I've been trying to figure out my answer to this question: Do you like the vuvuzela?
I do. But why? I don't like the sound of it. As in, I don't want to hear its B-flat buzz while I cook, while I drive, while I make love. I don't think of it the way I normally think of music. Yet it's a form of music the way John Cage's 4'33" of silence is a form of music.essay about how the vuvuzela has become a screen for projections of nationalism, commodity fetishism, and Enlightenment-style racism (with a scientific cast). I think he left one out: well-meaning condescension with a side of guilt—the mentality that has certain American fans deciding whether to root for the American team or against it game by game, according to an algebra based on how much soccer power versus real power the other team/country has. (I'm not saying I'm immune to this: I'm uneasy with how uneasy I am that Germany feels likely to win the first African-hosted World Cup.)
I realized: These uncomfortable, hard-to-talk-about dynamics are why I like the vuvuzela. The vuvuzela noise overlaid on every game is a site-specific sound installation, meaning that it directs attention back to the site. And what makes for the very best sporting events (the most meaningful)—the 1980 US versus Russia hockey game, for instance—is that they distill a game into a specific moment in the creation of a place. Team sports at their highest are about place.
When John Cage didn't play the piano for 4 minutes and 33 seconds (in three movements), the composition instead became the world of sound that rushed in where the instrument was silent. The piano's silence opened the door. Similarly the vuvuzela opens a door. If opening the door is a Cagean metaphor, then offering a blank screen for projections—that's a Warholean move. The vuvuzela does not tell you what South Africa is like (a fallacy that is being promoted in some quarters, which seems not far off from the absurd idea that ABC's choral jingle represents South Africa).
It tells you something both more and less complicated: It tells you that this game is happening in South Africa, and that this place is unfixed and in the process of being made and remade, and that the place you are in is like that, too. It brings your attention to where this place is in its life, and where you are (wherever you are) in relation to it. The vuvuzela brings out the World Cupness of the World Cup—its link to place—which is why the World Cup is better than the Superbowl or the NBA Finals or the (misnamed) World Series ever could be.