Saturday, 12 June 2010

Advance Coverage

'This is the moment'

Living in New Zealand means having to get up in the middle of the night for most major sporting events, but especially football world cups, which are unfailingly scheduled with the needs of European viewers foremost in mind, needs that happen to be quite literally diametrically opposed to ours. Now getting up for one game a night is bad enough, but if there are two and the first one starts at 1.30 am while the second one starts at 6.15 am, it can really mess with your circadian rhythms, not to mention family life and work. So you reluctantly opt to record either one game or both. I say reluctantly because there is always something a little dissonant about watching a delayed coverage. It shatters that illusion always lurking in the back of the mind that your thoughts and prayers can influence real world events happening thousands of miles away, for one thing, but it also messes with the sense of being there, in and of the moment, that the telemediated coverage strives to instil in the viewer. On top of that, you find that you can no longer wake up to the news on the radio, or consult news websites, or get on to Facebook and so forth, or be in the company of other people for that matter. This morning for instance my eldest son's team was playing so we postponed watching the two opening games until we got back home. Later at the park I was involved in the following exchange:
ME Nobody tell me the overnight soccer* results, I recorded the games.
VARIOUS SOCCER MUMS Cries of 'okay', 'sure', vigorous nodding, etc.
ME Mexico and South Africa first, then France and Uruguay.
SHE Oh, yes, that one ended nil-nil.
ME Argh!
Even worse than that, is when somebody tells you that they know the score but of course they're not going to tell you, and then proceed to say that it was a great game (which in itself is a spoiler, dammit) or find other ways to give away - or make you paranoid that they might have given away - who the winner was.

Why knowing the result should matter is obvious enough: each play is a mini-performance whose outcome is not predetermined, and in that uncertainty lies much of the fascination of watching a sporting event, whether you feel personally invested in the outcome or not. Whereas the instant replay is all about admiring the skill and the athleticism and the tangling of bodies, or the emotions on display, and as such it is quite a different kind of experience. That's why it is slowed down, isn't it? It's already remediated in the form of a memory, a flashback.

But of course, as Richard Grusin teaches us and has Mark pointed out in the aftermath of the last tournament, contemporary media are about flashing forward as much as they are about flashing backwards; they see their task as preparing us for that moment of magic, the highlight reel play, the historic outcome. Let the memories begin, indeed.

And so this morning, during a replay of the opening goal of the tournament, by then less than ten minutes old (or several hours old, if you factor in when it was that I watched it), I heard the nameless FIFA commentator of the feed that is beamed to New Zealand say this:
This is the moment. This was the moment. And it will be one of the moments of this world cup. Whatever happens from here, it will be one of the most memorable strikes of this tournament.
Siphiwe Tshabalala's brilliant goal was being relived, but also pre-packaged as tournament highlight, flagged for the commemorative DVDs of the tournament, pursuant to the same logic that makes so many commentators these days anxiously dot their calls with cries of 'will this be the moment?', or preface every other corner or free kick with the words 'will they score?' What one detects at such moments is true anxiety, actual fear: that the sporting event that is being filmed and described to us, and that ought to be something quintessentially Real, might fail to deliver a single memorable moment, perhaps for the very reason that the whole world is watching; and that therefore the game itself, and then who knows, maybe even the whole tournament, might fail to take place**.

* That's what we have to call it in New Zealand, where football is reserved for rugby.
**Like, say, the 1994 World Cup.

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