A vuvuzela is a plastic horn. You can buy one for less than 8 bucks. By itself, it makes a sort of sad, bleating sound. But put a whole stadium full of vuvuzelas together and you have quite the cacophony. Some World Cup TV viewers are muting the broadcast. My esteemed colleague Steve Bitker is in high dudgeon, demanding that FIFA ban the noisemakers.
Full disclosure: I once blew into a vuvuzela. Only back in the 60's when we would get these things at Kezar Stadium or Berkeley's Memorial Stadium, we just called them "horns". And though time has dimmed the memory somewhat, I'll bet we blew those horns just as indiscriminately as the South African soccer fans.
I'll admit, the sound is weird. I was watching US-England when my wife poked her head in, saying "What are you watching? I was afraid you'd found some endless documentary about life inside a beehive."
Self-appointed purists don't like the vuvuzelas because (pick your gripe) they overwhelm all other sound in the stadium, make it hard to think, drown out the often-profane chants and songs from the fans, and seem to have no relationship to the action on the field.
To which I say: so what? This is how African fans enjoy their soccer. Who are the rest of us to tell them how to have fun? Plus, soccer fans being soccer fans, there's probably some social value in having people busy blowing horns instead of beating each other up.
Steve and others compare the vuvuzelas with the notorious ThunderStix that were inflicted on the 2002 World Series by Major League Baseball. They miss the point on two counts: first, MLB handed out ThunderStix to fans at Anaheim Stadium and AT&T Park. The vuvuzelas are the fans' own noisemaker of choice. Plus, there really is a musical quality to the vuvuzelas. If you let yourself drift, you'll start to hear an ebb and flow to the drone. It's actually sort of relaxing.
Having said that, I wonder if ESPN ought to think about doing a little audio-sweetening of its telecasts. Surely a way could be found to tweak the crowd microphones so that the frequency range of the vuvuzelas could be pulled down in the mix.
Short of that, my advice is this: get used to it. What may sound like noise to you is music to the fans in South Africa, and it's their World Cup.