It's really hard to explain to people overseas what an self-satisfied, insular view of the world you get if U.S. TV news is your window on the world. I have relatives in Europe who assumed that our TV networks were essentially the same as theirs, with just a little local color added, until they came over here and saw for themselves how world events are packaged to us. They really couldn't imagine the strange mix of infotainment and propaganda that passes for news here, without seeing it for themselves; and having seen it, they began to appreciate why Americans generally seem to have a view of what is going on in the world that is largely unrecognizable to the other 95% of the planet.
As if to prove that it's not just their news division that is a cheerleader for the Bush Administration and its drive to bring - well whatever it is that they are bringing to the Middle East - ABC Sports managed to use this afternoon's Mexico v. Iran game to remind us that Iran is really really bad, and their leader is Hitler, and the Jews are going to have to wear yellow badges, etc etc etc. Really, is nothing sacred to the U.S. sports commentator? This is the World Cup finals - the one event in the world where rich countries and poor countries and powerful countries and obscure, poverty-stricken or demonized countries come together and face off as equals in a simple sport that almost the whole world plays. Part of the wonder of the World Cup is that once every four years we come face to face with the profoundly unsexy countries who don't usually make it onto our radar, and find that in soccer we have a shared bond with Cameroonians and Angolans and Tunisians and Trinidadians, and people in all sorts of countries we can't quite locate on the map.
But don't try telling that to ABC. I was just watching their coverage of Iran/Mexico, when out nowhere the commentator felt the need to propagandize to us about how ironic it is that this game is being played in Nuremberg! The very same Nuremberg where Hitler held his rallies! And what must the Iranian players have thought as their bus approached the stadium and they saw those great towers where the swastikas used to fly? Did they think of their President's words about those terrible times and shudder, like we did?
Well of course they didn't. They were on the way to their first game in the World Cup finals, which they have been working towards for four years. They were thinking about the team they were about to play, about the tactics they'd been practicing, and hoping they weren't going to make some silly mistake that would cost their team a goal and make getting through the qualifiers an uphill struggle. If by some chance they had had a political thought on arriving at Nuremberg, it would probably have been: Well lookee here, what a coincidence that we should be playing at Nuremburg at the very same time that warmongers in the U.S. are trying to demonize us as the new Nazis! Why on earth would they be thinking of themselves as the new new Third Reich and their leader as the new Hitler - unless for some unlikely reason they have been watching U.S. cable TV and internalized the "Ahmedinejad as Hitler and Iran as the new Third Reich" propaganda that we are being bombarded with on a daily basis? It's bad enough that Americans believe our own Administration's hysterical propaganda to justify its next war, but it's positively delusional when we start to assume that the rest of the world goes around believing it too.
Why can't our sports commentators stick to what they do best: trying but failing to explain the rules of the game, and flashing useless soccer trivia on the screen in the form of graphics that block out the action on the pitch? Who could live without knowing that when Mexico brought on its third substitute today, this represented the first time in the history of the World Cup Finals that a team had used all three substitutes by the 52nd minute? Or that Portugal's 4th minute goal against Angola was their second quickest in World Cup finals play, their fastest being the first minute goal they scored against Hungary when England hosted the tournament in 1966? Fascinating. God forbid that we should be allowed to just sit and enjoy the game without being distracted by drivel or softened up for regime change.
Look ABC, we understand that you will cheer for whatever the White House wants, and that what the White House wants right now is an excuse to bomb Iran. And we understand which excuse the White House has settled on for starting a war this time. They can't re-use the "links with al-Qaeda" one because Shia Iran and Sunni al-Qaeda have hated each other for years; they can't recycle the "nuclear weapons in 45 minutes" one because frankly people are still a bit miffed about the way they abused that one last time; so this time it's going to be "Ahmedinejad is Hitler and if we don't bring about regime change and put Iran's oil in the hands of a friendly puppet government, the islamofascists will overrun the world and put us in death camps or something". We understand the storyline. After being subjected to it day-in day-out for weeks now, we get the message. But you could give us a break, just for the World Cup. It only lasts for four weeks; couldn't you give us a rest from the Two Minutes Hate just for that long? This time next month it will all be over. Brazil or whoever will have samba'd to victory, and you can go right back to cheerleading for thermonuclear Armageddon. But till then, please shut up and let us watch 32 countries from all corners of the globe interacting in ways that don't involve invading, occupying, killing or threatening anybody. Just for one month. Thank you.