Beethoven’s Ode to Joy Played With 167 Theremins Placed Inside Matryoshka Dolls in Japan




A decade ago, in Tokyo, 167 musicians performed a Beethoven classic with the “Matryomin,” a new-fangled instrument that lodges a theremin inside a matryoshka. A matryoshka, of course, is one of those Russian nested dolls where you find wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside the other. As for the theremin, it’s a century-old electronic musical instrument that requires no physical contact from the player. You can watch its inventor, Leon Theremin, give it a demo in the vintage video below. And via this link you can see the Matryomin Ensemble performing a mesmerizing version of Amazing Grace. Enjoy.

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Related Content 

See Japanese Musicians Play “Amazing Grace” with 273 Theremins Placed Inside Matryoshka Dolls–Then Learn How They Perform Their Magic

Soviet Inventor Léon Theremin Shows Off the Theremin, the Early Electronic Instrument That Could Be Played Without Being Touched (1954)

Leon Theremin Advertises the First Commercial Production Run of His Revolutionary Electronic Instrument (1930)

Learn How to Play the Theremin: A Free Short Video Course

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” Played on a 1929

Meet Clara Rockmore, the Pioneering Electronic Musician Who First Rocked the Theremin in the Early 1920s

Playing the Blues with The Bagpipes: Watch Sweden’s Queen of Swing, Multi-Instrumentalist Gunhild Carling




Trombone may be Sweden’s Queen of Swing Gunhild Carling’s favorite instrument, but she blows some mean bagpipes too, as evidenced by her smoking hot performance of her late father, trumpeter Hans Carlings’ Bagpipe Blues, above.

A devotee of such early jazz greats as Freddie KeppardJelly Roll MortonBix Beiderbecke, and Billie Holiday, Carling told the Jerusalem Post some instruments “sing in my voice more than others”:

When I play trumpet, I try to be close to Louis Armstrong. Sometimes when I’m playing, I can hear him. It’s harder on the bagpipe, for example.

Vaudeville’s flame burns brightly in this consummate showwoman:

I grew up in the south of Sweden, outside of Malmo. Our house was full of variety – circus, acting, dance, vaudeville and novelty. I just picked up instruments from when I was very young and played them. I started with the drums, then the recorder, trombone and trumpet. Then I started tap dancing, and after that harmonica and bagpipe.

Carling keeps with tradition by populating the Carling Big Band with similarly multi-talented, musically inclined family members, from her mother and daughter, to her nephews, niece and brothers.

Those who think bagpipes require a funeral and full Highland dress to coax a tear likely haven’t heard Carling’s soulful rendition of Amazing Grace, above…

They have a reputation as a tricky instrument to get the hang of, but Carling has multiple tricks up her sleeve.

She frequently delights by playing three trumpets at once…

…and during an appearance at the International Bagpipe Festival in Schleife, Germany she left the bags to other pipers so she could blow her horn in a fringed flapper dress atop a bandmate’s shoulders!

What a woman!!!

Explore jazz multi-instrumentalist Gunhild Carling’s vast collection of playlists, including a festive Christmas line up on her YouTube channel and don’t miss the chance to catch her live on her US tour, now through May.

Related Content 

John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” Played With Bagpipes: The Artistry of Rufus Harley 

Ella Fitzgerald Imitates Louis Armstrong’s Gravelly Voice While Singing “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby”

Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine” Retooled as 1920s New Orleans Jazz

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

480 Filmmakers Reveal the 100 Greatest Movies in the World




Nobody knows more about cinema than critics. But in an entirely different way, nobody knows more about cinema than directors. That, perhaps, is one of the reasons that Sight and Sound magazine has, for the past thirty years, conducted two separate once-in-a-decade polls to determine the greatest films of all time. Last week we featured the results of Sight and Sound‘s latest critics poll here on Open Culture, but the outcome of the directors’ vote — whose electorate of 480 “spans experimental, arthouse, mainstream and genre filmmakers from around the world” — merits its own consideration.

As all the cinephile world knows by now, Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles came out on top of Sight and Sound‘s critics poll this year. That temporally expansive masterwork of potatoes, veal cutlets, prostitution, and murder didn’t place quite so highly in the directors poll. It ranks at number four, below Ozu Yasujirō’s Tokyo Story, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, and — at number one — Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which, for those who make movies, evidently remains the “ultimate trip” that its late-sixties marketing campaign promised.




The roundup of individual ballots at World of Reel reveals that 2001‘s supporters include a wide range of auteurs — Olivier Assayas, Bi Gan, Don Hertzfeldt, Gaspar Noé, Joanna Hogg, Edgar Wright, Martin Scorsese — not all of whose own work shows clear evidence of having been influenced by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s at once lavish and stark vision of mankind’s destiny in the realms beyond Earth. But 2001‘s real achievement was less to tell its particular story, no matter how mind-blowing, than to expand the possibilities of cinema itself: to execute, as examined in the video essay above, a kind of cinematic hypnotism.

Of course, Kubrick is hugely admired by viewers and makers of movies alike. Barry Lyndon appears on both top-100 lists, though it seems as if critics favor The Shining more than filmmakers. The latter group cast more votes for Kubrick’s Cold-War comedy Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Also among the dozens of titles only in the filmmakers’ top 100 include Abbas Kiarostami‘s Where Is the Friend’s House? and Taste of Cherry, Kurosawa Akira’s Throne of Blood and Ikiru, Sergei Parajanov‘s The Color of Pomegranates, and even Steven Spielberg’s Jaws — which, no less than 2001, surely appeals to any filmmaker’s innate sense of spectacle.

See the directors top 100 films here.

Related content:

Akira Kurosawa’s List of His 100 Favorite Movies

David Lynch Lists His Favorite Films & Directors, Including Fellini, Wilder, Tati & Hitchcock

Andrei Tarkovsky Creates a List of His 10 Favorite Films (1972)

Martin Scorsese Reveals His 12 Favorite Movies

Stanley Kubrick’s List of Top 10 Films: The First and Only List He Ever Created

The Ten Greatest Films of All Time According to 358 Filmmakers

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How Qatar Built Stadiums with Forced Labor

I will let Vox preface the video above:

Ever since Qatar won the rights to host the FIFA World Cup in 2010, its treatment of migrant workers has made international headlines. News stories and human rights organizations revealed migrant workers who built the stadiums, hotels, and all the new infrastructure required for the World Cup were being forced to work, not getting paid, unable to leave, and in some cases, dying.

At the heart of the abuse faced by migrant workers is the kafala system. A system prevalent in Gulf states that ties workers to their sponsors, it often gives sponsors almost total control of migrant workers’ employment and immigration status.

Due to all the scrutiny Qatar has been under, some reforms have been put in place, but the kafala system is more than a law — it’s a practice. And while these reforms exist on paper, human rights organizations say there’s still a long way to go.

To understand how hundreds of thousands of migrant workers were stuck in an exploitative system while building the stadiums for the World Cup, watch our 10-minute video above.

To delve deeper, it’s also worth listening to the New York Times‘ recent podcast, Qatar’s Big Bet on the World Cup and read The Guardian article, 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since World Cup awarded.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks!

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What Are “Creatives”? Pretty Much Pop #138 on the Role of the Artist in Modern Society

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Is there really a division in today’s culture between those who create and the merely receptive masses? Your Pretty Much Pop host gathers three artists in different media about the place of the artist in society: sci-fi author Brian Hirt, art photographer and academic Amir Zaki, and musician/novelist/ex-English prof John Andrew Fredrick, who leads a band called The Black Watch.

We touch on art education, the self-understanding of artists, the relation between artist and consumer, art vs. commerce, bad art vs. non-art, and much more.

Listen to Amir talking about photography on a past PMP episodeListen to John talk about his music with Mark on Nakedly Examined MusicListen to John’s new EP. Brian brings up the Decoder Ring podcast episode “The Storytelling Craze.” Listen to Mark’s tunes.

Follow us @blackwatchmusic@amir_zaki_, and @MarkLinsenmayer.

Hear more Pretty Much Pop. Support the show and hear bonus talking for this and nearly every other episode at patreon.com/prettymuchpop or by choosing a paid subscription through Apple Podcasts. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

The 30 Greatest Films Ever Made: A Video Essay

Last week, we featured the results of this decade’s Sight and Sound poll to determine the greatest films of all time. Nobody could possibly agree with every single one of its rankings, but then, some of the joy of cinephilia lies in disagreement — and even more of it in doing a few rankings of one’s own. Such is the project of video essayist Lewis Bond in the video just above from his Youtube channel The Cinema Cartography. It presents a list of the thirty greatest films, beginning at number thirty and ending at number one, weaving through a variety of time periods, cultures, and aesthetics.

We would expect no less from The Cinema Cartography, previously featured here on Open Culture for videos on subjects like cities and places in film, cinematography, and animation, as well as on specific auteurs like David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, and Andrei Tarkovsky. None of Tarantino’s films make the cut for the top thirty here, though they do face formidable competition, including Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. and both Andrei Rublev and Mirror by Tarkovsky — not to mention works from the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Orson Welles, Ingmar Bergman, Peter Greenaway, Martin Scorsese, Ozu Yasujirō, and Francis Ford Coppola.




“The idea of a canon, or any form of list, is both a meaningless as well as a obsessive endeavor,” says Lewis Bond in the video’s introduction. “Whatever the thought process was, these were the films that clearly, somewhere, resonate with me at my deepest level. For all I know, I could organize the exact same list in a year’s time, and every entry could be different.” No matter to what you devote your cultural life, you surely know the feeling, but you also know the value of seeing someone else’s set of preferences clearly arranged and articulately justified.

You may not feel exactly the same as Bond does about both My Dinner with Andre and the Lord of the Rings trilogy (a rare dual enthusiasm in any case), but seeing where he places them in relation to other movies can help to give you a sense of whether and how they could fit into your own personal canon — as well as the kind of context a film needs to earn its place. It’s easy to get a bit too obsessive about this sort of thing, which on some level just comes down to endlessly ordering and re-ordering a bunch of movies on a list. But as cinephiles know, our canons are ourselves: complex, idiosyncratic, subject to ceaseless change, and — so we hope, at least — coherent.

Related content:

The Ten Greatest Films of All Time According to 846 Film Critics

The Ten Greatest Films of All Time According to 358 Filmmakers

The Nine Greatest Films You’ve Never Seen

The 100 Greatest Films of All Time According to 1,639 Film Critics & 480 Directors: See the Results of the Once-a-Decade Sight and Sound Poll

Quentin Tarantino Names His 20 Favorite Movies, Covering Two Decades

How Filmmakers Tell Their Stories: Three Insightful Video Essays Demystify the Craft of Editing, Composition & Color

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Albert Camus’ Lessons Learned from Playing Goalie: “What I Know Most Surely about Morality and Obligations, I Owe to Football”

Here’s a vintage football [aka soccer] post in celebration of the World Cup…

Albert Camus once said, “After many years in which the world has afforded me many experiences, what I know most surely in the long run about morality and obligations, I owe to football.”

He was referring to his college days when he played goalie for the Racing Universitaire d’Alger (RUA) junior team. Camus was a decent player, though not the great player that legend later made him out to be.




For Jim White, author of A Matter of Life and Death: A History of Football in 100 Quotations, soccer perhaps taught Camus a few things about selflessness, cooperation, bravery and resilience. That’s a sunny way of looking at things. But perhaps The Telegraph gets at the deeper, darker life lessons Camus took away from soccer:

[T]here is something appropriate about a philosopher like Camus stationing himself between the sticks [that is, in goal]. It is a lonely calling, an individual isolated within a team ethic, one who plays to different constraints. If his team scores, the keeper knows it is nothing to do with him. If the opposition score, however, it is all his fault. Standing sentinel in goal, Camus had plenty of time to reflect on the absurdist nature of his position.

And perhaps the absurdist nature of life itself…

Camus — who appears in the picture up top, wearing the dark color jersey in the front row — contracted tuberculosis when he was only 18 years old. His lungs too damaged to continue playing sports, the young man turned to philosophy. When Camus moved from Algeria to France, he learned that philosophy was a rough and tumble game too — something his soccer days prepared him for. He once quipped, “I learned . . . that a ball never arrives from the direction you expected it. That helped me in later life, especially in mainland France, where nobody plays straight.”

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks!

Related Content:

Why Jorge Luis Borges Hated Soccer: “Soccer is Popular Because Stupidity is Popular”

What is Albert Camus’ The Plague About? An Introduction

Video: The Day Bob Marley Played a Big Soccer Match in Brazil, 1980

Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Albert Camus’ Touching Thank You Letter to His Elementary School Teacher

The “Shadow” of a Hiroshima Victim, Etched into Stone, Is All That Remains After 1945 Atomic Blast


At 8:15 on the morning of August 6, 1945, a person sat on a flight of stone stairs leading up to the entrance of the Sumitomo Bank in Hiroshima, Japan. Seconds later, an atomic bomb detonated just 800 feet away, and the person sitting on the stairs was instantly incinerated. Gone like that. But not without leaving a mark.

As the Google Cultural Institute explains it, “Receiving the rays directly, the victim must have died on the spot from massive burns. The surface of the surrounding stone steps was turned whitish by the intense heat rays. The place where the person was sitting became dark like a shadow.”

That shadow lasted for years, until eventually rain and wind began to erode it. When a new Sumitomo Bank was built, the steps were relocated to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, where they’re now preserved. You can see the “Human Shadow Etched in Stone” above.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks!

Related Content:

The Story of Akiko Takakura, One of the Last Survivors of the Hiroshima Bombing, Told in a Short Animated Documentary

The “Shadow” of a Hiroshima Victim, Etched into Stone Steps, Is All That Remains After 1945 Atomic Blast

This 392-Year-Old Bonsai Tree Survived the Hiroshima Atomic Blast & Still Flourishes Today: The Power of Resilience

Watch Chilling Footage of the Hiroshima & Nagasaki Bombings in Restored Color

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How to Read Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs: A British Museum Curator Explains

If you want to learn to read hieroglyphics, you must first learn that (with apologies to the artists behind “You Never Knew”) there are no such things as hieroglyphics. There are only hieroglyphs, as the British Museum’s curator of ancient writing Ilona Regulski explains in the video just above, and hieroglyphic is the adjectival form. You may remember Regulski from another British Museum video we’ve featured here on Open Culture, about what the Rosetta Stone actually says — which she knows because she can actually read it, not just in the ancient Greek language, but in the ancient Egyptian one. Here, she explains how to interpret its once utterly mysterious symbols.

It would take an incurious viewer indeed not to be captivated by their first glimpse of hieroglyphs, which possess a kind of detail and beauty little seen in other writing systems. Or at least they do when carved into stone, Regulski explains; in more everyday contexts, the impressive arrangements of owls, ankhs, baskets, eyes, and bread loaves took on a more simplified, abstracted form.




Either way, it makes use of a complex and distinctive grammatical system about which we can draw a good deal of insight from examining a single inscription: in this case, an inscription on a lintel glorifying Amenemhat III, “one of the most famous kings of ancient Egypt.”

Those who feel their historical-linguistic curiosity piqued would do well to visit the British Museum’s current exhibition “Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt,” which runs until February 19th of next year. If you can’t make it to London, you can still go a bit deeper with the video below. Drawn the Great Courses series “Decoding the Secrets of Egyptian Hieroglyphs,” it features Egyptologist Bob Brier’s breakdown of such relevant concepts as phonetics, determinatives, and ideograms, as well as guided exercises in sentence translation and name transliteration. After demonstrating admirable hieroglyphic penmanship (certainly compared to most moderns), Brier leaves us with a homework assignment — just the sort of thing the ancient Egyptians themselves were doing a few millennia ago.

Related content:

An Animated History of Writing: From Ancient Egypt to Modern Writing Systems

You Could Soon Be Able to Text with 2,000 Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs

What Ancient Egyptian Sounded Like & How We Know It

An Ancient Egyptian Homework Assignment from 1800 Years Ago: Some Things Are Truly Timeless

3,200-Year-Old Egyptian Tablet Records Excuses for Why People Missed Work: “The Scorpion Bit Him,” “Brewing Beer” & More

A 4,000-Year-Old Student ‘Writing Board’ from Ancient Egypt (with Teacher’s Corrections in Red)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Untold Story of Disco and Its Black, Latino & LGBTQ Roots

As a white Midwestern child of the ‘70s, I received two messages loud and clear: disco was a breathtakingly glamorous, sexy urban scene, and “disco sucks.”

Culturally, the latter prevailed.

It was the opinion voiced most loudly by the popular boys.

Dissenters pushed back at their own peril.

I didn’t know what YMCA was about, and I’m not convinced the ski jacketed, puka-necklaced alpha males at my school did either.

(My father, who sang along joyfully whenever it came on the car radio, definitely did.)

Disco’s been dead for a long time now.




In the four plus decades since disgruntled Chicago radio DJ Steve Dahl commandeered a baseball stadium for a Disco Demolition Night where fans tossed around homophobic and racist epithets while destroying records, there’s been notable social progress.

This progress is the lens that makes Noah Lefevre’s Polyphonic video essay The Untold History of Disco, and other investigations into the racial and sexual underpinnings of disco possible.

I certainly never heard of Stonewall as a kid, but many contemporary viewers, coming of age in a country that is, on the whole, much more LGBTQ-friendly than the world of their parents and grandparents, are familiar with it as a gay rights milestone.

Lefevre ties the birth of disco to the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, and a subculture born of necessity, wherein gay men improvised underground dance clubs where they could cut freely loose with same sex partners.

Instead of live dance music, these venues boasted DJs, crate diggers open to any groove that would keep the party going on the dance floor: psychedelic, classic soul, progressive soul, jazz fusion, Latin American dance music, African pop…

(Thus the name discotheque)

A disco sound began to coalesce around existing hits as the O-jays’ Love Train and Isaac Hayes’ Theme from Shaft.

You can hear it in Jimmy Nolen’s chicken scratch lead guitar for James Brown and session drummer Earl Young’s open high hat and four-to-the-floor beat on Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ The Love I Lost.

In the beginning, crowds were primarily Black, Latino and gay at New York City discos like The Loft, which started out as a rent party, and The Sanctuary, housed in a deconsecrated midtown German Baptist church. Mapplethorpe model Leigh Lee recalled The Sanctuary’s cachet to the Village Voice’s Peter Braunstein:

It was supposed to be a secret, but I don’t know how secret it could have been when faggots and lesbians can come out of a church from midnight till sunrise.

As discotheque DJs began driving the record charts, mainstream producers took note, opening the gates for such monster hits as the Barry White-helmed Love Unlimited Orchestra’s Love’s Theme, Donna Summer’s Love to Love Ya, and Chic’s Le Freak.

A glitter-bedecked nude man rode a white horse into Bianca Jagger’s birthday party at Studio 54 on the stroke of midnight, while hinterland squares did The Hustle at their local Holiday Inns. 

By the time celebs like the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart starting horning in on the act, disco had already reached its tipping point.


Little twerps like me, whose mothers wouldn’t let them see the R-rated Saturday Night Fever bought Bee Gees 45s from our local Peaches and sang along to Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, as did some of our dads…

(An unexpected pleasure of Lefevre’s video is seeing all those familiar record labels spinning just the way they did on our precious stereos – Atlantic! Casablanca! Polydor! RSO!  Somebody pass me a Dr. Pepper and a yellow plastic insert!)

Radio DJ Rick Dees‘ novelty hit with Disco Duck seemed so harmless at the time, but it was surely music to the mainstream “disco sucks” crowd’s ears. (Good luck to any punk who betrayed a fondness for Disco Duck )

Disco’s reign was brief – Lefevre notes that its end coincides with the beginning of the AIDS crisis – but its impact has been greater than many assume at first blush.

Disco’s emphasis on turntables and long play versions influenced hip hop and electronic dance music.

Nearly half a century after discomania seized the land, its deep connection to Black, Latino and LGBTQ history must not be tossed aside lightly.

Watch more of Noah Lefevre’s Polyphonic video essays here.

Related Content 

Disco Demolition Night: Scenes from the Night Disco Died (or Did It?) at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, 1979

Two Decades of Fire Island DJ Sets Get Unearthed, Digitized & Put Online: Stream 232 Mixtapes Online (1979-1999)

How Giorgio Moroder & Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” Created the “Blueprint for All Electronic Dance Music Today” (1977)

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto. Her Indiana ties resulted in an invitation to Rick “Disco Duck” Dees’ 1977 wedding. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Why Jorge Luis Borges Hated Soccer: “Soccer is Popular Because Stupidity is Popular”

Image by Grete Stern, via Wikimedia Commons

I will admit it: I’m one of those oft-maligned non-sports people who becomes a football (okay, soccer) enthusiast every four years, seduced by the colorful pageantry, cosmopolitan air, nostalgia for a game I played as a kid, and an embarrassingly sentimental pride in my home country’s team. I don’t lose all my critical faculties, but I can’t help but love the World Cup even while recognizing the corruption, deepening poverty and exploitation, and host of other serious sociopolitical issues surrounding it. And as an American, it’s simply much easier to put some distance between the sport itself and the jingoistic bigotry and violence—“sentimental hooliganism,” to use Franklin Foer’s phrase—that very often attend the game in various parts of the world.

In Argentina, as in many soccer-mad countries with deep social divides, gang violence is a routine part of futbol, part of what Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges termed a horrible “idea of supremacy.” Borges found it impossible to separate the fan culture from the game itself, once declaring, “soccer is popular because stupidity is popular.” As Shaj Mathew writes in The New Republic, the author associated the mass mania of soccer fandom with the mass fervor of fascism or dogmatic nationalism. “Nationalism,” he wrote, “only allows for affirmations, and every doctrine that discards doubt, negation, is a form of fanaticism and stupidity.” As Mathews points out, national soccer teams and stars do often become the tools of authoritarian regimes that “take advantage of the bond that fans share with their national teams to drum up popular support [….] This is what Borges feared—and resented—about the sport.”




There is certainly a sense in which Borges’ hatred of soccer is also indicative of his well-known cultural elitism (despite his romanticizing of lower-class gaucho life and the once-demimonde tango). Outside of the hugely expensive World Cup, the class dynamics of soccer fandom in most every country but the U.S. are fairly uncomplicated. New Republic editor Foer summed it up succinctly in How Soccer Explains the World: “In every other part of the world, soccer’s sociology varies little: it is the province of the working class.” (The inversion of this soccer class divide in the U.S., Foer writes, explains Americans’ disdain for the game in general and for elitist soccer dilettantes in particular, though those attitudes are rapidly changing). If Borges had been a North, rather than South, American, I imagine he would have had similar things to say about the NFL, NBA, NHL, or NASCAR.

Nonetheless, being Jorge Luis Borges, the writer did not simply lodge cranky complaints, however politically astute, about the game. He wrote a speculative story about it with his close friend and sometime writing partner Adolfo Bioy Casares. In “Esse Est Percipi” (“to be is to be perceived”), we learn that soccer has “ceased to be a sport and entered the realm of spectacle,” writes Mathews: “representation of sport has replaced actual sport.” The physical stadiums crumble, while the games are performed by “a single man in a booth or by actors in jerseys before the TV cameras.” An easily duped populace follows “nonexistent games on TV and the radio without questioning a thing.”

The story effectively illustrates Borges’ critique of soccer as an intrinsic part of a mass culture that, Mathews says, “leaves itself open to demagoguery and manipulation.” Borges’ own snobberies aside, his resolute suspicion of mass media spectacle and the coopting of popular culture by political forces seems to me still, as it was in his day, a healthy attitude. You can read the full story here, and an excellent critical essay on Borges’ political philosophy here.  For those interested in exploring Franklin Foer’s book, see How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2014.

via The New Republic

Related Content:

Video: Bob Marley Plays a Soccer Match in Brazil, 1980

Jorge Luis Borges’ 1967-8 Norton Lectures On Poetry (And Everything Else Literary)

Jorge Luis Borges Draws a Self-Portrait After Going Blind

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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