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Jewish World Review
June 22, 2010
/ 10 Tamuz 5770
Buzz off? : What to do about the vuvuzela
Here is why I love the World Cup: Every four years it creates a perfectly controlled environment in which national characteristics are suddenly illuminated and easily compared. There is none of the chaos of the Olympics, with its confusing mixture of sports and its nationally biased television transmissions. With only one sport and one tournament, everybody has to watch at the same time and everybody has the same conversation. This year, that conversation is about fumbled saves, bad penalty calls -- and the vuvuzela.
For those who haven't been following, the vuvuzela is a longish plastic trumpet that produces a buzzing noise, something like an overgrown penny whistle. When thousands of people blow these whistles at once, they make a very loud buzzing noise, something like a massive swarm of bees. When played in a World Cup soccer stadium, they create an irritating background hum -- one that is capable of ruining the sound on a billion television sets around the world.
In the United States, we Americans have responded pragmatically to this nuisance, treating the vuvuzela as a slightly mystifying foreign addition to a slightly mystifying foreign game, and quietly posting online technical advice for those who want to filter out the buzz. But for the Germans, the vuvuzela creates a moral problem. Some angrily demand a ban. Others call the plastic horns "traditional instruments of South African football," and oppose a ban, on the grounds that this would demonstrate unacceptably Eurocentric disdain for other cultures. The center-right Die Welt denounced "the intolerance of those who are annoyed by the vuvuzela" and instructed its readers to accept that "vuvuzelas belong to South African football like battle songs belong to German games." The center-left Die Tageszeitung bluntly told its readers to "turn the sound down" on their televisions if they can't accept this foreign custom. Presumably, German archeologists and anthropologists are already on their way to southern Africa to begin the hunt for ancient sources of colored plastic.
In France, by contrast, the vuvuzela presents an aesthetic problem: If you can't ban them, then integrate them into the artistic canon. Le Monde suggests treating this plastic horn as a genuine instrument, even providing its online readers with links to vuvuzela works composed by one Pedro Espi-Sanchis ("Pedro the Musicman") a musicologist, musician and Spanish teacher resident in Cape Town. The newspaper Liberation last week absorbed the term into its art criticism, too, condemning a particularly noisy set of installations as "vuvuzelas de l'art contemporain" ("vuvuzelas of contemporary art").
For the South Koreans, the vuvuzela presents complex issues of etiquette. One Korean columnist feared an outright ban would be rude to the host country. But perhaps other "traditional" instruments might be substituted? "Sometimes when percussionists in the stadium are flashed up on the television screen, I ardently wish to hear the sound they make," he wrote, and then made an attempt at gentle persuasion: "I sincerely hope our African friends will put down the horns and take up other instruments." If persuasion should fail, however, "one can find solace in the fact that the games will be adjourned in three weeks."
As for the North Koreans, we don't know what they think: Although their official news agency has conceded that the national team is indeed playing in the World Cup, no additional information -- not on vuvuzelas and not on rumors that some players tried to defect -- is available.
No such reticence is evident in Britain, where the tabloids accuse the instruments of causing hearing loss, swollen lips, even windpipe rupture. Worse is predicted: British supermarkets are said to be selling out of the instruments, with tens of thousands more under order. These are expected to arrive just in time to ruin the English football season next autumn, possibly forever.
This vuvuzela invasion will not be coming from South Africa, of course. For some nations, the vuvuzela is not a problem but an opportunity. Instead of making noise, complaining about noise -- or, like the Argentine goalie, blaming the noise for one's mistakes -- the Chinese have been manufacturing the noise-makers like crazy. A million vuvuzelas have already been shipped from Zhejiang and Guangdong to South Africa, and more are on their way to the rest of the world. The Guangda Toy Factory in Yiwu has already raised its production to 20,000 per day, according to one report, and the owner says she will continue to produce them "as long as there is market demand."
Which there will be, at least until someone has the good sense to ban them.
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Gulag: A History
Nearly 30 million prisoners passed through the Soviet Union's labor camps in their more than 60 years of operation. This remarkable volume, the first fully documented history of the gulag, describes how, largely under Stalin's watch, a regulated, centralized system of prison labor-unprecedented in scope-gradually arose out of the chaos of the Russian Revolution. Fueled by waves of capricious arrests, this prison labor came to underpin the Soviet economy. JWR's Applebaum, a former Warsaw correspondent for the Economist and a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, draws on newly accessible Soviet archives as well as scores of camp memoirs and interviews with survivors to trace the gulag's origins and expansion Sales help fund JWR.
Comment on JWR contributor Anne Applebaum's column by clicking here.
06/08/10: Germany's dangerous code of silence
06/02/10: Can the Brits play nice?
05/11/10: Greece's stubborn surrender
05/04/10: Another human-rights irony at the U.N.
04/27/10: Britain's spot of Tea Party
04/13/10: Out of tragedy, a detente of sorts between Russia, Poland
03/25/10: From Britain's Tories, lessons for the GOP
03/16/10: Britain and America both have center-left leaders, but the two nations are further apart than ever
03/09/10: Germany Is Tired of Paying Europe's Bills
03/02/10: Chile will survive the earthquake because its democracy works
02/23/10: Prepare for war with Iran in case Israel strikes
02/17/10: America's Greek tragedy?
02/09/10: The Big Problem With Big Solutions
01/26/10: India's model of reflective patriotism
01/12/10: Haiti's man-made disasters
01/12/10: We need a smarter way to fight the jihadi elite
01/05/10: How every year we waste millions on wasteful homeland-security projects
12/30/09: The next decade will be bad for authoritarian regimes except one
12/15/09: The Apocalypse Is Not Upon Us
11/24/09: Superpower without a partner
11/17/09: Why has the global response to swine flu been so politicized?
11/10/09: After the wall fell
11/03/09: Angela Merkel's Quiet Revolution
10/20/09: Will the President of Europe Be a Gifted Pol or a Compromising Bureaucrat?
09/29/09:What Is Iran Afraid Of?
09/22/09: Letting Europe Drift
09/17/09: Greed and fear are proving stronger than companies' commitment to free speech
09/08/09: Will Obama Fight For Afghanistan?
09/01/09: The Polish Prologue
08/20/09: Why Afghans Need a Vote
07/29/09: No Burqa For Clinton
07/14/09: The Summit of Green Futility
07/09/09: Obama Puts Medvedev Ahead of Putin
06/30/09: In Morocco, an alternative to Iran
06/23/09: An overlooked force in Iran
06/16/09: Some good in a bad election
06/09/09: Why Is the Right Doing So Well in Europe?
06/02/09: Is China Pulling Strings in North Korea?
05/26/09: What a Member of Parliament Deserves
04/22/09: The Twitter Revolution That Wasn't
04/14/09: Do we really need interactive exhibits to bring Jefferson to life?
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03/31/09: What's Loud, Unnecessary, and Costs $75 Million?
03/03/09: European Disunion
02/24/09: Who cares what Hillary Clinton says to China's leaders about human rights?
02/17/09: Witless protection
02/10/09: Our Ticket Out of Afghanistan
01/27/09:Why some foreigners can't believe Obama won the presidency fair and square
01/20/09: A Flight Test for All of Us
01/14/09: Europe's New Cold War
01/07/09: Pointless Peace Proposals
12/30/08: The magnificent rhetorical legacy of the Founding Fathers
12/23/08: Do riots in Athens portend demonstrations in Paris and Cincinnati?
12/16/08: Breach of Trust: Bernard Madoff's massive fraud will cripple American capitalism
12/09/08: In praise of charismatic politicians
12/03/08: Moscow's Empire of Dust
11/20/08: Getting Past Mythmaking In Georgia
11/12/08: In Praise of Political Rock Stars
10/03/08: Election Day myths you must resist
09/30/08: Not just a metaphor: Lehman Brothers was economic's 9/11
09/04/08: Class of '64
08/28/08: Did Hillary really help the Barack cause?
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08/19/08: What Is Russia Afraid Of?
08/13/08: When China Starved
08/11/08: Two of the world's rising powers are strutting their stuff
08/05/08: How Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago changed the world
07/29/08:The Hour of Europe Tolls Again … But are European politicians up to the task?
07/15/08: Why Does Obama Want To Campaign in Berlin?
07/01/08: Citizen Athletes: How did a guy who can't speak Polish end up scoring Poland's only goal of Euro 2008?
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06/17/08: Pity the Poor Eurocrats
06/12/08: Is the World Ready for a Black American President?
05/28/08: The Busiest Generation: America seems to value its children's status and achievements over their happiness
05/20/08: Leave Hitler Out of It: The craze for injecting the Nazis into political debate must end
05/13/08: A Drastic Remedy: The case for intervention in Burma
05/07/08: A Warning Shot From Moscow?
04/23/08: Radio to stay tuned to
04/17/08: China learns the price of a few weeks of global attention
04/01/08: Head scarves are potent political symbols
03/26/08: The Olympics are the perfect place for a protest
03/19/08: Could Tibet bring down modern China?
03/12/08: Have political autobiographies made us more susceptible to fake memoirs?
03/05/08: Why does Russia bother to hold elections?
02/20/08: Kosovo is a textbook example of the law of unintended consequences
02/06/08: A Craven Canterbury Tale
02/06/08: French prez' whirlwind romance reminds voters of his political recklessness
© 2009, Anne Applebaum. By permission of the author