As I read Christopher Gaffney’s Temples of the Earthbound Gods, one issue that particularly struck me was the excessive nature of the barrabrava, the fierce fan group that exists in most of the Argentine and South American football clubs. In the book, Gaffney suggests the unclear, shady relationships between the clubs and their barrabravas, or barras in short, and some of the borderline illegal actions that the barras take that is veiled under the name of passion and footballing identity.
For instance, the level of physical violence the barras demonstrate have reached a point where the barras of each club have their signature means of violence – rubber mallets in San Lorenzo or umbrellas in Independiente, for example – and yet their clubs have remained reluctant, even sympathetic towards such acts. The barras also have developed a convention of “testing” the young prospective barras to steal or fight against the rival team barras before letting the kids join their group. These codes and acts that the barras loyally uphold seem equivalent to hazing in a college fraternity group, which we consider as a social problem here in the United States.
Image from: http://barras-bravas-peru.blogspot.com/
And yet Gaffney does not see the barras as such; rather, he regards them as a representation of the Argentine society, in which social divisions and deterioration are met with a lack of worldwide attention. For a nation that has been full of suppression and dictatorship, the football stadiums are the only places where Argentine people can have an expression, as Gaffney states in his book:
“Although no one would assert that ritualized stadium violence is an acceptable societal norm, there is little mention in the daily press that this violence is a product of socioeconomic and political marginality… This implies a toleration of violence within certain bounds that recognizes the “need” for social expression of this kind.”
This gives an impression that the barrabravas are regarded among the Argentine people as something of a crusader of such socioeconomic expressions desperately needed throughout the entire Argentine people. The barras themselves certainly regard themselves as such, as Gaffney depicts them to regard themselves as “forced” in a position to act violently, as if they are protesting against the social framework of their mother nation. What concerns me, however, is that the lack of connection between the actions of the barras and the context of their actions – the very thing that is keeping their status as the crusaders – may also be turning them into exploiters. Already there have been signs of corruption within the barrabrava hierarchies, including bribery towards their supporting clubs, illegal drug trafficking, and other actions that are lesser relevant to the social undertones that the barras are supposed to express. These, I believe, reflect that the social context of such violent actions are not being transcended to the younger generations, and I believe that the lack of attention of such context from the media is one of the factors that are causing such spiritual corrosion among the barras.
Image from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdPwFx7LkGQ
Of course, it may be difficult at this point for the Argentine media to focus the barrabravas and their function as an outlet of social and economic opinions to the public; a long era of dictatorship is bound to leave an air of reluctance among individuals to express controversial opinions, as I experienced back in my home country, South Korea. However, as the barras themselves seem to gradually lose their spirit behind their acts of violence, it would be the job of the media to remind the barras of their roots – a crusader, not an exploiter.
Gaffney, C. (2008). Temples of the earthbound gods stadiums in the cultural landscapes of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. Austin: University of Texas Press
“Violence, Power, Soccer and Drugs: Argentina’s Barras Bravas”
Fetured Image from: