You've probably heard by now that France - a country that Lady Liberty would tell you knows from great statues - has unveiled one of the world's finest tributes to tantrums. The pair of 16-foot resin figures outside the Pompidou Center depict everyone's favorite soccer violence blooper: Zinedine Zidane's forehead attack on Marco Materazzi during Italy's win over France in the 2006 final. Deadspin reported on the statue's very awesome existence back in the spring, but it wasn't until this week that we got to hear the equally awesome explanation for that selfsame existence. Apparently Agence France Presse pried this quote out of the exhibition organizer: "This statue goes against the tradition of making statues in honour of certain victories. It is an ode to defeat."
First, this concept in itself is brilliant. Why not have a Buckner statue outside Fenway, or a Norwood statue, heavy on the body English, in downtown Buffalo? Maybe Greg Norman could be forever arched forward, hands on his knees, in marble somewhere in Augusta. If Harry Caray's death mask can frighten children outside Wrigley, why don't we have a screaming Moises Alou inside, waving his glove and glaring toward the stands where Steve Bartman's misdemeanor was becoming felony. Don't get me wrong; we should celebrate high achievement, too. I'm all for a John Elway statue, just so long as it's outside Cleveland Browns Stadium.
The strange beauty of the Zidane statue, though, is that it's not just an ode to defeat; rather, it's an ode to a certain kind of defeat. It's a taking-my-toys-and-going-home sort of defeat. It's you can't fire me because I quit. Knowing he's beaten, knowing he's at the end of his career, Zidane made his last act on a World Cup pitch one of ferocity, defiance and malice. I can't tell whether it's a disgrace or his version of raging against the dying of the light. You think, What an asshole. And you think, What a bad ass.
To my mind this version of defeat is not yet a French trademark. Napoleon's march to Moscow didn't exactly end in a blaze of glory, unless limping back to Paris with a dying, freezing army somehow qualifies. And when they do come out on the right side of the wash, they ream out Germany's carcass with Versailles and father the next world war, one that cements them in the mind of Scottish groundskeepers as cheese-eating surrender monkeys. The French know defeat spectacular. They've been trounced in Haiti, in Algeria, in Vietnam, in Canada, in England, in America by the realtors who tendered an offer of 3 cents per acre for all this with a straight face, and, oh yeah, all over France itself. Imagine the number of statues, plaques and markers dedicated globally to French defeats. The number must be, uh, monumental.
Soccer notwithstanding, the French must be happier in quiet loss than in trying to cobble together empires. Who needs that hassle when there are novels to write and wine to drink and mushrooms to sauté? And when can we expect a three-meter-tall statue in some Carnoustie stream showing off Jean Van de Velde's calves?