A network rubbernecks its own disaster in real time, but we feel it as always just after and already just elsewhere
The rain comes up, and the game goes dead. It rained earlier, abruptly hard and horizontal. Out the windows of the concrete library, air alchemized straight into water, and this inland town went first coastal and then aquarium, sodden yellow houses in place of fish. The bar is as loud as expected, even if half the crowd came independent of the game, just because it’s almost evening. We don’t know the rain has started again until the screens shudder and leave pixel hunks of Arjen Robben’s jaw scattered across the field. Goya does FIFA as glitch art.
The guy at the bar wearing a red Robben jersey is not cheered. It’s the Bayern Munich one that says bayern munchen robben, a phonetically transcribed drawl of secret dog poetry: “baying, munching, robbing.” The match is already into stoppage time, but the station forgets to list how much: a hurried pocket of uncounted time, added up prior and now ballooning. A secret debt. Out the door, it is a drowned world again, and in cheery sympathy, the screens go all blue and stay that way, before eventually apologizing for the lost signal and inconvenience.
Even before there’s suddenly nothing to watch, I’m aware of the “time of the game,” as Teju Cole phrased it, that rare and flitting global synchronicity that takes shape during World Cup games. It really has no parallel, in terms of that tight, temporary proximity it forges across bodies that will, for the most part, never touch or pass. Not even 24-hour catastrophe coverage can match this yoking of the disparate, its shift from our general condition—“out of sync but aware of each other” (Cole)—to a single crossbar breath held fast between cities, continents.
What about times of war? A greater-than-usual proliferation of death “in the news” dominates our aqueous organs like a moon, our guts shifting under its sway. It constellates us around it, borrowing us as vectors to transcribe itself again and again. I can’t stop refreshing the page, we write to each other. I can’t get anything done. So experience hemorrhages in the face of did you see that piece…, knowing full well that you did and that our closeness has already been written out in patterns of communication entirely separate from whatever we say. Because death—the speaking of it, its architecture, its equilibrium of heat balanced from one cooling mass to the heat rising in your face—just traces these in gray, a charcoal dye poured into the engine. A network rubbernecks its own disaster in real time, but we feel it as always just after and already just elsewhere. The heart rises to the throat when it has stopped in another place. Like Franco Fortini wrote of something else entirely: “(For us too, but not here.)” (The parentheses have to be there, because they write out graphically the delay and gap crossed by the too. Not here, which is also to say not now, but still somewhere in the circuits of a world system and still for us, a echo we pick up in this parenthetical bubble of time.)
So the terminal engenders the recurrent, but the spectacle of death never manages—and never will, until Reaper strikes are actually live streamed and up-voted—the uncanny simultaneity of the time of the game. Never the accidentally unified chorus of tens of thousands screaming together to “get it the hell out of there!” Analogues of sport and war are usually shallow, but comparison between the structures of image-making behind them are more apt. Should we want an aerial image of what a truly World War might look like, consult the time-lapsed Twitter mention map of the Brazil debacle/defeat against Germany. The planet is consumed in surging flames of low-grade misery and snark, so many witty air strikes pitter-pattering us into null.
In the bar, the time of the game appears now in negative, in the shape of being suddenly booted from it, logged out of time by the weather. It keeps raining, and we know that exceptional synchronicity only as something we won’t get back. The signal is dead. The screens become obstinate, indifferent things. But a work-around is found. People have been taking the absent game way too well—back in London, V tells me, this would have become a riot—and sure, enough, they never stopped watching. Robben-guy has his giant phone out, the thing is as big as a cutting board, and everyone is peering down at the streaming game. He’s beaming, getting to play savior—and the game lives on. “If they had Samsung TVs here, like I do at my house,” he says to whomever, as if this qualification will get him laid, “I could sync my phone to that.” They don’t have Samsung TVs here. Water is creeping in the door. We all get more into the game, huddled closer around the smaller screen, almost having to touch. A guy, wearing a USA jersey because he wants to avoid confusion about what kind of watching he does, tells me, “If they had Samsung TVs here, he could sync his phone to that.” Is that so, I say. So what’s the problem? “Fucking TV,” he says. “It’s a Sony or some shit.”
The rain soldiers on. But before the penalty kicks, the game comes back on. A little hurrah. Go Sony. We hadn’t missed much anyway. Things go ahead. At some point before this, when no goals had been scored, the Fun Time Beach Cafe in Khan Younis is bombed by Israel. Everyone is watching the game after an iftar meal. Power was out in homes so they gathered there. Nine young Palestinians are murdered. We don’t know this until later. It goes unregistered by the time of the game. An off-ramp of feedback, it does not return, lost not only because the game does not yell back, cannot, but because these deaths are treated by so much of the world’s order as a downpour: surprising, a little, inconvenient, sure, but natural all the same, part of what going on and on means. In place of the cafe, a crater is left, so large it fills with seawater, a little fishless ocean.