The noise from Fadó (Fa-dough) – a rowdy Irish soccer bar in downtown Austin – ricocheted in my ears as I walked up Lavaca to get over to Colorado to my truck. At the last minute, Real Madrid had rallied against Barcelona in el clásico, the most important annual sporting event on the planet. The walkers-by outside on the streets under the Texas Capitol that Saturday morning in November had no idea that Real and Barça had played – and played more than a game.
At least twice a year, the two Spanish powers bring together 700 million people or more to form and experience a global event simultaneously in real time, generating the largest cache of the most precious commodity of our time: Attention. It is the new currency of the global realm.
Other than cash, the key to power these days is attracting attention. Donald Trump would not have been elected otherwise. If you gain attention, you gain votes, web hits and followers. In the most attention-addicted country in the world, Trump prevailed. He understood that with attention you can stir those once thought un-stirrable to now command global events.
We are indeed in a new time. The global village becomes universal megatropolis, something George W. Bush’s failed to understand when he held the world in his hand after September 11, 2001. Bush was no different then than most Americans strolling through life today. In many ways, most of us really do not get it. With the globe as his audience, Bush muffed it by shouting vengefully to workers upon a heap of rubble through a hand-help microphone rather than using that precious moment to undermine radical terrorists around the world with an inclusive message. Barack Obama tried to recreate what Bush messed up when the newly-elected President went to Cairo in his first year in office to speak to the Muslim world. But the moment of billions had passed.
Yet those moments will come again. For it being only a game, when the clásico gathers 700 million people in all bends and corners and fields of the earth to sit down for two hours to share the same sensations emanating from one soccer stadium in Barcelona or Madrid, do they not create a global impact two times each year?
The very idea that the most watched annual event in the world is between two teams in Spain should be instructive in some way. My sense is that even the Spanish government has no idea of its potential impact on a growing Hispanic Hemisphere. Seven hundred million is about three times the number who will watch the Super Bowl next month. And the vagaries of soccer in Europe could pit Madrid against Barça as many as six of times this year – almost five billion people. The numbers astonish the mind.
Not astonishing is the disengagement of most Americans – specifically, too many Hispanic/Latinos* in the United States – from an event that demonstrates how state-of-the-art telecommunications could accelerate changes in our consciousness and self-perception.
My parents knew nothing of sports. We barely had a television set. But because I went to a Catholic high school in San Antonio – a megatroplis compared to my small hometown 300 miles away in the desert – what we call soccer became a part of my life. One of our teacher-priests was from Spain. His black cassock would turn brown in our dusty field on Saturday mornings as we learned the game. I then would wait for ABC’s weekly Wide World of Sports in the afternoon hoping for reports about soccer in Europe. Nothing, alas, about el clásico; mostly news from Wembley Stadium in London about English soccer games.
That we can now watch a game live from Madrid or Barcelona – or from Rio or Mexico City or Buenos Aires – means that while English grows as the dominant language of the world, the world is changing simultaneously. Once seemingly small affairs like Real Madrid-Barcelona are no longer small at all. Who could have imagined that a 26-year-old fruit seller named Mohamed Bouazizi angry at the Tunisian government setting himself on fire in the rural town of Sidi Bouzid would set off the Arab Spring and plunge the world into tumult?
The clásico serves as a reminder. It fixates Spain, Europe and most of the former Spanish colonies in the Americas, Africa and Asia but more so it underscores how far Americans and Hispanic/Latinos of the U.S. variety have to go before we become part of the new megatropolis, whose emergence must mean something new. If we grow to become more aware of our new world, perhaps we might not be surprised when something unexpected happens or when we learn that we can affect world affairs.
I could watch the clásico at home. But I would miss the crowd at the bar: The expressive Moroccans, the silent Germans, the dismissive Italians, the tense madridistas shouting for Real and the always-angry culés screeching for Barcelona, the engaged Mexicans and the quiet Ethiopians – and the raucous Irish. I would miss the world.
The next clásico is in April.
I will be waiting for Fadó.
Jesús (Jesse) Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.
*Hispanic/Latinos is not a typo. It is a run-in confection to overcome the rhetorical divide between those Hispanics who are not Latinos and those Latinos who are not Hispanic.