On 7 June 1993, a full page ad on the back of the Suddeutsche Zeitung appeared with a blow-up photograph of tennis star Steffi Graf, who had just won the French Open and re-asserted her just-regained position as the Weltmeisterin, the No. 1 female player, in the most prestigious world sport, tennis, with the headline, beneath Sieg in Paris of Notre Dame.
In Italy, the headlines in journals like La Repubblica emphasized that the ‘victory' in Paris occurred with the absence of the woman who had defeated Graf there the last several times, and who had seemed likely to defeat her again, thus sustaining her position as the world's No.1 woman's tennis player, but for being stabbed in a Hamburg tennis court by a nationalist from Graf's home country. There was not a real ‘victory', and deference to the facts would have left little to celebrate.
At Vienna's Museum of Applied Art recently, world-rank architects discussed the cultural situation. They said that whatever is real had become ‘mediated'. It had become dominated by a tv-information environment in which true and false, image and reality, had been compacted together, so that tv ads, news and sports had become the believable world. Said one: For most people there are only two places in the world, where they live and their tv set.
According to the German press reports, this is precisely what happened for the man who stabbed Steffi Graf's foe. Because of unification, he, an East German, had become unemployed. Because he had no more social structure, he, seeking membership, became absorbed in the mass media. Because the media practiced extreme nationalism, particularly with queen-figure Steffi, he, not normally a criminal, but not knowing how else to be a man, deliberately and relentlessly put together a scheme to stab the woman who, by being a better player, was preventing Graf from being the world champion. The sole reason was not she was bad or that Graf was good, but that she was not German and Graf was. He had found employment, after all. And he was prepared to pursue this job anywhere in the planet until it was accomplished. In effect; a superior opponent of the German champion would be pursued as relentlessly and systematically as Trotsky was by Stalin; nowhere would be safe. This means that in the event the German media starts limelighting a certain star or hero, and in the event a foreigner happens to outshine or outwin that star or hero in competition, and in the case that the economy due to unification continues to be depressed (as now), the foreigner may well be in danger... anywhere.
For the practice of violence to achieve nationalist ends, being denied in the form of war, has been translated through media hype into the possibility of the lone attack. The attacker was goaded on by the media; psychiatrists have judged him to be sane; this event was no freak. The hundreds of other attacks in Germany, including the threats of attacks against a visiting Israeli team, forcing a transfer of playing field, indicate that the need to annul or subordinate foreigners extends far beyond simply the guest workers or asylum seekers; it extends to anyone whose prowess or power should happen to deny a Weltmeister status. The cause lay in the media.
The media environment, for example, generated denigration and attack on the character or playing style of Graf's opponent, such that one could conclude that Graf was actually the better athlete, actually the better player, but that her opponent was simply more determined, more desperate, more bestial, more vicious, more cruel, in sum, worse. Witness the photo and text published in Bild on the morning of the attack. Graf, the abused and saddened beauty, is up against - indeed, ‘we' are up against - some dark and dangerous, some obscure and biting beast.
As for Graf, as we discover later with the happy end to the frightening story, when a good knight has stabbed the beast and the good princess can win her tournament in Paris, she can be elevated to the status of Notre Dame.If of course her opponent had not been stabbed and had gone on to (quite likely) win in Paris, then the Notre Dame would have become the poor, abused blonde, the hurt woman who actually should win and whom we all should assist in that great effort. If international sport were chess, we are talking about who ends up taking, or throwing out of play, the prize player, the Queen. And the struggle is not just Graf's, it is ours. The other, the horrible enemy, is faced by the wir; thus arises a media-fabricated necessity of striking her down.
What was meant in the Notre Dame gesture is not clear. Was it just meant to be a joke, a bit in bad taste. Or could it have been taken seriously? Did the people making it actually get a religious or tribal thrill out of making a near divinity out of Graf? Were they actually relieved that Graf's enemy had been eliminated from the field, hence from stressful consciousness, much as the wicked witch, the devil-woman, in the Wizard of Oz? More, had this ad been approved by the executives at Opel, or at gm?
One could dismiss the ad as a bit of bad taste, a bit too much enthusiasm, except that it is accompanied by some additional developments. On 31 July, it was reported that the constitutional court in Munster had ruled as constitutional the installation of the Christian crucifix in public schools. Every school child, whether Catholic, Protestant, atheist, Jewish or Turkish Muslim, would understand that the icon and values made official by the state were those of a particular religion. And everyone, if they also saw the ad, would be aware that a particular national heroine could be associated with the iconography of that religion. Every school child could reasonably conclude from the image of Steffi Graf conjoined with her appellation that, while this is of course ‘only an ad', it is also of course sort of allowed. And it is also of course sort of reasonable for someone from the country to have made sure that Steffi's enemy did not tarnish her now-exalted reputation. Our Lady of Germany, No. 1 in World Tennis, Blessed Be Those That Destroy Thy Foes.
We understand from the international press that the attack on Graf's opponent is unprecedented in the history of sport. We ask now, to the readers, is the exaltation of a national sports hero(ine) to the level of near-deity also without precedent in the history of sport? And if the schoolchildren are to realize that educational authority from the state can be conjoined with religious authority from, among others, the Notre Dame, then does that not force a media-hyped alliance of church and state in a national crusade? Is not the logical conclusion that one must be prepared to wage a holy war, or at least a holy crusade and occasional stabbing attacks, for the media-defined Lady of the Homeland?
Every national press has a need for heroes. But holy, sacred ones? Every national press has a need to promote the home-team athletes. But to the extent of fostering, in the combined onslaught of tv and print-media messages which the German press says had become all absorbing for the attacker, to commit an event rendering international sport impossible. A world champion had been physically attacked and crippled by a media-fed nationalist so that someone from his own country could be the world champion instead. Now a new heroine has been presented by the nation's media to the public. If she becomes very popular and gets plenty of media exposure but then slips from a position of being the world champion because someone from a foreign country, and possibly a foreign religion, is better, what should prevent another enthusiast without a job from solving the problem. Particularly when that enthusiast has little else to believe in but his unified country and has, because of that unification process, become chronically unemployed. What else there to do to maintain self respect in the society? Protect the Notre Dame.
Recently a sporting match in Leipzig was transferred elsewhere because the visiting team happened to come from Israel and the authorities had become aware of nationalist threats to their security.
And recently, as all of Germany knows, several native athletes who have chosen to love someone outside of the national tribe, like Boris Becker and Susen Tiedtke, who have found themselves unable to safely continue living in the country. The malevolence and religio-tribalism which led to the World War II excesses are as virulent - and therefore dangerous - as ever.
Much of the problem seems to arise from a denial of what Western civilization took centuries to achieve: the concept of religious freedom, and of the separation of church and state. For if the constitutional court decision to permit crucifixes in public schools stands, then religious affiliation becomes associated with national and social cohesion, and choice no longer functionally exists. Worse, nationalist threats become validated by religious fervour. A Notre Dame on the tennis court is perhaps for some a laughing matter, possibly sacrilegious, but a crucifix in government ministries makes a more inescapable imposition. In Die Zeit, a cover story about the agriculture minister shows him in his office with, instead of a national icon like the flag or seal of office, a religious icon, the crucifix. Is this correct in a public office? Does this make a public image of a national heroine as a religious heroine therefore more sacrosanct?
The ad agency which foisted the image of Graf as Our Lady very possibly thought they were making a joke. But that would probably be over-estimating a large part of the public. A chance inquiry to a furniture maker about the Münster ruling aroused this prompt response: what's the difference between showing a cross in a German school and showing a us flag in an American one? The man evidently cannot distinguish between icons. He evidently cannot distinguish between fidelity to a church and fidelity to the society, manifested in the state.
This man, reading the newspapers and watching the tv, believes that within 10 years Germany will be the dominant, even governing economic force in Europe. His views coincide with those of the majority of those receiving the mass media, the people who read the boulevard press. These people have become convinced by the press, on economic questions, that the German Mark must absolutely not be given up for some European currency. 89% of the population, when polled, believe that the Mark must be the currency in their future. If they also believe in Europe and Maastricht, or some such, then one concludes by logic that the Mark - and not some Ecu - must become the currency of Europe. This could mean on the global scale that in future there would be the Mark, the Yen and possibly the Dollar as the global standards. At the Venice Biennale, as the art world knows, the Mark was brought into the aesthetic arena, possibly as an icon, to be protected, and possibly as a subject for artistic action, to be dissected and changed. What happens depends on how people intend to take what the artist did: as a joke? as a serious joke? or as a serious proposition?
All these could be dismissed as so much working-class confusion about icons, and so much scholasticism in the art world, except that we the world are confronted with several hard decisions.
1 Given the media habits in the united Germany, and given the great economic suffering in the former ddr, which induces in turn desperate behavior, can there be a reasonable guarantee of security for any athlete or cultural figure who should happen to threaten a lofty, even divine status of a national hero? Does one dare to compete seriously against the next German sports star? Can one tolerate a world in which an ultimate achievement in human physical culture is violated by a cheap action of a media-crazed nationalist?
2 Given that now 89% of the German public have become convinced that the Mark cannot be given up, and given that a prominent bank has publicly proposed that any European currency union start with an expansion from the Mark on outwards, can one suppose that any alternative to a Mark based European economy is contemplated by the German Government?
3 What is to be the relation between Church and State in the European Community if the relation in its largest member state is plainly blurred, and if that blurring is carried over into sport and mass culture?
4 Has the German Question or German Problem been resolved at all?
On 2 July 1993, the three articles leading the Frankfurter Allgemeine revealed a quandary. The first said that the united Germany would seek a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, the second reported on what came to be an enormous scandal about how an alleged leftist terrorist and an antiterrorist policeman actually got shot, hence about whether a straightforward arrest (with live witnesses, who could talk) was ever intended, and the third said that evidently the Maastricht Treaty for European integration would deny independent statehood to Germany. The first and third revealed a contradiction: if Germany joined Europe, then it could not reasonably claim a sovereign status befitting a member of the un Security Council, as neither could the other two members of the Community now on the Council; if the scandal about police abuse were true, coupled with the widely publicized fact of numerous right-wing nationalist abuses (including the attack on a Weltmeisterin), then the fundamental problems of the united Germany before the Second World War, which had led to the creation of the United Nations and its Security Council, had not been solved.
The un was created, and a united Germany had been denied, precisely to avoid a repetition of violent and expansive nationalism from the center of Europe on out. A fresh attempt had been made to re-permit a united Germany, but unlike with its counterpart Japan, this attempt was failing: violence had become a norm of conduct towards outsiders, including visiting outside athletes, and whether a stable economy could be achieved by peaceful means was not clear. The attempt, which one must acknowledge to be at least troubled and problematic with respect to the European Community, and to the general process of change in Europe, made a bid for Security Council membership appear as little more than an attempt at covering up all the problems of world history unresolved since the efforts of Bismarck. After all, the new candidate for membership in the inner sanctum of security (i.e., police) talks has yet to prove its ability to survive, say, a first five years of existence, and has yet to decide whether, if it accepts a European treaty, it even can exist as a state.
The Viennese talks by architects emphasized how mediated concepts, such as Steffi Graf described as ‘Notre Dame', or the military securing of oil routes from the Red Sea described as humanitarian aid', or the American tv dream of the split-level suburban house, can play a determinative role in human history. Authorities that wish to can create allegedly integral countries like ‘Bosnia', dropping the word ‘Herzegovina' since that's too hard for the public to say, and then create social, warring groups where only months before none scarcely existed. The attack on Steffi Graf's opponent was less a crime than an act of war in that it was a politically-inspired act of aggression against a foreigner in order to win a prize, in this case the world women's tennis championship, for the counterpart native. Of course an act of war against the entity inspiring this individual is not possible, particularly since he has not been sanctioned or supported by that state. One may be forced by such absurd events, however, to seriously re-think the iconography which led to them, and to seriously inquire what might be the consequence of continuing to use such iconography.