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Trussed thrust - click opera
February 2010
 
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Thu, Jun. 15th, 2006 12:34 am
Trussed thrust

As I write this late on Wednesday night, there's a palpable tension in the Berlin air. The whole city -- except me, obviously -- is watching a protracted, so far painfully goal-less contest (so my BBC results ticker tells me) in which the German and Polish teams battle for supremacy. It's tense not only because Germany and Poland are neighbours in today's peaceful Eurozone, but because, as we all know, the most devastating war of the 20th century broke out when one of these nations invaded the other. As if to recall that war, the evening is wracked with explosions and the sound of crowds shouting.

Ah, apparently Germany has scored, has won, and now "goes to the brink of qualification for the knockout". I'm actually rather dreading what will happen if Germany wins the World Cup. Such things, as the British found in 1966, can trigger big changes in the psyche of a nation. Eleven men can put a swagger in the stride of 60 million. Whether you think this is a good thing or not comes down to how you feel, generally, about swagger.

Cycling up Prenzlauer Allee this afternoon I saw an O2 billboard showing a man watching the World Cup on his mobile phone. On his knees on a bed placed incongruously in the middle of an empty football arena, the man was making the familiar "phallic thrust" gesture with his fist -- a gesture which, in football, means "goal!" and "victory" but in Freud would mean "sticking it in" and "killing": Eros and Thanatos.

German culture has always been quite explicit about this; it's "admitted to consciousness". We know from Buchner's Woyzeck and Brecht's Drums in the Night that it almost doesn't matter whether the thing being "stuck in" is a phallus or a bayonet: for the delusional prostitute-killer or the Great War soldier, the message is clear: "when he kills," said Brecht, "he comes". This terrible connection, this "thrust", is why peace is always, and should always be, tempered by socialization, repression and guilt. That equation of penis and knife is always waiting, just at the edge of every society, to be made explicit.

I wasn't surprised to see that the phallic gesture -- the civilised-looking man on the bed, for once untrammelled and making that uncharacteristic thrusting-winning-saluting-killing gesture -- had been crossed out with two strips of green tape.

It wasn't the first time I'd seen that image crossed out. For some reason it had worried certain Berliners, people like me who think that guilt and repression are necessary, and that to encourage triumphalism is to play with fire, to mess with the strong force. Almost every example I've seen of the poster has had the "thrust" trussed -- the unapologetic man crossed out or covered up. It's as if Berliners -- some of them, anyway -- are saying something like: "This is not the time to reverse the current of guilt, moderation and anti-nationalism which has prevailed in Germany since our defeat in the last war."

But reversals do seem to be happening. A call comes in from a German friend. "It's football hell out there," he tells me, "you really have to watch out for your life if you're on a bicycle tonight. People in their cars aren't caring, they aren't looking. I never saw this before in Berlin!"

Something else rarely seen in Germany is Germans proudly brandishing their national colours. Suddenly flags and face-painting are booming. Even my Spanish friend Mario is thinking of getting into the flag-on-face painting thing. He's heard that face painters can earn €300 a day doing it. I can think of only one other reversal in national character so swift: the way New York, not a big displayer of US flags, suddenly had them everywhere after 9/11. Now, even bus windows are blocked by gigantic stars-and-stripes flags. If you're in the wrong seat, you literally can't see chunks of real New York for the proud red, white and blue.

Riding around Berlin today on my bike, I was thinking.... well, see what you make of this. National identity is not something fixed, but something dialectical. It's always reacting against some recent event, swinging the way fashions swing; correcting perceived imbalances, making amends, defining itself negatively against its own past or the present of others. This has the peculiar result that countries can completely change places because of their perceived identities.

Take Germany and Britain, and take the matter of surveillance. In East Germany the STASI, the secret police, were surveying everyone. When communism fell, it was understood that this would no longer be the case. Now, Germany has relatively few surveillance cameras. Britain, which never had a STASI, is now the world's most surveyed country: as Liberty reports, "There is one CCTV camera for every 14 people in the UK. If you live in London you are likely to be on cameras 300 times a day."



The current "fashion" in former Eastern Germany is to "refute" the system that brought us the STASI. The excesses of the STASI have, for the moment, innoculated us Berliners against high surveillance. We're still travelling away from that. Britain has no such innoculation. Because the UK never had the STASI, its government is free to assemble a mechanism of surveillance which is STASI-like in every detail. We changed places, because we were reacting to different things. Blair could invade Iraq because Britain had no Hitler invading Poland in living memory; Schroeder couldn't, because Germany had.

Similar reactive repulsions have been seen in other societies. New York's sudden turn against street crime, for instance, as the 80s turned into the 90s, or the way the British and French completely traded greetings codes. Whereas in the 18th century it was the French who shook hands and the British who kissed, in the 20th it was the British who shook hands and the French who kissed. And now we're just on the cusp of seeing that polarity shift once again, at least in metropolitan areas like London which, as Malcolm McLaren pointed out when he ran for mayor, are increasingly adopting "Latin" styles... sitting at cafe tables on the pavement, being emotionally effusive, perhaps because the weather's changing, or, more likely, as a cultural reaction against the old image of British people as frosty and formal.

I don't say identity is random. What I say is that it's dialectical: liberalism is held in a close binary tension with fascism, and people who've experienced fascism know this all too well. At any given moment, national character (or even city identity, if it's particularly strong) may be swinging towards or away from a fixed set of traits. Thesis and antithesis (to use the classic Hegelian terminology) make up the cardinal points between which the pendulum swings. That's why I believe the former fascist states, Germany and Japan, are, in many ways, currently some of the most liberal around. Guilt and reaction make it so. And I don't want some stupid little thing like winning the World Cup changing that.

40CommentReplyShare

intergalactim
intergalactim
intergalactim
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 10:53 pm (UTC)
old topic

i thought you might like to know about this:
http://www.forcedexposure.com/artists/hindemith.paul.html


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 11:03 pm (UTC)
Re: old topic

One of my favourite records ever! No thrusting there, just children constructing a city.


ReplyThread Parent
hook_and_eyelet
hook_and_eyelet
Picky Broad
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 10:55 pm (UTC)

This post caught my eye & revealed the results to me! Typically, I adore everything you write, but currently, I'm very upset I know the score before I could go home to watch the game, as I've been avoiding this all day. Momus, if you weren't so charming, I would hate your guts.


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svenskasfinx
NOT Greta Garbo
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 10:58 pm (UTC)
10 years ago

in a lecture we were musing over the idea of the CCTV and would it really help us all in the future (this was a video class after all)- I recall years previous how a man chased down in a park in New York by horse riding officers was told continuiously on tape, being beaten with a stick as he was climbing up to safety, "just give us the camera... and we won't have to hurt you". It seems he as a private person outside of the system caught the police beating up punks in the park who were not following curfew...

We always want the camera to be in the correct hands, but when its in the government's are we actually going to see the "uneditited" version of the truth? There was speculation that video could be altered, that we could easily see something that may not be there with a few sugestions and a few other things left out.. but we never concluded if this CCTV was actually a good thing..


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 11:05 pm (UTC)
Re: 10 years ago

The trouble is that all arguments for CCTV are ultimately arguments for the STASI. You can't be for one and against the other.


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Re: 10 years ago - (Anonymous) Expand




beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 11:49 pm (UTC)

I have always been disgusted by the way people feel free to make fun of Germany and its people to their faces, even, like they should feel guilty for something that the people now clearly didn't do. People think it's okej to make fun of Northern Europeans because they "aren't ethnic", which makes no sense, because we are all human and should be proud of what we are within that.
I don't think that the generally liberal philosophies which have been [in part], by the way, running the German economy into the ground, will be compromised at all by a win in a sports event; there have been years for the common sense of a certain kind of socialism and tolerance to run deep. There is something in us all that gets turned on by schadenfreude, but that is human, and within the context of common decency, should be appeased and understood, rather than repressed...For repression diminishes the true knowing of one's self and becomes the arsenal of future explosions of aggressive mayhem.


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cityramica
cityramica
cityramica
Thu, Jun. 15th, 2006 12:01 am (UTC)

maybe you can help me with this one:
what kind of music do "World Cup people" listen to? What's blasting in Berlin right now? I mean i have no hope for anything good...but at my work we're trying to find albums to feature for a World Cup promo and I have no idea what to suggest except "something German".
SIGH.
i'd rather blog about potatoes than watch football.


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svenskasfinx
NOT Greta Garbo
Thu, Jun. 15th, 2006 08:57 am (UTC)
Potato information to help you blogg :)

The history of the potato is rather interesting.

When the potato was a newly introduced food to Europe and that when this was happening there were no "instructions" on how to cook it and so many people in Europe were actually poisoned by eating the wrong parts of the potato, or green ones..

When ever people bring up the "soya scare" tactics for vegans and how "soya isn't healthy" its good to remember the potato history.. People in fact have been eating Tofu for thousands of years. Its not healthy for the human body to eat any raw beans that have not been either boiled, sprouted or fermented- the fault is in the processing, just as it was with the potato.

Happy blogging.. :)

Dorian


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scola
scola
Scola
Thu, Jun. 15th, 2006 01:05 am (UTC)

The gesture you describe is not, in fact, phallic. Not in any way. Rather than it being a thrusting motion, the gesture is that of pulling one's arm inward -- toward one's own body. This is to say, the gesture is the opposite of a thrust, which is by definition an outward motion.

Since you've made your opinion of this sport (and those who enjoy it) abundantly clear, I'm not expecting you to change your mind. However, I think you can find a better argument for why an appreciation of the game is tantamount to violence/nationalistic aggression/rape/etc. After all, describing things as "phallic" is the opening critical gambit of your average 13 year old.

Perhaps you could compare the soccer ball itself to ovaries, and argue that the desire to kick it is roughly equivelent to wanting to boot one's own mother in the crotch?


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fishwithissues
fishwithissues
jordan fish
Thu, Jun. 15th, 2006 01:53 am (UTC)

the act of pumping the fists backwards to simulate a foward pelvic thrust baffles me. is it that the person is holding onto something to propel the pelvis forward (like two locked drawers or something), or is it simulating pelvic movement without actually engaging in it (like two trains at a station and one starts moving and you think the one you're in is moving but it's not)? Either way it's damned hilarious... can irony take the place of guilt?


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nato_dakke
nate
Thu, Jun. 15th, 2006 03:10 am (UTC)

in the less sanitized form, the thruster is simulating penetration (of a male or female) from behind, and the hips are closer to the waist.

I'd guess the hands are usually emulating pulling the thrustee's hips back toward the thruster's, though I won't be the one to tell you it couldn't be the thrustee's arms, or even hair being used for a handle.

the gesture is pretty well sanitized beyond recognition though. most of my middle school students actually pull their arms straight down, so they look more like they're pulling the air horn of a big truck.


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spin_the_blade
KILL YR INTERNET
Thu, Jun. 15th, 2006 04:27 am (UTC)

I guess it's a good thing that the US team is pretty bad. Not that many Americans watch the World Cup anyways, but I think any more swagger in our step and we might fall head over heel.


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nickdoro
nickdoro
donnie dunzo
Thu, Jun. 15th, 2006 06:10 am (UTC)

Interesting point about the formerly fascist states of Germany and Japan being some of most liberal today (or at least the most pacifist).

Likewise, formerly communist states seem to have swung to the far-right. Neo-Nazi gangs are a growing problem in Russia, Poland, and East Germany. In Beijing, the Chinese skinhead scene seems to be gaining momentum as well.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jun. 15th, 2006 06:22 am (UTC)

That's absolutely true. When I went to Moscow, it was a capitalist nightmare: casinos and advertising banners (with prices in dollars!) every step of the way. Getting back to Berlin after that was like getting back to the USSR!


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class_worrier
Class Worrier
Thu, Jun. 15th, 2006 08:30 am (UTC)

(West) Germany has won the World Cup three times and the European Championships twice post 1945. Another Euro Championship followed after unification.
Why would winning this competition make Germany shift to the right when 6 previous victories haven't?


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kubia
kubia
kubia
Thu, Jun. 15th, 2006 09:24 am (UTC)

That's quite a complex issue you're tackling. Judging from my own experience, however, I must agree. I remember watching the 1990 final when I was a kid together with my dad and a number of uncles and friends. After the game the whole room started to sing the first stanza of the Deutschlandlied, which was sung under the Nazis and is nowadays considered as an expression of right-wing sentiment.
Yet I guess, what worries me the most about the ongoing championship is its tendency to obliterate any other event or news and the absolute impossibility to escape it. Last Friday I visited a friend in order to watch "The Ruling Class" which I had been looking forward to for a couple of weeks, but had to delay the movie for at least an hour or so, because the outside noise made by drunk football fans outperformed Peter O'Toole by sheer volume alone.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jun. 15th, 2006 09:46 am (UTC)

The French haven't abandoned handshaking - in fact they're far greater handshakers than the British. Kissing is woman/woman and woman/man, but man/man only if they're good friends - otherwise handshaking. And handshaking for all sexes in more formal situations.

You worry too much about the World Cup. The thing is, it's not the unleashing of the dark force of nationalism, it's the taming of it. It's a (relatively) harmless outlet for something that in other circumstances could be very harmful. Sometimes, the World Cup message might even turn out to be a positive liberal one. There was much talk of French multiculturism (black/blanc/beur) after France's win in 98. For Brazil, I think it's one of the few occasions Brazilians feel they have a positive image on the international arena (otherwise it's all crime, poverty and favelas).


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jun. 15th, 2006 10:01 am (UTC)

Football is about to unleash a new fascism?? They're either fascists or they're not and if they are they'll find any excuse to show it. (Were you any good at football at school?)


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jun. 15th, 2006 10:56 am (UTC)

This is really just another outing of the same tired old Momus trope. Momus doesn't like something that on the face of it is fairly innocuous (football, wearing jeans, loud music, goth style, etc., etc.) Instead of just shrugging and accepting that different people have different tastes (as he should as an avowed cultural relativist) he has to show how his own taste is morally superior. Momus not interested in football = football is fascist.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jun. 15th, 2006 01:09 pm (UTC)

Football is very clearly a form of stylised warfare. I didn't make it that way, but I don't see why I can't say that it disturbs me for that reason. It also disturbs whoever put that green tape over that poster of the "thrust" gesture. One reason I'm glad to live in Berlin is that people who make that sort of protest gesture live here.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand