Forgive me if I blaspheme by denouncing that most highly-esteemed of international sporting events, but this has been a long time coming. The Olympics are a sad statement of where we are at as a species, and fraught with hypocrisy, divisiveness and tribalism. Before I begin, I wish to make clear that I don’t take issue with sport itself. Quite the contrary; athleticism and physical performance are virtues to me and those who achieve great feats deserve recognition.
No, my qualm is with all the bullshit which the Olympics, but also other international sporting events such as the World Cup, heap onto the pure competition of sport. This criticism extends also to a lesser extent to professional, intra-national sport, such as NFL, NHL, NBA, etc. All of these sporting events help to make up what is referred to as The Spectacle, a concept explained by Guy Debord and The Situationist International during the 1950s and 60s, which I have alluded to in previous entries but which merits re-defining here. Quite simply:
Clear? No? Okay, well it is a complicated concept but it has to do with the reification of illusion and how that illusion is taken as superior to reality. Allow me to explain to you what the spectacle means to me aka MY OWN PERSONAL TAKE.
Aside from the practical concern of how the spectacular images we see in mainstream media everyday serve to distract us from the real doings of the powerful behind closed doors, there are more, let’s say abstract concerns when the public puts its stock into illusion instead of reality. And while these latter, abstract concerns might indeed be of a less pressing nature in the short-term, over a longer time-span they have a sublime influence on our disposition and lives.
Let me break this into examples.
Practical Outcome of the Spectacle:
Everyone has at least a cursory familiarity with the sensationalized deaths of Whitney Houston, Trayvon Martin, MIchael Jackson, etc. Furthermore they are appalled by various scandals like ORNGE and others where many thousands or sometimes millions of dollars are embezzled or otherwise misappropriated.
Yet at the same time, perhaps because of such spectacular distractions, few are aware that the Canadian taxpayers alone pay $160 million per day to cover the interest of borrowing all of our money into existence from commercial banks.
We are made to identify with and become rabidly defensive of certain manufactured notions and images. Often this is presented as duality (i.e. Republican vs. Democrats) but for the purposes of this post it can be related to organized sport. In this realm, there are not two, but many manufactured sides, factions and alignments to choose from. On the intra-national level there’s stupidity…
Once you take things international however, as in the case of the World Cup or Euro Cup, things get proper retarded. I don’t know about you but I hate seeing this shit come World Cup/Euro Cup:
This sort of mindless devotion to a nation-state and its pride/honour brings me to the Olympics, the subject of this post. Why do we feel the need to heap so much extra shit on the competition of Olympic athletes? Why do I need a tale of the tape to amp up my emotions so that I can properly appreciate some long-shot athlete from whereverthefuck-istan’s performance in some obscure so-called sport which actually evolved from primitive tribal rituals?
Well probably because I wouldn’t give a fuck about that sport, athlete and country if the network didn’t appeal to my emotions. In fact, if the competition in question was not so inextricably intertwined with my emotions (and really, the outcome of my life) due to the heart-wrenching five-minute TV-spot on this athlete’s courage and dedication which I just endured, I might realize that its just a sport and not terribly important to me.
Well we can’t have people just tuning out otherwise advertisers wouldn’t pay for air-time. So we’re gonna make you care about these countries the same way we make you want to go to war with them during the lulls between Olympiads, by appealing to the honour neurosis.
It is really easy to do this.
1. Isolate some sort of widely-held group identity touchstone. (Nationality in the case of the Olympics)
2. Show lots of people running around with flags having a good time interspersed with footage of athletic excellence
3. Have some monotonous, unsexy voice spout some SUPERSRSLY (sic.) drivel about national pride, “this time we’re giving our all,” showing our pride, etc…
4. MAKE IT EXPLICITLY CLEAR THAT WE ARE RALLYING FOR PEACE AND NOT WAR….this time. This can be done by saying some contradiction like, “We are all united by our mutual competition and irreconcilable differences.” It doesn’t make any logical sense but it allows the poison of nationalism to be administered while still sounding ostensibly peaceful.
5. Have a word or slogan which can be (SPECTACLE ALERT) reified into something more real and tangible in spite of the term’s inherent ambiguity
Now watch how this plays out in teh real world…
5. Entire Video