For viewers of the World Cup, it’s been pretty hard not to notice FIFA’s ubiquitously advertised #SayNoToRacism social media campaign. As it turns out, football audiences could potentially benefit from other educational campaigns as well, such as #SayNoToRapeAndNaziJokes.
When Germany defeated Brazil 7-1 in the July 8 semifinal match, Twitter and other social media platforms played host to a competition for most repugnant reaction. Tweeters showcased their presumed wit, with a heavy focus on gang rape and the Adolf Hitler era: “Brazilian team decided to file a case in the court against Germany for gang rape“; “I expected a Germany win. I didn’t know they’d dish out a brutal prison gang rape“; “july 8 2014 germany starts it’s second holocaust,this time it’s for brazilians and it’s welcomed by everyone. #BrazilvsGermany #gangrape“; “Brazil did Nazi this coming”.
A tweet from the official Twitter account of “Lebanese STAR Maya DIAB”, which boasts 335,000 followers, speculates that “#hitler is there in person”, while a Malaysian parliamentarian weighed in with the following: “WELL DONE..BRAVO…LONG LIVE HITLER…”
Type “Germany+heat map” into the Topsy search engine, meanwhile, and you get over 41,000 results. The corresponding image is of a football field overlaid with a phallus pointing at a rear end.
So much for the good, clean fun embodied in that bit of audio-torture known as the official 2014 World Cup song, brought to you by the rapper Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez: “…Put your flags up in the sky/And wave them side to side/Show the world where you’re from/Show the world we are one…”
Obviously, cursory Topsy investigations should not prompt premature anthropological generalisations – especially given that a “Brazil+rape” search, for example, also turns up tweets objecting to the World Cup rape jokes.
But it’s not difficult to see that terminology related to sexual violence has institutionalised itself in the football vernacular.
As noted in a Huffington Post article titled “Porn Site Overwhelmed By Videos Of Brazil Getting ‘F—ked’ By Germany”, the website Pornhub was recently forced to tweet “a plea to its users to ‘please stop uploading the game highlights'”.
Okay, maybe it’s not politically correct, you say, but it’s just a game.
Exactly. And the fact that it is just a game further trivialises the trauma of people who’ve been on the receiving end of real-life rape.
The widespread deployment of rape lingo and the portrayal of a fundamentally vile phenomenon in a positive light also contribute to the perpetuation of societies in which violence – both sexual and otherwise – is normalised and glorified. In this sense the issue can be compared, perhaps, to the role of war video games in helping sustain a bellicose US foreign policy; in his book Irregular Army, journalist Matt Kennard writes of the armed forces’ strategic “use of video games to glorify military combat, sanitising its perception among the young”.
This is not to imply, obviously, that the World Cup Twitter commentary will compel everyone to go out and rape with abandon, or that war and rape wouldn’t exist if video games and Twitter didn’t. The point is merely to acknowledge the resulting reinforcement of violent structures.
In the end, if what gets you off is typing 140-character-or-less rape jokes as a means of vicariously appropriating the spoils of athletic victory-cum-sexual conquest, rest assured that you’re not only pathetic but also structurally complicit.
A cage of cliche
As for the other World Cup trending topic that has raised grave concerns about humanity, a New York Magazine article observes that “for the amateur comedians of the internet, German dominance [in the match against Brazil] can mean only one thing: time for some Holocaust jokes”.
The article provides a sample, including “Man the goalie really holocaust them the game, I bet Brazil’s coach was like Aw Schwitz” and “Stop with these nazi jokes, they’re not funny. Anne Frankly, they’re offensive”. Of course, why stop at being offensive when you can take it one step further?
Less crude but more surprising are the tweets from prominent individuals who should ostensibly know better than to say things like “The Germans have stormed into a foreign country and taken charge. How unexpected” (The New York Times’ Binyamin Applebaum) and “What Brazil doesn’t realize is that if Germany wins it *will* conquer & colonize the good parts of the country” (The Guardian US‘s Spencer Ackerman).
While Holocaust jokes undoubtedly take the cake in terms of offensiveness, the condemnation of the German people to eternal representation by Hitler is thoroughly unjust – in addition to signifying an acute lack of imagination and inability to function outside cliche and stereotype.
Let’s say the Rwandan football team scores a decisive win. Would we detect a “genocide”? Or in the case of the US, would it be a “targeted killing” – or perhaps “Abu Ghraib, with clothes”?
Pitbull and J Lo encourage football fans to “show the world we are one” – and indeed, we do appear to be united, at least, in a basic lack of compassion.
Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.
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