FIFA: From Fabergé to Football
Originally published in Applied Arts Magazine, 2018
Ah, the World Cup. Like the Olympics, this quadrennial sports fest does its best to command our attention for the few weeks that it takes the world’s national squads to fight their way to the prize.
The 2018 contest has been one of the most exciting in recent years, with plenty of stunning upsets as favourites fall to lesser teams and underdogs knock them off the road to ultimate victory. Who thought Germany would be eliminated? Or that Japan would almost bring down Belgium? Or that Russia would even come close to winning a spot in the quarter finals?
If you have been watching this in English Canada, you may be tuned in to TSN’s coverage of the tournament. And you may or may not agree that the graphics designed for the opening sequence and the screens on set are almost as exciting as the games themselves. For a design and brand wonk with a passion for visual semiotics, TSN’s packaging of the games is an absolute joy ride through what can only be described as a nostalgic throwback to the Russia of the Romanovs.
Looking at the opening sequence, it doesn’t take too long to realize that the overall concept owes far more to Faberge than it does to FIFA. We are taken on a breathless tour of a mythical landscape populated by icons from both Russia’s imperial past and its more recent Soviet era, all bathed in the light of an eternal sunrise and drenched in a thick coat of liquid gold and silver. Bejewelled Vostoks, gilded Sputniks and heroic locomotives mingle with metallic dragons, mechanical birds of prey and music box ballerinas as we careen through a visual narrative as richly appointed as the halls of the Hermitage – that is, if it were a museum of kitsch. Flying past bridges and palaces we finally arrive at our destination: a Fabergé-egg-like football that opens up in a flash of blinding light to reveal the coveted cup.
The visual ‘imperialization’ of icons pulled from the Soviet era is entertaining. Take the locomotive for example. The classic Soviet version – a coal-black engine with a big red star in the front - has been transformed into a red-hot, golden-nosed iron horse. Fun to compare it to its more revolutionary portrayal as a symbol of the USSR’s industrial might. Here it looks like the express train to a party in hell. Even more fun is the representation of a Vostok rocket taking off with as much gilding and filigree on its giant boosters as a royal carriage.
Then there are the team insignias which appear onscreen whenever a particular match is being discussed. Pharoahs, Samurai warriors and Day of the Dead skulls are mined for their symbolism. And the country names are dripping with the kind of filigree you might find on the dress uniform of a Hapsburg-era field general. Deliciously, recklessly over the top.
Considering the grandiosity of this all-you-can-eat visual buffet, one is tempted to look at it within the context of present day politics. It’s clear that Russia is working hard to recover its pre-revolutionary imperial glory on the world stage. Hosting FIFA is a key PR move in this effort. What’s curious is how a Canadian (assuming this was done here) would have so perfectly represented these imperialistic ambitions. You wonder if the creative director is having us on, or if Vladimir Putin wrote the brief. Either way, kitsch is rarely as exquisitely and meticulously executed. wn