Saturday, 3 July 2010

The Good Soldier Suarez

"Luis Suarez - hero or villain?" - it's an obvious question to ask after last night's events in Johannesburg. But maybe we need to look beyond the "unadulterated fist-pumping joy" of Suarez, after he "saved" Uraguay's World Cup dreams against Ghana, to see another dimension of the piece, a dimension that comes most starkly into view when we (quite naturally) compare it to that other infamous handball. So, tongue ever so slightly in Zizekian cheek, I would like to suggest that, in comparison to Diego Maradona's 'perverse' Hand of God, Senor Suarez's intervention was a far more radical and destabilising act....

Maradona's gesture was, properly speaking, 'perverse' in that it was a direct - obscene - transgression of the rules which effectively re-inforced the status of the law: after the event "Maradona" could indeed be accorded a simple, binary, symbolic significance - as hero or villain, redeemer or cheat - whose actions merely proved the necessity of regulation. He got away with it (much like every pilled-up hedonist "gets away with it" every weekend) and there was considerable collective jouissance to be had as a result (especially given the Falklands and all that). And what was it that he and his hombres were really glorifying in if not the perverse pleasure of successful naughtiness, the 'obscene superego supplement'? His was an act of symbolic transgression; an attempt to prove that he was 'above' the law - thereby revealing his implicit reliance on the law as the constitutive ground for his own megalomaniacal ego - and one that the law, for its part, was quite happy to go along with, knowing its authority was in no real way being challenged.*

In contrast, the Suarez event is more radical, more real, more disturbing, for it all happened within - the gaze of - the law. The law was not transgressed, it was followed to the letter, and thereby its failure - its groundlessness and absurdity - was revealed, its ultimate impotence laid bare for all to see.** As an arbitrary and violent imposition of order onto contingency the law makes the game (all games) possible but we need to be reminded of its all too human origins, that it is not all-powerful (is 'non-all') and cannot legislate for all eventualities. This opens up the possibility of our taking some minimal distance from it, appreciating once more that we, and not the gods, are responsible for the law, and that, at the end of the day, while "you've gotta take each game as it comes", you mustn't let that blind you to the fact that it is a game and as such reliant on an ineliminable element of chance (not to mention violence - as many Ghana fans would no doubt testify today).

Ergo, the Good Soldier Suarez is a radical hero!

* "Maradona lifted the World Cup trophy, ensuring that he would be remembered as one of the greatest names in football history. In a tribute to him, the Azteca Stadium authorities built a statue of him scoring the "goal of the century" and placed it at the entrance of the stadium" ( - in granting the official Genius of his other goal, the "authorities" were clearly quite happy to turn a blind eye to his act of transgression....

** similar arguments could be made about the Lampard and Tevez "goals" last weekend perhaps....?


  1. Excellent post. I found myself quite surprised to see Suarez described as having 'cheated' last night, even though, of course, in a certain sense he did. It seemed to me however, that, although his action was functionally identical to Maradona's, Maradona 'cheated' whereas Suarez didn't. Why? Because, unlike Maradona, Suarez broke the rules and,having been seen to do so, was punished.
    There's an interesting asymmetry. Maradona's action wouldn't have been effective if it had been officially acknowledged - the goal would have been disallowed - whereas Suarez's could. Even though Suarez was officially acknowledged to have handled the ball, this didn't stop his preventing the goal from being scored.

  2. I'm not even sure that the Zizekian tongue in cheek is necessary.

    Dry points, I know, but the decisive free-kick was wrongly awarded (as the commentators conceded, the player fell over himself and rather cynically claimed the foul) and two attackers were offside when the kick was taken. I say this not as 'but he started it!' mudslinging, but as another illustration of the incomplete/ineffective nature of the 'law' of a football match.

    If Suarez hadn't blocked the ball, Uruguay could justifiably say that *they* were cheated out of a World Cup semi-final. Only two possible outcomes to the match at that point, neither of them particularly just.

    I give it a week before somebody writes a piece comparing Suarez to Bruce Wayne.

  3. Steve Hodge swapped shirts with Maradona and the shirt is currently on display in Nottingham while the Museum of Football moves from Preston to Manchester:

    Hodge says that players regularly 'try things on'. Here's Gary Crosby 'trying one on':

  4. I was at that game when Crosby scored that goal - cheeky but not cheating surely!

  5. digitalben - I like the Bruce Wayne idea! and you've pretty much covered it yourself there.

    However, the fuss over the whole thing - the BBC site kept trumpeting the fact yday that the hero or villain piece got hundreds (now thousands) of polarised comments - suggests that it's still reasonable to see it as a 'destabilising' act that people are struggling to assimilate,* to work out the 'justice' of, rather than a conscious decision to take the law into his own hands...

    *it even "still sickens" Dr.Z I see!

    PS I love the emotional journey Andy Dibble goes through there - from an initial flash of outrage, through a drawn-out and utterly bemused incomprehension of what's just befallen him, to the ultimate futile pitch-punching gesture of indignation! Poor guy.

  6. Slippery slopes of the best kind: it's Foul Play like fouls are foul play, like a cynical swing at the legs of an attacker bearing down on goal is foul play (and the punishment is identical: penalty, red card). Regarding Suarez as 'a cheat' is a category error, perhaps related to the body horror of the hand/arm in football (the clue's in the name; it can't ever be Soccer): he used his HAND, that loathsome, Lovecraftian tentacular! That crawling chaos of fingers!

    If he'd kicked Gyan viciously down, he'd be called cynical but not regarded as a cheat. He's cheating the idea of the game, the essence of fairness and justice is being leeched out but it's hardly Suarez standing alone here: there's mock injury, there's WWF in the box (only Spain have taken that debacle as far as it could be taken and were punished accordingly), there's...

    Hell, there's playing two banks of four against more skillful opponents, there's not letting Messi score, there's...

    Suarez is going to miss the game of his life because he took one for the team... that is the just punishment...

    Unless he scores the winner in the final, that is...

  7. Interesting point about the horror at the use of the hand, Loki. Surely that's part of the enduring impact of the Maradona incident - he not only used the profane Hand, but had the gall to claim that it was sacred...