Saturday, April 26, 2008

Olympic interlude

I don't normally let politics intrude in this space, but the business of the Olympic torches has really got my goat, and since I haven't seen the issue covered adequately anywhere else, I decided to have a go. So...

The brouhaha over the Olympics is on again. And what a grim spectacle it is. But nobody should be surprised at that - the entire history of the Olympics is oppressive and statist, heavy with dark symbols.

The 1936 Berlin Olympics is the source of much of it. Believing the foolish nonsense about the Olympics being an 'international movement of peace and understanding', Hitler was at first reluctant to host it. But when his advisers pointed out to him that the Olympics was in fact an orgy of competing nationalisms, his black heart warmed to the idea and he ordered his very talented propaganda people to make it a stunning parade of vile symbols. This they did, and they set the standard for all subsequent Olympics.

Take the Olympic flame for example. This is a purely Nazi invention. Fascists appropriated ancient Greek and Roman imagery for their own purposes, even taking their name from a Roman symbol. The cartoonist David Low satirised the new ceremony with admirable foresight: Various dignitaries bear the torch up from Greece to Germany where a rabid-looking Hitler uses it to 'set fire to an inoffensive Jew'. Notice here how the torch goes through countries that Hitler invaded soon after. Nobody should be surprised at how aggressively the Chinese military dictators have sent their blue-clad goon squad and their irrelevant little flame on a tour of the world. Only a fool would, mothlike, stare at the flame and ignore all the rest of it. And who knows what the flame is going to ignite when it's carried willy-nilly through Tibet as a symbol of the Chinese government's dominance.

It's sad to see sports people being caught up in the 'Olympic movement' because there's really no such thing. Athletes who competed in the Berlin Olympics ended their lives fighting on the Russian Front, while the Olympic City of Sarajevo came under seige and no amount of Olympic movement could stop any of it. If the 'Olympic movement' exists, why do we not hear more of its doings, except as an empty phrase trotted out very occasionally for a bit of orotundity. The Spanish fascist who was Chairman of the Olympics for many years liked to use it. It's absurd to talk about an Olympic movement while remaining totally ignorant of its history.

Nobody stops to ask, "What is the Olympics"? If it's about sport, what are all the tedious ceremonies for? When I play sport, I don't require several days of pageants and speeches before I start. Padding along grinning and brandishing a contentious flame is supposed to be taken for 'sport'? Since none of the ceremonial is in anyway germane to the activity of sport it always has, besides a contentless vapidity, a strong nationalistic bent. What else could it realistically consist of? And if it's not about politics and nationalism, what is all this involvement by national governments about? Why are politicians involved in all aspects of the games? How everybody can wilfully ignore these glaring points amazes me.

Torch runners and sports people are gutless to take part. Even ignoring the origin of the ceremony itself, they are wrong to run within a triple phalanx of taxpayer funded 'police'. I say 'police' because these are no police any more - they've become merely tools of the Olympic games cabal, enforcing the grim vision that lies behind it. It was instructive to see British police on bikes riding down and suppressing citizens who chose to run and brandish their own symbols on the public streets. It was instructive to see the Prime Minister of Australia threatening protestors that police would come down on them 'like a ton of bricks' (what original and picturesque phrasing!). Given this grotesque repression in the name of the 'Olympic spirit', why do none of the sports people refuse to run unless the phalanx of 'police' drop back? Do they not even consider that they might be safer, more dignified, more respected, and better protected to try it? Apparently not.

Now the flame is here in Japan. Protesters have forced the 'Buddhists' at Zenkoji to behave a bit more like Buddhists and not get involved. So the inevitable mindless 'ceremony' took place on a bare carpark. There were hollow suits standing around in the cold applauding the fire on a stick, and gazing at the flame as though it was going to do something interesting or it has some special power. The runners, with their "This is happiest day of my life" grins on their faces, were herded about and manipulated by the volunteer-special-police-flame-attendants and thousands of Japanese police in some sporty new garb, paid for by those of us who don't want any part of it. The runners waved to the gaping public who couldn't see them, and lifted the torch higher when the Chinese police helpfully jerked their arms higher.

While this is all in fact a grim farce on a horrible tradition, it's good that it's happening in a way. You can see fear wiping the foolish grins off the runner's faces at times as they catch a glimmer of what they're involved in. Perhaps they begin to understand what it's like to be a repressed minority. Perhaps they see for the first time the frightening physical powers that governments can bring to bear. This is all to the good. And it's an excellent opportunity for the people of Tibet and their supporters to gain attention for their plight.

But unfortunately these positive aspects can't outweigh the negatives. I can't bear to see the representatives of Western and Japanese protest groups attacking China and the Chinese. China has suffered vastly under the imperialism of these powers, and this needs to be acknowledged, with every utterance if necessary. Meanwhile, these same powers are committing genocides in Afghanistan and Iraq, and soon maybe Iran too. This also needs to be acknowledged, again with every utterance if necessary. Not to do so is gross hypocrisy, and an added insult to the Chinese people. The Chinese people don't have the advantages of a free press and free communications to discuss with each other whether clinging to Tibet or Taiwan is really in their interest. We have these perquisites of liberty in sufficient measure, but that hasn't helped us to prevent our government and our military goons from slaughtering Afghans and Iraqis. So please, let's not hypocritically point the finger at the Chinese alone. Doing so won't incline them to listen to us any more than they do already.

And let's not forget how much CO2 all this empty symbolism is emitting. When the permafrost in the Arctic starts melting and the methane starts burping out, perhaps all the Olympic torches and flame holders can be set up as pilot lights to stop the methane getting into the atmosphere and killing us all.

1 comment:

Damian said...

I agree. the fact that the Olympics in its popular form flourishes these days is a reflection of the mentality of society. A very clear and ugly reflection indeed.

It's easier not to care and stand in line for another serving of unthinking existence fodder.