportation corridors, public arts, high-end residential towers, and places of consumerist sociability.

Exclusionary urban renewal is hardly new to Rio. A more inclusive Olympiad would have still left behind a human landscape of social difference, layered upon the landscape of earlier reforms. I wonder if it’s even fair to measure inclusion at the Olympic Park and its highly specialized rules written by sporting federations, security officials, global media conglomerates, and corporate licensing. Perhaps the measure of the Games’ in/ex-clusivity is the way that Cariocas and Rio scholars will be drawing their own cartographies of the Big City once the Games conclude. For the present, we continue our itineraries of discovery in the Olympic City, both scripted and unplanned.

Learn more about The Marvelous City by reading The Rio de Janeiro Reader . Buy a copy now and save 30% with coupon code E15RIO or purchase an e-book from one of our partners.

The Pleasure of Sport: Readings for the Olympics

In anticipation of the Olympics starting this weekend, we wanted to share some of our books and special issues on sports. Did we touch on all of your favorites? Let us know in the comments.

Iddrhr_125n the most recent issue of Radical History Review, “Historicizing the Politics and Pleasure of Sport,” (#125) contributors explore how and why sport, paradoxically, leads to empowerment and disempowerment, inclusion and exclusion, unity and division. The issue features cutting-edge research on gender and sexuality, sport in the Global South, neoliberalism, race and ethnicity, and stadiums as sites of urban politics and national identity. The issue also includes a reflection on sport and art, book review essays, contemporary analysis on #BlackLivesMatter and sport, and a forum of scholars who use sport to teach radical history. Read the introduction, made freely available.

ddsaq_105_2A 2006 issue of SAQ: South Atlantic Quarterly, “The Pleasure Principle: Sport for the Sake of Pleasure,” (105:2) is a great read to prepare for the 2016 Olympics. Sport represents a singular source of social belonging and communal enjoyment—sometimes as intense as religious faith. “The Pleasure Principle” contributors address the issue of sport as a form of pleasure, contending that sport, like any form of popular culture, reveals a lot about the society in which it appears. Examining sports through various theoretical lenses, including Marxist, feminist, and poststructuralist, and from numerous disciplinary viewpoints—history, sociology, cinema studies, literature, and cultural studies—this special issue demonstrates the complexity of contemporary sports culture. Read Amy Bass’s “Objectivity Be Damned, or Why I Go to the Olympic Games: A Hands-On Lesson in Performative Nationalism” to learn why the events that transpire in a fortnight of international athletic competition should never be underemphasized, simplified, or dismissed merely as performative pomp and circumstance, or check out the introduction to the issue by David L. Andrews.

978-0-8223-4856-6_prMany of the athletes competing in the games will be truly transnational citizens, playing on a team in one country, while trying for Olympic glory under the different flag of their birth. Sports like soccer, baseball, and golf have tremendous global appeal. Rachael Miyung Joo’s book Transnational Sport: Gender, Media, and Global Korea looks in particular at Korean athletes and events and explores how global sport has helped shape what it means to be Korean.

978-0-8223-5563-2_prThe last time cricket was played at the Olympics was in 1900, but players and organizers are trying to get it included in a future games. To understand cricket, both the game and its cultural context, read C.L.R. James’s classic Beyond a Boundary, originally published in 1963 and republished in a handsome 50th anniversary edition in 2013. Writing in The Nation, Mark Naison called it, “a book of remarkable richness and force, which vastly expands our understanding of sports as an element of popular culture in the Western and colonial world.”

978-0-8223-4276-2_prThe Cuban baseball team has been the most successful national team at the Olympics since 1992, winning the gold medal three times and the silver twice.  The Quality of Home Runs is Thomas F. Carter’s lively ethnographic exploration of the interconnections between baseball and Cuban identity. Suggesting that baseball is in many ways an apt metaphor for cubanidad, Carter points out aspects of the sport that resonate with Cuban social and political life: the perpetual tension between risk and security, the interplay between individual style and collective regulation, and the risky journeys undertaken with the intention, but not the guarantee, of returning home.

Enjoy the games!


Fernando, the Peruvian Neymar by Orin Starn

978-0-8223-5210-5_prOur final World Cup guest post is by Orin Starn, author of The Passion of Tiger Woods and co-editor of The Peru Reader, as well as series editor for The Latin America Readers and The World Readers. He is Professor and Chair of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University.

I’ve  watched the World Cup from a shantytown in desert Peru.  

I’m here doing intensive ethnographic research—well, actually just hanging out—with my two-year old, Lucien. We’re living with a family I’ve known for almost thirty years. Back when I arrived in their village as a young anthropologist, the Córdovas lived in a mud farmhouse up in the Andes. They later followed the great Peruvian migrant trail, a million Joads, down to the big coastal cites. Their hot sandy slum is just a circle removed from hell, at least by regulation American standards. It’s a place of burning garbage piles and swirling dust storms where turkey buzzards, rats and scabrous dogs everywhere patrol for scraps. Life is still much better for the Córdovas. Now they live in a tin-rooved shanty with real matresses, a gas stove, running water, electricity, and internet pirated from a relative next door. There’s also a television that grabs the World Cup with only some good old-fashioned squiggly static.  I’ve found caring for a two-year old here to be sport in itself without the changing table, diaper wipes, and the Babies-R-Us rest, and an extreme one at that. But Lucien is a celebrity with his little blonde curls in a universe of black straight hair. And he gets passed around between houses and relatives in this world where people do not shut themselves off from each other as we so often do in the United States. 

Few here care all that much about the World Cup, contrary to the stereotype of a soccer-crazed subcontinent. Peru hasn’t made it to the World Cups for two decades. You see high shantytown skills in the fulbito, or mini-football,  played in the concrete schoolyard and sandy streets.  But poverty, league corruption, and bad facilities have kept the country from developing any real top-flight players since Teofilo Cubillas, the graceful Afro-Peruvian star who scored eight World Cup goals. Nor is Peru really much of a sports culture. Its genius lies in music, the arts, history, and, now food, with three Peruvian chefs ranked among the world’s top twenty. And then there’s also the gift and curse of Peru’s spectacular outsized geography of tropical jungles, Saharan deserts, and Himalayan peaks.

That doesn’t mean that soccer doesn’t matter. Consider the Neymar haircut of Fernando, a Córdova nephew:




Fernando wanted to dye the floppy top blonde for the full Neymar effect.  “But my parents wouldn’t let me.”   He’s still only ten. He’d had the straight line cut of Daddy Yankee, the reggaeton superstar, the year before:

Daddy Yankee

Now, Fernando says, four or five other boys in his fifth grade class have also gone Neymar. A  little Peruvian boy with the doo of a Nuyorican music idol and now the fallen Brazilian soccer superstar?  Hair has gone global like everything else.  

I ask Fernando why he likes Neymar. “I saw him in some games. He’s fatal, great – he always makes his team win.”   It’s television and the Internet, of course, that led Fernando to Neymar, the great enablers of global celebrity and sports circuits. “I found his pictures on Google. My Dad showed the barber on his phone.”

Hair, as the old school anthropologists liked to remind us, can stand for many things. Status: the Manchu queue and Sun King’s curly wigs. Rebellion: Cromwell’s roundheads, the Rasta’s dreadlocks, and the punk’s mohawk. Religion: the monk’s tonsure and Sikh’s uncut turbanned hair. And even, by its absence, the darkest human suffering,  as in the chemotherapy patient’s baldness or the concentration camp prisoner’s shaved head. Hair may be the most flexible and polysemous sign in the cabinet of body politics.

But for Fernando, hair is as much as anything about idol worship, the little boy’s eternal copycat desire to be like the mythical Olympians.  He was rooting for Brazil, but mostly for Neymar, though he didn’t seem too distraught about his hero’s injury. The day after, he came to show me this meme on his cousin’s laptop.  It had gone viral in Latin America:

Gone viral

The rhyme that makes the meme funny, at least to non-Brazilian fans, only works in Spanish—between ardilla, squirrel, and rodilla, knee. 

Zuñiga asks, “Neymar, did you see the squirrel?” 

“What squirrel?,” Neymar replies.

“The squirrel,” Zuñiga says, “that’s kicking you in the back.”

Fernando didn’t seem too stricken by Brazil’s black day against Germany. He got bored halfway, going out to ride his skateboard on a cracked chunk of sidewalk.

There’s little pan-Latin American solidarity in football fandom. National allegiances trump continental ones; the global south remains a term more for postcolonial academics than a felt sentiment here.  Brazilians have something the reputation of the old ugly Americans here, the arrogant tourists.  Argentina seems very far away, and it has treated its Peruvian immigrants poorly—maids and construction workers. There was a sprinkling of Brazil, Argentina, Germany, and even Dutch supporters among the Córdova clan, though no one was going to lose any sleep over the results:

  Brazilians watching

One cousin, Cristina, did say she felt sorry for the Brazilians, a touch of human kindness.

Fernando’s sister, Made, 11, is a Messi fan, rooting for Argentina.  She was the secret weapon for her the sixth grade team at the Nuestra Señora de Lourdes school. Her coach would bring her in to play right wing when the team had to have a goal.  The other coaches complained that having a girl violated school rules, however, and Made didn’t like some of the boys shouting insults at her either. In Peru’s brand of soccer sexism, boys play soccer, and girls, if they play sports at all, play volleyball (and, it should be noted, the Peruvian women’s volleyball team took home the silver medal in the 1988 Olympics in a great underdog story of modern sports).  Made doesn’t play anymore, though with her gold-studded flatbill hat and cool funky look she’s not heading for Barbieland either.

  Fernando and cousin

I ask Fernando how long he’ll keep his Neymar cut. He’s not sure. Until, smiles his father Yonny, something new comes along from the  “fábrica de los suenos—the dream factory,” the shining online world of myth and fantasy by the gigabyte.

It seems to me enough worth recording the moment to snap one last picture of Fernando outside the house.

He holds his ball in his own little World Cup fold in time.

Fernando and ball


Super Marta and Our Own Crises by Marc Hertzman

978-0-8223-5430-7_prToday's World Cup guest post is by Marc Hertzman, author of Making Samba. Hertzman is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Illinois.

When my high school soccer team played in the state finals our coach was Ann Cernicek.  Cernicek and her sister, Molly, had decorated college careers and helped push the wave that carried U.S. women’s soccer to global prominence.  Nonetheless, her presence on the sidelines of the boys’ championship was remarkable, all the more so because she was eight-months pregnant at the time. 

Coach Cernicek has been on my mind during the run-up to the World Cup, where Brazilian women will shape the competition—and be shaped by it—as never before.  People like to say that the political fortunes of Dilma Rousseff, the nation’s first female president, rest in the hands of the men’s team.  If they win the Cup, she’ll be re-elected.  If not, she stands no chance.
Espnw_g_marta_22_576If the Seleção doesn’t win, some may also grumble that the roster didn’t include arguably the best soccer player ever. Marta Vieira da Silva (known simply as “Marta”) has won or finished second as FIFA’s women’s Player of the Year an amazing nine times. Like countless other extraordinary female athletes, Marta has drawn attention both for her otherworldly skills and things that have nothing to do with them, all while challenging widespread expectations about gender and sports.

During the Cup we can expect the kind of imagery and division of labor that seems to mark every big sport event.  Barely-clothed women will present awards (FIFA’s notoriously sexist president already drew criticism for the staging of the draw); at least one coach will ban “wives and girlfriends” from the team hotel; and the press will ogle female fans and print sensationalist accounts of prostitution and “sex in the tropics,” even while Brazil (like the U.S.) struggles to crack down on sex trafficking.

It’s still too early to tell what Dilma’s presidency will mean for women’s rights, writ large, but there’s little indication that even she can bring meaningful change to the world of big-money sports.  Marta and groups like GuerreirasProject have campaigned tirelessly for gender justice, funding, and respect for women’s soccer in Brazil, whose supremely talented female squad is perennially crippled by meager government support.  Whether or not sponsorship evolves in Brazil, Marta’s impact is undeniable, evident in her blog, which is full of inspiring messages not only from young women seeking guidance, sending good wishes, or recounting how Marta changed their lives, but also from boys and men who write for myriad reasons.  Marcio posted a message asking if he and his boyfriend, both homesick, could get together with her in Sweden, where she plays for a club team.  Kenedy, age 14, wanted advice about how to help his sisters launch successful careers.  José logged in just to state the obvious, leaving behind a short, straightforward message: “Best player in the world.”

As in Brazil, the future of women’s rights, gender justice, sports, and politics all hang in the balance here in the U.S.  Many in the press have already anointed Hillary as our first female president.  Meanwhile, the bloated, corrupt NCAA—a body that, like it or not, my fellow academics and I are impossibly entangled with—is simultaneously enmeshed in an overwhelming crisis of sexual violence on campus and challenged by the heady, complex prospects of “student-athlete” unionization, a project that holds tantalizing possibilities but also potentially disastrous results for women’s athletics.  As these stories play out, we will do well to think hard about our own relationship with spectacular sporting events abroad and close to home and to pay attention to Marta, Dilma, and less-known trailblazers like Cernicek, all of whom have more than a few lessons to teach us all.

Football in a Serious Country by John Gledhill

978-0-8223-5187-0_prToday's World Cup guest post is by John Gledhill, co-editor (with Patience A. Schell) of New Approaches to Resistance in Brazil and Mexico. Gledhill is Max Gluckman Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. 

As the World Cup approached, British newspapers ran stories about facilities not being ready, the horrific possibility of being unable to tweet friends and family during matches because of deficiencies in Brazil’s communications infrastructure, strikes taking advantage of the moment in a Presidential election year, and most popular of all, shootouts between traffickers and police in Rio de Janeiro’s “pacified” favelas. Sporting pages warned England fans of the tropical miseries to be endured during their team’s first fixture in Manaus, and the challenges presented by Brazilian airports and public transport systems. But complementing this negative reporting was a more positive approach to protests about the Cup. That football embodies the pathologies of contemporary capitalism is hardly news to residents of Manchester, whose global sporting brand, Manchester United Plc, was taken over by the US-based Glazer family through a series of controversial loan-based share deals in 2005. Now a New York listed company incorporated in the Cayman Islands, United is currently eclipsed in the English Premier League by local rival Manchester City, 100% owned by the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi. Yet even the English could not fail to be impressed by the depth of the critiques of FIFA that emerged from Brazil’s longstanding experience of the sleazier side of the “beautiful game”.

Opinion surveys now show that less than half the Brazilian population approve hosting the World Cup. We are not talking simply about an awakened generation of middle class kids but a country of continental scale denying its stereotyping and being “serious” about what kind of social future it wants and its role on the world stage. The legacies of authoritarianism and racism that haunt modern Brazil are daunting. Progress has been made on discrimination and poverty reduction. Increases in real wages and formal employment renewed social mobility. Yet in Brazil as elsewhere, wealth inequalities and the social self-segregation of the more fortunate present formidable challenges to constructing a more humane, less violent, society. The problems that have emerged in Rio’s favela pacification program show that not enough has changed since 2007, when state governor Sergio Cabral ordered the invasion and siege of the Alemão favela complex during the Pan American Games. Securitization unjustly defines favela residents as threats to the rest of society, and “proximity policing” proves difficult to implement because of deep rooted problems within the police corporations themselves. Budgets for the other side of “pacification”, investment in the social development of poor neighbourhoods that ironically preserve stronger patterns of collective sociability than the “asphalt” despite the violence, are inadequate because of spending on infrastructure for the Cup that has scant social utility and the social cost of forced relocations. Accumulation by dispossession remains the rule rather than the exception in neoliberal cities since reducing violence in poor neighbourhoods makes them apt for gentrification. Yet in triggering demands that the money be spent instead on improving public health, education and transport, this World Cup should not only convince foreigners that Brazilians understand that football, like carnival, is about profits for the few, but also put the country at the forefront of any doubts the world’s political classes may be beginning to have about the sustainability of that model. 

Seth Garfield Celebrates the 1994 World Cup with the Xavante Indians

978-0-8223-2665-6_prToday's World Cup guest post is an excerpt from Indigenous Struggle at the Heart of Brazil by Seth Garfield. Garfield is Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas, Austin. Garfield's latest book is In Search of the Amazon.

On the night of July 17, 1994, I joined hands with Xavante Indians in their village of Parabubure in central Brazil as they celebrated a festive occasion with song and dance. Ringed in a circle, the Indians stomped the earth at the center of the village in graceful rhythm, chanting sonorously in their Gê tongue. As men pounded their feet in one step and women in another, the gendered spheres of Xavante society were ritually enacted. The remoteness of Parabubure from Brazilian settlements shrouded the ceremony in eerie seclusion, the starlit Mato Grosso sky offering the only illumination. Had their forebears been resurrected for an instant and accompanied the performance, they might have thought that little had changed, that the Xavante remained undisputed masters of their territory, faithful preservers of ancestral custom.

But they would have been deceived.Whereas the Xavante once danced on land that extended ‘‘to where the earth touches the sky,’’ they now trod on the confines of a reservation, demarcated by the Brazilian government a decade and a half earlier. Decrepit buildings, the administrative skeletons of a defunct cattle agribusiness, marred the natural tapestry of sprawling shrub, the familiar backdrop for communal ritual. Worn-out clothing draped muscular bodies once bared publicly with neither reproach nor shame. Moreover, the Xavante were not honoring an ancient tradition nor performing a long-standing rite. They were commemorating Brazil’s victory in the World Cup.

Earlier in the day, the Xavante were not celebrating much at all. They were struggling, like other historical actors, to make the most of their circumstances. As their village lacked electricity, the Indians had hoped to view the final soccer match on the public television in the central plaza of
Campinápolis, the nearest town, which was a two-hour drive away. On the dirt road to town, the Indianswould pass a succession of cattle ranches whose fenced-off pasture land once served as hunting ground for wild pig, anteater, deer, and peccary.With shattered pride but determination, the progeny of a onetime warrior nation could take their rightful place in the Campinápolis square, brooking the racism and condescension of ranchers and townspeople.

Cirilo, the Xavante driver, planned to chauffeur many of the eighty or so members of his community in the truck that the Fundação Nacional dol ĺndio (National Indian Foundation, funai) had provided some time ago. He regularly transported fellow villagers to town to buy foodstuffs, clothes, and basic household goods, as well as to receive medical treatment and social security payments. But with each attempt by Cirilo to rev the engine, frustration mounted as the Indians sensed that the trip would
be canceled. 

The Xavante might have radioed funai regional headquarters to send a mechanic. Based on long experience, though, they knew that state assistance would not be forthcoming for days or even weeks. Besides, the radio was broken as well, informed Carlos, a Xavante who headed the funai post in the village and earned his pay as an agency employee. For the final match of the World Cup, a portable radiowould have to suffice, and we all huddled around to await the momentous showdown between Brazil and Italy. The nation’s triumph on the soccer field electrified the indigenous community. During that nighttime revelry, their cynicism (and that of other Brazilians) regarding state capacity and national potential appeared to dissipate.

Less than half a century earlier, the Xavante were as much in the dark as the countryside around them that night regarding soccer, trucks, radios, researchers, reservations, the Indian bureau, and nationalism. In short, they knew little about Brazil, whose victory they now cheered. Nor did they have very much interest, for that matter. Had my grandfather ventured off in his youth to a Xavante village to learn about the interplay between state policy and indigenous political culture, he might have witnessed a more ‘‘traditional’’ lifestyle. He also likely would not have lived to tell the tale.

From the second half of the nineteenth century to the mid–twentieth century, the Xavante defended an enormous stretch of territory in northeastern Mato Grosso against Indian and non-Indian alike. Male warriors bludgeoned interlopers to death, strewing their naked corpses as testaments to Xavante supremacy, xenophobia, and masculine prowess. A history of resistance to Portuguese and Brazilian expansionism and of sociopolitical autonomy fueled Xavante belligerence.

Copyright Duke University Press, 2001.

Brazilian Multiculturalism and the World Cup by Jeffrey Lesser

978-0-8223-4081-2_prToday's World Cup post is by Jeffrey Lesser. Lesser, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of History at Emory University, is the author of Negotiating National Identity, and A Discontented Diaspora and editor of Searching for Home Abroad.

The Brazilian nature of multiculturalism is particularly apparent during World Cup years.  This international soccer championship has more viewers than any other single sporting event and in 2006, sixty million people watched Brazil defeat Croatia in the opening week of the championship. More than ten times that number watched the final game in 2010. In Brazil numerous channels broadcast the national team games simultaneously. Yet another phenomenon also takes place in Brazil, a country which has received immigrants from Asia, the Middle East, the Americas and Africa from the late nineteenth until today.

Some Brazilian fans root for the teams of their ancestors while others take a nationalist position.  Ethnic restaurants are often filled with cheering fans, many who root against the team of the country whose food they are ostensibly eating. In São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul you might go to a cantina (a Brazilian version of a trattoria) to root against Italy. When the World Cup was held in Japan in 2002, some Japanese-Brazilians began wearing a t-shirt with an image of the rising sun and the phrase “I will never visit you.” A significant number of fans of the Rio de Janeiro futebol team Flamengo, however, took a different position.  Their allegiance was to the team’s greatest player, Zico, who in 2002 was coach of the Japanese national team.  As Japanese-Brazilians roared for Brazil, Flamengo’s die-hards screamed for Japan led by their beloved player.