Sunday, 11 October 2009


I was four years old when we left Sanayeh in Beirut and moved back to our village in South Lebanon to escape the next battle zone. These were years of war, so school was dismissed early, and summer vacation that year started way ahead of time… in the middle of February.

We were two kids, my older sister and I, living with our parents and grandparents with our main entertainment being watching the plants grow and the flowers blossom. My mother’s efforts in providing us amusement included, one day, an outing to watch a football game at the only playing field in the village. Upon our arrival, one of the players kicks the ball and the ball hits me squarely in the face. As my nose starts bleeding, my mom quickly takes me into her lap and places my head on her shoulder. She runs back with me towards our house to nurse my injury.

That day, my nose bled so much it ruined the removable collar of my mom’s brown checkered dress she had bought from Carel. It was a sparkling day, that’s what I remember. The crisp colors of the green grass and the red blood still shine in my mind whenever I reconstruct the accident in my memory. After the incident, my mom’s dress lost its sublime quality as the blood stains on the collar couldn’t be removed; and the dress without its collar no longer held any of its original appeal. It was its raison d’être, the only indicator of its Bauhaus connotation. I kept seeing the dress left lying around somewhere in her bedroom. Every effort had been made to remove the stains; but unfortunately, nothing could solve this glitch.

Years later, when I was to turn 17, my mother finally declared that she was no longer able to buy any more items for her wardrobe from Carel. It was then that I realized the economic situation of my family was no longer as it was during wartime.

Fourteen years later, the accident of the football hitting my face, the nose bleed, its consequences and my mom’s subsequent declaration would become like a wake-up call for me. I would question its implications. It was so connected, like threads woven with threads, like links in a contour of an amorphous form, a timeline and a grid, a population and a country.

I began deciphering the elements of my story. I thought about the strike of the football, the blood as a form of art, the reconstruction of the scene in my memory with the crispness of its colors, football practice, the implications of identity and nationalism in a game, my mother’s brown checkered dress and our financial situation pre and post war. I revisited the Bauhaus sensibility, the bread and circuses phenomena, sports in general, and the case study of Lebanon, in specific, with its public and the excitement, slogans and chants of Lebanese sports teams, the inherent sectarian and regional distribution of these teams, the representation and the aftermath of football…

Elena Bertozzi, in her paper ‘At Stake: Play, Pleasure and Power in Cyberspace’, describes playing football as a “socially permitted aggression”. In a football game, the player reads and anticipates the action of the other, never quite sure what will really happen. Mastering football is a matter of time and skill. In the aftermath of a match, the idea of restoration of dialogue between the two teams, two enemies, or two competitors is omnipresent: so much so that one can see the relation of football to politics, to rulers or governors using ‘bread and circuses’ policies to fulfill and distract the governed in their basic needs, diverting their attention away from politics and interfering in the political scene.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, ‘bread and circuses’ is a terminology used to explain the offerings, such as benefits or entertainments, intended to placate discontent or distract attention from a policy or situation.

Philosophers such as Theodore Adorno speak about how the removal or reduction of the ‘bread and circuses’, or what others term as ‘useful lies’ from mass culture will threaten the continued operation of the market and society, as well as higher philosophical truth.

It was therefore no accident or mere coincidence that my mother’s inability to buy her wardrobe from Carel was declared at the same period some leaders in Lebanon were buying football teams and encouraging youth to focus their attention to sports in the country. In post war Beirut, we can actually discuss the economy of football, neo-liberalism, and investments in similar institutions rather than in cultural projects.

The new economy of Beirut of the 90s, based on a credit system, was cutting its way into the shadow of football practice consumption and the consumption of football teams. Inflation was the post war fact; nevertheless Beirut had become a potential ‘winning’ project, or at least this is what the leaders wanted people to have faith in… the mere existence of the country on the map was a victory; debt was not an issue; and we should keep the game going.

Jean-Marie Brohm and Marc Perelman, in an article entitled ‘Football: From Ecstasy to Nightmare’, discuss the illusion big football games provide to society’s masses. It is presented as a “social elevator” for poor people. The ideology behind these big football games is the ideology of war, an apology for physical force – or a socially permitted aggression in Bertozzi’s words. Fanatic supporters encouraged and promoted by the shadow of multiculturalism – or a form of belonging in the sectarian, national, regional or ideological sense.

Marc Augé, in an article entitled ‘An Ethnologist in the World Cup’, speaks about how, during big football games, citizens (or the masses) reclaim symbols of the republic, the flag and the national anthem which otherwise are usually confiscated as the property of right wing nationalists.

Roland Barthes, in his book ‘Mythologies’ continues the case study of mass-supported sports using the boxing scene in Paris in the 1960s. In trying to understand the football scene in Beirut of 2006, one needs to question the core subject of popular games where the central event happens outside the playing field in the football sense, or the arena in boxing: The delirious crowd, the intellectuals glued to their television screens, and the public literally colonized by magical passes or punches.

In Lebanon, a major redistribution of local football teams would take place after the war ended according to the surviving sectarian and ideological alignments. I will not tackle this issue in my final outcome but researching it and putting it out there is essential to assimilate the situation.

A series of rules in the Lebanese Football League is obligatory, among which is the fact that in the Lebanese Football League, league seats are distributed according to the sects, similar to the method used in the Lebanese parliament’s distribution of seats; that is, the head of the league must be Shiite, the league secretary must be Druze, one of the head’s deputies must be a Sunnite and the other a Christian; the rest are represented by one Armenian, six Christians and six Muslims.

According to sectarian, national and ideological associations, the chants of a team’s public represent or adapt to changes or events in the domestic political scene.

As for Lebanon’s regional distribution, all the areas are represented except for the Bekaa valley.

As long as Lebanese society remains in the shadow of such delineations (such as sectarian ideology) and the neo-liberal tenets which highlight rivalry and competition, football as a metaphor for ‘friendship, solidarity, and fraternity’ will never come to pass. It will remain a paradigm of war, battle and combat and the illusion of unity will remain hanging in temporal stage, or virtual unity.

Martin Heidegger in ‘Murder of the Body: A Jury Verdict Pending’ discusses the video game culture, saying that “our culture is fascinated with the immaterial body which knows no aging process and may overcome even death.”

In this spirit, I want to create a video (or series of loops, depending whether I want to publish the final narrative as an interactive project), based on stories – both narrative and informative – to discuss my society and culture as seen through a football match.

Marc Augé studied the football language through television screens. According to him, on small screen televisions and monitors, audiences watching a football match plunge into a so-called “voluntarism of imagination”, that is, the tendency of the spectator to go beyond the game by screaming and trying to visually force the relatively small-scale football players to get closer to the ball and score.

This phenomenon arises to the fact that the screen is small; therefore the simulacrum of the field is a field in reduction, or a micro-field. This implies that the football players and the ball appear in miniature, making the viewer imagine that the process of getting a goal is actually quite simple. At a later stage, Augé speaks about ultra big screens displayed in public spaces; here, the player appears larger than usual, and thus, the ability to imagine is reduced to zero. In this case, the spectator’s perception with regard to the scale of the football match becomes more complicated: The screen enlarges players, giving back to the audience, as in their early days of movie theaters, their childhood perceptions… a period where all adults appeared as giants.

The relation between the public and the television screen is revealed at the end of the match; suddenly the event is no longer inside the screen, but totally outside it. The screen is, in this case, reduced to its modest role as witness, or substitute with the mere task of giving older and sick people a reflection of what is happening elsewhere.

The remarkable fact, at game end, becomes the urge instantly felt by each viewer to meet the crowd. There’s something to share, something that doesn’t exist outside the sharing process; and that is the object that the screen cannot contain. It is at the same time the victory and the limits of the media… the moment when television screens become abandoned by all those who rush to the streets to congratulate each other.

I will be researching throughout my project the football language and technical terms, with elements or techniques such as ‘replay’ and ‘slow motion’ that allow for a more clinical decipherment of an arbitrary decision, or the exploration of a detail that otherwise could not be seen. In a way, these visual techniques used to present a football match to TV screen viewers, teach us how to see. It urges the viewer to encourage, to be inside the event. After all, a football game is half-carnival, half manifestation; it is a feast to re-conquer something that resembles reality.

At this point, I have a vague idea of the type of imagery, but I was thinking of the video game type as a possibility to include icons representing players and football teams, the ambassadors of this intense sport’s event; an event which becomes, for mere mortals, an occasion to measure one’s history to the larger history, or to history simply.

More than any other sport, football remains one etched into our memory: It possesses, to a high degree, the force of souvenir, incomparable mixes, a rare aroma provoking drunkenness that blends the past with the present, myth and ritual.

It is not by accident that, twenty years later, I still recall the football hitting my face that day in my parent’s village. It has become the alarm that wakes me up every morning.

I am intending to proceed by interviewing a leftist economist ‘Kamal Hamdan’ regarding the issue of the economical situation in 90s Beirut, since I think I have some kind of a lack in this area. Then I will continue doing my readings on the narrative in the cyberspace, for that I have to start from earlier theoreticians who wrote about structuralism and narration, to include Roland Barthes’ ‘Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives’ and contemporary practitioners to include Mark Amerika’s way of describing the novel in the digital realm. For the style, I will be going through a whole range of narrative approaches from animation series (for instance Beavis and Butt-head) to comic artists (David Shrigley per se), television shows (the MTV Jackass world) and other forms of art that included narration. Then, I will start writing a script, using both personal stories, and trying to link them to the economical, social, and national aspects of the Football and political practice and aftermath. I will have to research potential visual elements, potential style (deconstruction style so far) and location hunting for the filming spots. Once I decide on the final outcome, I will have access to a tutorial to the relative software needed to start the actual realization of the project.

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