14 June 2010

Why I Love the Vuvuzela

I love the vuvuzela. Straight up love it.

I love the vuvuzela because it is uniquely African. It is a cultural staple. And, for once, we (the powerful elitist of the developed world) are being forced to deal with someone else's culture rather that simply overwhelming the "lesser" nation with our vapid idea of what proper culture should be.

All of the complaining parties are offenders of one form or another. Some of you yahoos in Texas shake cowbells at sporting events, which makes the vuvuzela sound like a lullaby.

Others among us are guilty of using those annoyingly lazy hand-clapper things. Who thought there was such a gap in society that we needed to invent that? And what did that brainstorm sound like? "Hmm, I have two hands but that is awfully bothersome to have to clap using both of them. And sometimes I clap wrong and it almost hurts. What if I just had to shake these plastic hand-shaped things and they made a rackety clapping sound? Yes!! Perfect!!"

Worst of all are the dreaded thundersticks. Inflatable banging plastic demons sponsored by Crocs or Kraft Foods or the local Autoplex. Let's just not go there.

But here is the deal. And here is the difference. We use noisemakers in America because we generally lack passion enough to produce organic noise from our own beings. And we're generally too lazy to do much noise-making even if we have all the zeal in the world. So we rely on gimmicky noisemakers that allow us the ability to make "supportive" noise while eating nachos and drinking a 72oz soft drink.

The South Africans, on the other hand, are so over-excited about their teams that they need more ways to make noise. So beyond singing and clapping, they grab the vuvuzela and start to blow. They blow in unison, creating deafening chants with the horns. They wave them in unison, creating impressive displays of spontaneous pseudo-choreographed support. And they dance all the while, celebrating not the ability to dominate on the pitch but the simple freedom to enjoy sport and recreation free from the deafening burdens of life as third-world slum-dwellers.

I love the vuvuzela and the departure it is from life as we know it. I love that it is an instrument of celebration for a people who for so long lacked something to celebrate. I love that in 2004 when the World Cup was awarded to South Africa, the streets immediately filled with the sound of the plastic trumpet and the din lasted long through the night. I love that FIFA has allowed the culture of the host nation to bleed through and that the uptight residents of the rest of the world are irritated by someone else's joyful noise. I love it all.

I love South Africans. I love the vuvuzela.


  1. Culture Smulture:

    actual handclapping (Guiness record) = 97 dB
    thundersticks = 99 dB
    cowbell = 115 dB
    vuvuzela = 127 dB!

    The Internet tells me that "when a sound is increased by ten decibels our ears perceive it as being twice as loud," which means the vuvuzela is perceived to be more than twice as loud as the cowbell.

    Perhaps the criticism is based less on the "vapid ideas" of "powerful elitists" and more on the limits of the human eardrum.

  2. I tend to agree with, um, Matticus. I certainly value culture, but isn't one of the (many) valid complaints against the vuvuzelas that they are encroaching on the cultures of others, too? Correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't FIFA asked the horn blowers to not interrupt national anthems? And after watching the game today, it's pretty obvious to see that that isn't really going to happen any time soon.

    Now, vuvuzelas during the game is another story. That's actually fine for me. (I'm not French, after all.) Being Mexican, I can attest to finding some charm in various annoying cultural horns. I'm learning to live with this soccer soundtrack as a cultural difference. As you correctly note, Africans certainly deserve something to celebrate.

    But one last question, my friend. How are vuvuzelas "organic noise?" They are, after all, made from plastic...

  3. watching the video shows us a more traditional scene of south africans at a soccer match. the vuvu is just an additional prop... so the organic noise isn't a direct argument - just saying our reason for noisemakers is to make noise...they seem to have other things going for them as well - and in their noisy culture, the vuvu is an ancillary benefit.

    from folks i've heard from, many of the vuvu blowing crazy people at the world cup are european visitors who are enamored by the footballing culture of SA and lack the other nuances that make SA football fans so charming. (translation: the tourists are buying and blowing in bulk.)

  4. This video suggests that what you've heard is correct (http://j.mp/btEM4g). There seems to be a right and a wrong way to play a vuvuzela. The noise we hear, then, is kind of like how it would sound if everyone at a Cowboys game in Texas Stadium were given cheap, plastic trumpets. Only a precious few would actually know how to play them, but that wouldn't stop hundreds of thousands from trying.