Sunday, April 11, 2010

Corner kicks

Accidentally in honor of the Sounders season starting up a few weeks ago, I've been very soccer-focused lately.

First, there was the Iranian film Offside, about a group of young women who get caught sneaking into a World Cup-qualifying match. (I was previously unaware that women are not allowed into sports arenas in Iran.) The women are put into a holding pen until the end of the game, argue about women's rights with the soldiers responsible for transporting them to the police station, and end up listening to the historic game without ever seeing it while at the stadium. The underlying, and fairly basic, idea of the film seemed to be that women are just as patriotic as men - it wasn't so much sports that they were interested in supporting as their country.

This was the first Iranian film I've ever seen, and while I felt like I was missing a lot of cultural subtext, the injustice of sexist double standards is pretty universally understood. The main characters in the film were just young women who wanted to sneak in to see a soccer match and cheer on their national team. They argued more for their immediate rights (to see the game) rather than for larger structural and cultural changes. But the personal, after all, is political. I appreciated the film for its bittersweet snapshot of national pride and inequality.

And then! Shaolin Soccer rocked. That is all I have to say about that....

... or mostly all I have to say. Soccer + kung fu = awesome. It had an over-the-top cheesy plot, and was a self-parody of both the kung fu and sports film genres. A Bruce Lee-like kung fu master wants to bring kung fu to the masses, and teams up with a disgraced former soccer star to do it; he then
(And yes, there's an awesome female kung fu master. Otherwise I would probably merely like the film rather than lovelovelove it. Even if she's stuck in a few other traditional roles. )

But like Offside, there's an element of cultural regeneration: in the beginning everybody in Hong Kong is clumsy and unbalanced, but at the end of the film everyone has gotten back to their shaolin roots and rediscovered how to live a happier life.

I watched it twice.

Then an old friend from high school convinced me to join a rec soccer team. Our first game was this past weekend, and because we had the minimum number of women for a coed team to be able to qualify, none of us had subs. Also, I got stuck playing midfield, which runs virtually nonstop. I fell several times, scraped my knees in ways I haven't since my teens, and had a fantastic amount of fun.

As a result, I hobbled around the immigration reform rally the next morning, and quickly developed a hoarse voice shouting "SI, SE PUEDE!"

Here's my favorite sign, because to me it illustrates how complex the issue of immigration and visa attainment is:

Media coverage tended to portray the one-sided stereotype of undocumented Mexican laborers "sneaking in and then demanding" amnesty. But the rally itself did a great job of showing the need for comprehensive reform, by highlighting the range of experiences, both documented and undocumented, within a broken system.

Translators started off the rally by saying "We are one America" in 32 languages. Loved it.

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