A Dutch fan blows her vuvuzela ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Group E match between Netherlands and Denmark at Soccer City Stadium on June 14, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
If the best thing you can say about an annoying and medically dangerous device is that using it is a tradition, it’s time to throw it out.
Instead of doing the right thing and banning the horns, FIFA and South Africa are saying it’s a national tradition and must be allowed to continue so that we can fully appreciate this bit of local color.
I can only assume these people take their lead from Bud Selig, the baseball commissioner who is the world leader in defending stupid traditions.
Tradition is never a good excuse to do anything. If something makes sense or is fun or touches some primal emotion or advances the cause of humanity, then it is worthwhile. If it makes no sense, is offensive to large numbers of people, is fun only to those who do it, and advances nothing except adult hearing loss, then it is not worth continuing.
Civilization is built on such reasoning. When traditions are exposed as harmful, we abandon them. Wife beating, slavery, public floggings, caste systems, human sacrifice, institutional bigotry and all other manner of evil stuck around because they were traditions. But common decency and justice prevailed in civilized societies.
A silly toy trumpet isn’t the same in order of magnitude. But the idea is the same.
Vuvuzelas are stupid. They ruin the viewing experience for fans who paid to see a live World Cup match. They are so loud they can damage hearing. They serve no useful purpose other than fulfilling man’s primal need to make loud noises. (Women are generally lacking in this regard.)
If the horns were rooted deep in African tradition, I might feel differently. And that’s what I thought when I first heard the word “vuvuzela” and learned it was an African noisemaker and not an Italian swear word.
If the South Africans were so deeply attached to this toy that they couldn’t watch a soccer match without it, I figured the vuvuzela must once have been something exotic and uniquely African, like a trumpet made out of an elephant tusk. What else could make a noise that suggests that a swarm of bees had gotten into Barry Bonds’ medicine cabinet and set up housekeeping in a soccer stadium?
So I did what anybody else would do: I Googled it. And instead of an exotic African instrument I saw a plastic horn identical to one I bought more than 40 years ago in the interest of being a nuisance at high-school basketball games.
Back then I succeeded beyond my wildest ambitions. The horn was so loud and the noise so painful that I was banned from blowing it before the second quarter started. I felt that this was a major abridgement of my first amendment right to freely express myself. I was told I was mistaken, and not even the ACLU would disagree.
In other words, the vuvuzela is no more uniquely African than beer is uniquely German. Just as beer was being brewed in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago, vuvuzelas have been causing hearing loss for some time.
But they never caught on as something as essential to watching a sporting event until they made into South Africa and started infesting soccer stadiums in the ’90s. For some reason, authorities there didn’t ban them.
Maybe it’s just because attendance at normal soccer matches is so marginal that the ticket sellers don’t want to do anything to discourage the paying customers. Maybe it’s because it started with a few horns and just kept growing, but nobody really noticed how loud it had gotten. Or maybe Bud Selig’s running the South African soccer federation.
Whatever the reason, it’s not even a real tradition, not after fewer than 20 years. The object is to make noise. That’s what fans do, and soccer fans are famous for keeping up chants and songs and dancing for entire matches.
In South Africa, there are no chants, no songs, and little dancing. How can you do any of those things with all that racket from the vuvuzelas?
You can’t, and what the authorities are saying by allowing these infernal aural torture devices is that they prefer mindless noise to actual cheering.
The idea is to get more people to watch, not fewer; it’s to enhance everyone’s experience, not ruin it. Why is that so hard to understand?