The national view

The world cup has been, if you are no among the folks with a target on their head, a lot of fun.

We are offering the world our best and our worse, showing a different side of football and blah blah blah blah. We are also introducing this thing I would like to call “Anthem-chic”.

This is weird, I know. Stay with me.

Here’s the thing that has been calling my attention: the press, or sectors of the press, have been kind of glorifying the nationalistic attitude of the supporters of the Latin American teams when they sing their respective national anthems from the top of their lungs. And we are supposed to see these manifestations of national pride as positive, as if the embracing of national identity, and expression of originality and belonging were something positive.

Well, I thought it was well established that it was the other way around.

We, and by we I mean “we tolerant left-leaning liberals”, so I actually mean a very short amount of people, tend to think of nationalism and the expression of nationalism as something negative, as something that we identify with the sort of mentality that sends folks to die meaningless deaths in meaningless wars.

Faced with twenty thousand Chileans singing their anthems from the top of their lungs, are we to change our minds because they are doing it before a game in the World Cup and suddenly we do not mean what we say, we are just singing tunes we enjoy?

I get the sentiment that says: sure thing, we should! I mean, for the longest time our expressions of national sentiments have been so tightly associated with the military regimens in the region that these outburst could mean that we are finally able to express a sort of public self-comprehension that has, in fact, overcome the association of nationalism with authoritarianism.

The million dollar question is: can you do this? Can you overcome the association of nationalism with authoritarianism?

Surely, we cannot say these individuals singing the anthem are all authoritarian monads ready to die for God and Country. Some of them might just like the way the tune sounds, some might think they are increasing their support for the team and hoping their patriotism will make do for technical shortcomings within the squad, and some of them might be authoritarian monads ready to die for God and Country. But are the intentions behind the expression relevant here?

Sports, and, in a similar way, arts, are weird. We seem to suspend most of our moral intuitions when we deal with these things, we seem to suspend our previous convictions about morality, fairness and common decency in these arenas. On the one hand, there is an argument here to be made about the need for spaces of irrationality: we need spaces where we can express some mimetic drives, right?

So, we get into the stadium, scream against our adversary from the top of our lungs, and leave feeling clean and nice – and without any hatred for the guys in the other side, right?

Well, if data is any indicative, the stronger the expression of team affiliation, the more the individual is willing to actually get into actual fights once he leaves the stadium. A similar correlation could be made between national sentiment and national aggression.

When we praise the expression of these national sentiments, then, what are we praising, exactly?

There has recently been some debate about racist chants within the supporters of Gremio in Porto Alegre. The chants are undoubtedly racist as they say something like “you motherfucking monkeys suck dicks” . After some 20 years the directors of the club finally took some attitudes and decided that the chants were not to be allowed, and most of the team supporters seem to be ok with this decision.

So, horray for progress, right? Meanwhile, are we to be excited about this?

These are Gremio supporters singing the State anthem for Rio Grande do Sul. The anthem, among other pearls, says that “only a virtueless people can be enslaved”, and, fun fact, was written during a war in which the  Republic of Rio Grande do Sul was strongly opposed to the end of slavery. You might or might not be willing to say this line can be re-signified into something else – I for one, am not.

I do not think we can detach these expressions from their meaning, which is to say, I do not think we can go to this place where words just do not matter. To an extent, they might not matter to those uttering those words at the moment they are singing a XIX Century Anthem with a problematic history. Maybe, again, they just like a familiar tune. On the other hand, I think these expressions are harder to be defended when you see their connection to tolerance to racism, state violence and just plain stupidity.

Problem is, most national anthems operate on the same basis of the state anthem of Rio Grande do Sul. They might express less racist things, because our state anthem is anything if not direct, but they are, still , about national gathering, mobilization and all these fun and kinky things ultimately connected to “let’s all go out there and die for something stupid”.

I am not defending some sort of moral panic here. People ought to sing whatever the hell they want to sing. The only thing I find problematic is the unreflective attitude of those watching and saying “oh,  such a beautiful innocent thing, how they love their country”. Perhaps they are just finding a space to express something ultimately dark and strange, that they do not really want to express elsewhere, so, if you are into psychoanalysis or tarot, you might think: good thing. Sure, that’s a defensible view. But we are in a strange position if we choose to romanticize these nationalistic attitudes, and we might indeed perceive the consequences of such position when things have turned irreversible towards the language of nationalism – and as hard as it is to learn this language, it is even harder to forget it.

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