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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope


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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Thursday, July 01, 2010

When bread is assured, circuses fill men’s minds

Theodore Dalrymple on sports in general and France's World Cup humiliation in particular:
Knowing the dangers of snobbery, however, is not quite the same as eliminating it from one’s own heart and mind. I admit that, in the inner recesses of my being, I am a fearful snob. For example, I feel nothing but contempt for people for whom sport is important. This is particularly pertinent at the moment, because the greatest sporting event in the world by far, the football (soccer) World Cup, is taking place in South Africa as I write this. There could be no greater snobbery than to feel contempt for the hundreds of millions of people world-wide for whom this event is of consuming interest. When bread is assured, circuses fill men’s minds.

Nowhere has this been more so than in France, where a veritable crisis has been caused by the utter failure of the national team. That team played lamentably badly, failed to win a single match, lost against the most mediocre opponents, was eliminated from the competition at the first hurdle, and worse still behaved abominably.

...

It seems to me very odd, and not at all reassuring, that a country such as France, with a practically unrivalled history of achievement in all the major fields of human endeavour, should have been precipitated into an orgy of self-examination by something as trivial as a failure in a football competition, when it is utterly indifferent to questions of incomparably greater importance: for example, why it is completely incapable, after a continuous and millennial history of wonderful architecture, of erecting a decent building, one that is not an eyesore? (It is not alone in this, of course.) I have never seen this question so much as raised, let alone answered, though I do not think any reasonably alert person could drive through France without asking himself it.

The decerebrating effect of football (and no doubt other sports as well) is illustrated by a story that my French brother-in-law told me recently. A couple of months after France won the World Cup in 1998, he went to Tibet. He went to a Buddhist monastery that was two days hard trek from the nearest road. There he met young novices, some of whom spoke a few words of English. They asked him where he was from and he told them.

‘France,’ they said. ‘World Cup. Zidane.’

The glory and civilisation of France was thus reduced to eleven men on a field successfully, and admittedly with great skill, kicking a ball about. Zidane, incidentally, was a player of Maghrebian descent, the great hero of the 1998 competition and a man who looks considerably more intelligent than any of the players today; he blotted his copybook slightly when he head-butted another player, an act that he explained by saying that you can take a boy out of a slum, but you can’t take a slum out of a boy.

On the subject of football, I am a snob. I do not detest the game as such, for I accept that it can be played with skill and achieve a kind of beauty, but rather the excessive importance attached to it by millions and hundreds of millions of my fellow beings. Try as I might to expunge the thought from my mind that this enthusiasm is a manifestation of human stupidity, I cannot.

1 comment:

L said...

Perhaps this is a proxy for how they feel about their future, with the EU and their future in decline.