Lahm: The Nature of Cultural Reference

When writing in this blog, I always try to direct people’s attention to what lies beyond statistics. To me, the sheer brilliance of Lahm is as evident off the pitch as it is on it. In addition, he is part of the culture in a way that might be off-limits to some other player. Some time ago I wrote on Lahm being, from my point of view, a cultural reference. This week I came across an article that made me want to go back to that issue.

Johannes Strempel, a writer similar to those of Reader’s Digest, people like you and me, wrote a story about his trip to the Bear Island. Please forgive me for not giving you all the details on when, what, why, who, and how. I am sure it is a good read, but my interest in it comes down to one small detail: a comparison with Philipp Lahm. There is just one line, and yet, it is a powerful – I suppose – description.

Strempel points out the difficulties he had to face and, while doing so, mentions the surrounding environment:

[…] and always, always, it was too foggy. Then something broke, and the ships went back to Norway for repair. The days crawled by. Fog pushed against the window. When it cleared for a few minutes, there was a landscape in the moonlight, as varied as an interview with Philipp Lahm. (my translation)

Needless to say, the comparison is full of irony, but I will come back to that in a bit. First things first. As a writer, one has plenty of tools at his disposal; he may use them as he pleases in order to create an image as precise as he wants. Take a minute to reflect upon your way of telling stories. You might want to compare one person with a tiger and not with an elephant; you might wish to drown in someone’s love or bathe in it, describing the level of intensity. Finally, I could have chosen “Following the Great Football Player Philipp Lahm” as the headline of my blog instead of the word “phenomenon”, and that would have affected the expression of clarity of my attitude towards this individual.

There are tens of thousands of words for you to use. They are many German football players. Hence, it amazes me that the author consciously chose that exact simile (“as an interview with Philipp Lahm”). It has to be easily recognizable. It has to be to the point in order for it to work. Right of the bat, I called the comparison full of irony. In this case, it refers to how repetitive and dull Lahm’s statements are. To make such a comparison is to assume that everyone has the same impression after listening to Lahm. Otherwise, there would be no point in choosing him as a reference, which by itself, no doubt, is fascinating.

However, my fascination does not go beyond that. Of course, the comparison has the right to exist, but I doubt its accuracy. I am going to take some liberty in guessing what interviews the author had in mind: those after a match.

What are the most common questions? Each and every one of you could come up with your own list. Mine is as follows:

  • How do you feel..? (After a defeat/victory)
  • Is there something to be improved?
  • What’s the goal for this season?
  • What’s the goal for the next major tournament?
  • Are you proud to be captain of FC Bayern and Germany?
  • Is it fun for you to be captain of FC Bayern and Germany?
  • What do you think about a statement that so-and-so made two days ago?
  • How does it feel to play in front of a big crowd?
  • What position do you enjoy playing the most at? Right-back or left-back?
  • Why did the player X punch the player Y in the face during training yesterday?

I mean how many various answers are there when a person being interviewed is the same? Is it expected that Lahm is not proud to be captain? Is it expected that the goal for a season is to calmly walk on the pitch back and forth and/or to finish last in the table? Is it expected of him to say, “You know what? I don’t care about this season or the next tournament. They are so not important! And the goal? Oh, it’s definitely not to get any trophies whatsoever”? We might get lucky if it is a press conference, but what if it is a post-match interview? The spectrum is even more limited. Add the fact that there are restrictions, moral and otherwise, as to what you are allowed to say. No wonder things will be repeated! No wonder it may seem dull. No wonder we have Strempel’s comparison. I am ecstatic and proud to regard Lahm as a cultural element but disappointed with the reason for Strempel’s choice.

Yesterday’s press conference was an indication of the problem. In particular, Philipp was asked about the hunger that the team has for success. For real?! They are top athletes! Obviously, they are hungry for success. That is what drives them. Then, of course, the eternal question of left and right. Lahm is a fullback. He has played on both sides. He has mentioned on more than one occasion how it all works out. What else is out there? Give this question a rest. He is phenomenal. Accept it and stop asking! It was nice to see that at least Lahm smiled at the question. Also, the last question belonged to the realm of “you’re kidding me, right?” A journalist wished for Lahm to disclose some of the aspects in which the team must improve. I am sorry, sir, but were you born yesterday? Naturally, Lahm answered that he was not going to make everything public. On a side note, it might be the same journalist who wrote a nasty article a year ago. He looked familiar.

What I loved about the press conference is that Lahm corrected one of the journalists. I love that he does not let it go. I also liked his reaction to the question about his family. (If you are going to watch, it is around -6:35 mark.) His face lit up in an instant, and the sound of working photo cameras says it all. Finally, as always, I love the conviction with which he speaks, especially – Andy, this one is for you – when discussing how difficult it is to win a title and pointing out that only three generations of the German National Team have managed to win it so far, whereas they are more than three of them altogether. Despite these positive aspects, I have to say the questions were dull this time around. 

Summing up, it looks like people do not know or do not care – make your choice – about what else is out there, and there is really good stuff for them to read. I can vouch for that. Fit For Fun interview, HR 2Kultur interview, and so on and so forth. All people have to do is be curious enough to know more, and maybe next time Strempel will use Lahm’s name in another context.

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