The Land of the Free

For various reasons, mostly unintentional, I have more than a passing familiarity with Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek. I know little about Slovenia, though, so when I think of that country, I imagine it as obscure, funny, and a little cartoonish, like Zizek himself. The other day when the United States played Slovenia in one of the most thrilling, excruciating games in my history of fandom, I didn’t think of Zizek at all. I was too busy standing on the legs of my barstool, screaming myself hoarse. But afterwards something bubbled up in my mind.

I once heard Zizek give a talk in which he compared the movies MASH and Full Metal Jacket. MASH, he said, was conventionally thought of as an anti-war movie, or at least a movie that was critical of military authority. In it, soldiers crack wise, maintain an ironic distance from their superiors, and infuse the battlefield with compassionate humanity. Zizek argued, though, that this made them perfect soldiers. They could only perform their function as pawns in the military machine by refusing to see themselves as obedient murderers. The beginning of Full Metal Jacket by contrast showed a soldier who takes the military directive to heart and is driven mad. This was a truly anti-war vision.

I’ve long been a sort of Hawkeye Pierce when it comes to U.S. fandom. Sure, I support the team, but I’m not going to wave the flag and curse Mexico. (Viva Mexico!). Like many urban liberal types, I’ve never been that comfortable with any kind of nationalism, never mind fully supporting the state that brought us Walmart and waterboarding. And then there is Landon Donovan, or LandyCakes as he used to be called, the milquetoast face of American soccer. How could I get behind such a wimpy little suburbanite who couldn’t cut it in Europe? Even as I was rooting for the US, I always kept a little criticism in reserve. Go USA!… Silly USA… Who cares.

But this year something is different. I don’t think I’ve ever sung the national anthem in my adult life. I hate our national anthem. I think it’s a bad poem set to an annoying, difficult tune (O’er the ramparts?). But there I was, singing it in a bar full of Americans as the U.S. took on that obscure little band of Slovenians. I went Full Metal Jacket.

Part of what’s won me over to a full-throated support of my national soccer squad is the play of Donovan who has grown steelier and more enterprising in recent years. This transformation has coincided with his move from the center of the field to the wing. Perhaps he is also less central to the personality of the squad these days, and this ironically has made him more of a leader (Zizek, I’m sure, would have a theory about this). Donovan led the comeback Saturday, marching down the right and capitalizing on a Slovenian slip. For a moment he looked around for a pass, but then he took things upon himself, frightening the goalkeeper with a close-range rocket (Viva America!). He then looked around to his teammates as if to say, we’re not done here. We will win this battle.

They did, or nearly. The young Jozy Altidore was excellent throughout the second half. He nodded the ball to the Good Son, Michael Bradley, for the tying second goal. Then Donovan swung another dangerous ball into the area for Maurice Edu. His winner, as I’m sure you know, was called back. I was screaming, drowning out the Vuvuzelas. If I had been a full American supporter from the first whistle, the comeback had only strengthened my resolve. I didn’t nitpick about their poor passing or shoddy defense. I didn’t re-think Bob Bradley’s strategy. I just got caught up in the crowd and the surge, and I wanted victory. I wanted blood. I didn’t care about justice, or hate the referee. I just wanted him dead.

Zizek might say I’d identified completely with the superego, or he might say I’m a fool. I say he looks a little bit like Maradona (above), and let’s go USA.

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