The Beautiful Hysteria of the Men of the World Cup

Of the many pleasures conferred by following the FIFA World Cup this year, one that has gone under-discussed thus far is that male hysteria has been in full, blooming display therein.

If that sounds like an insult, it isn't. Hysteria, when applied to women in the 19th century, was often a bit of a bullshit diagnosis. It was used to describe pretty much any display of "unmanageable emotional excess," as the common definition goes. And sometimes the women's emotional excesses had legitimate underlying causes. So to with these men, and soccer. See, e.g., the unmanageable emotional excess of victory:

When those 19th century doctors discussed hysteria among themselves they often sound like Supreme Court Justices describing pornography: they just know it when they see it. I like this passage from a book by one Frederic Carpenter Skey:

Have you never experience the difficulty of discovering an object floating in the air, such as a bird singing overhead, or an early star in the evening? When once the object becomes visible, the eye is readily adjusted to it, and when you look again in the right direction, it is the first object that strikes the eye.

And so with this class of diseases. They are not seen, because they are not looked for.

In soccer, you luckily don't have to look very far.

The most obvious example of hysteria is the moment of injury that comes at least once per half. The players collide; it looks like it hurts like a motherfucker; the announcers grow hushed and serious, and then the camera swerves in to show someone lying on the pitch.

And when they're live on air, the players know exactly what to do: pitch and moan and drapy themselves about like they are characters in a 19th century novel about consumptives.

The Beautiful Hysteria of the Men of the World Cup

I am agnostic on the question of whether these guys fake these injuries totally. I wouldn't want to run into them/trip over them/dive into the turf face-first, myself. That said it's obvious they play to the camera; the underlying injury might be there but the trick is in conveying it to the viewers watching at home.

You can tell there's an established theatre by the way that even the verifiably injured, like Brazil's Neymar, below, cover their eyes. That's the established gesture for it!

The Beautiful Hysteria of the Men of the World Cup

Not all the suffering seems to be actually physical. Some of it is pure, ostentatious displays of emotional suffering. This manifestation of hysteria is something you tend to see more in fans than players:

The Beautiful Hysteria of the Men of the World Cup

Though the players are not totally inexperienced in this regard and can give good despair game themselves, sometimes:

The Beautiful Hysteria of the Men of the World Cup

Another bit of hysterical semaphore is the kneeling and roaring like a Lion King completing the circle of life. There is a religious ecsatasy in it that would probably look less out of place in an exorcism:

The Beautiful Hysteria of the Men of the World Cup

And of course religious extremism was often a feature of 19th century hysteria. In fact physicians were ambivalent about whether their patients (again, mostly female) should be subjected to religious instruction at all:

All that tends to produce emotion; all exciting sermons, made the vehicles of extreme theological opinions; all that appeals to the imagination; and everything which can be perverted into a means of gratifying prurient desires (as, for instance, the ordinance of confession) must be totally and positively forbidden.

No one, apparently, has given this kind of advice to all the soccer players who are fond of adopting the pose of prayer:

The Beautiful Hysteria of the Men of the World Cup

But speaking of prurient behavior: if the religious fervor is more symptom of hysteria than cure, perhaps soccer men truly suffering from this excess ought to take instruction from the way hysteria used to be treated, which is to say by vibrator and "genital massage." There may be a lot of intimate contact going on on the field itself:

The Beautiful Hysteria of the Men of the World Cup

But it probably isn't enough to provide the proper sort of release.

[All images in this post via Getty.]