Taking On Vuvuzela Inc.

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One thing seems certain as the great global debate continues to rage over whether the South African vuvuzela should be banned from World Cup stadiums or not: someone is going to find a way to make a truckload of money out of the rumpus. And a couple of companies are already seeking to do just that by moving fast on what’s become the source of a major headache for many football fans world-wide.

After selling nearly a million standard issue vuvuzelas in the run up to Cup play—many of which are now responsible for turning mass honking into a topic of serious international discussion—South African company Masincedane Sport now says it’s rushing an “improved” version to market as a gesture to ear-aching fans. How is the new model better? The Associated Press quotes Masincedane Sport officials saying a smaller mouthpiece cuts the modified horn’s output by 20 decibels—a quieter, kinder noise that just has to be worth shelling out for, right? Maybe not.

First off, the regular vuvuzelas already circulating in South Africa en mass emit up to 127 decibels of pure din (by comparison, a whistle blown hard packs a 122 decibel punch). A 20 db. downgrade represents only 16% less audio assault—not the kind of reduction capable of luring the world’s fuming masses from removing their fingers from their ears.

Indeed, while Masincedane Sport can’t be faulted for trying to stoke business when it sees opportunity beckon, it seems unlikely there will be any run on the reduced-decibel vuvuzela, since—and this is the major point here—making as much deafening noise possible is what the contraption was invented, bought, and blown-purple-in-the-face to do. Masincedane Sport’s move is a bit like Steve Jobs excitedly introducing a lamer, capacity-disabled version of the iPhone to offset the popularity of the mega-efficient iPhone 4. (Note to Masincedane Sport officials: should you get people buying the muted vuvuzela to replace the louder kind, send them this way: I’ve got some subprime-financed coastal land in Louisiana I want to unload before the tide comes in.) In other words, vuvuzela lite isn’t likely to be something blower or critic is going to view as money well spent.

The other company out to rake in on the vuvuzela controversy is Germany’s creatively named Vuvuzela®, which owns exclusive European rights to sell the horn. Company directors Frank Urbas and Gerd Kehrberg bought those rights in way back March, 2009 on the logic the vuvuzela would capture the attention of football fans once Cup play began. (They weren’t wrong.) They say they’ve already produced several million of the tooters for sale, but cut the horn’s blast-potential by 20 dbs. well ahead of Masincedane Sport anticipating possible problems with the original model’s noise capacity. (They were right there, too: even the modified version has been banned in certain public venues in Germany due to possible ear damage they could inflict.)

Meanwhile, the European model comes in three easily assembled pieces to facilitate transport (and prevent it from hurting anyone should it be used as a club). Component parts of Vuvuzela®’s vuvuzelas can be bought in various colors to match country or pro team colors, and certain press reports say several red-yellow-black horns were seen honking victoriously in German streets after the Mannschaft’s victory over Australia Sunday night.

Despite the current outcry over the horn’s contribution to World Cup coverage thus far, officials at Vuvuzela® say the controversy has only reinforced the vuvuzela’s association with this South African Cup—and are betting that with time, it will become a memento even many detractors will want to get their hands on. According to press reports, officials from England’s Premier League are already  foreseeing the possibility of vuvuzelas cropping up in the nation’s pro stadiums without any great alarm. (Sure, the English can be calm with that eventuality, given that nation’s proven record of pop music talent. But what horrible results may in store for places like France, where most fan who’d be packing horns consider Johnny Hallyday an “artiste“?!)

Trying to make a buck on the otherwise ephemeral vuvuzela craze before the hype (and articles like this one) dry up and blow away is all fine and good for people who have no problem with the horn. But what can resolute, die-hard haters of the vuvuzela do to protest the incessant offensive on their ears each time they tune into match?

Why not replace futile ranting with equally futile plans for payback? Rather than stewing over South Africa’s audio punishment to the world, why not propose some equally annoying noises the rest of the planet might take to South Africa? Awaiting reader contributions to that noble cause, herewith time.com’s arbitrarily assembled (and not necessarily amusing) quick list to get things started. (Warning: if we don’t get  the 20 reply minimum required to prevent me from looking like a chode for justifying this rehash, I’ll do another vuvuzela story tomorrow. Consider yourselves warned):

1)   A CD of Sarah Palin’s nasal urging to “Drill, baby, drill!”

2)   The masterized, full-length soundtrack of that “Leave Brittney alone!” guy on Youtube.

3)   A volume-enhanced loop of that TV duck shouting “Aflac!”

4)   A complete collection of the wacky sounds Jim Carey makes while failing to ever be funny.

5)   Any song by Lily Allen—with the volume cranked way up for the myriad bleeped bits.

6)  Johnny Hallyday, equipped with a bugle and tight-fitting soccer kit, dispatched to Cape Town.

7)   Gilbert Gottfried telling an extended version of The Aristocrats joke while impersonating a vuvuzela.