Why The Olympics Suck

“Nationalism is an infantile disease; it is the measles of mankind.”
-Albert Einstein

My Friends,
   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:

The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living.
—Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle

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.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but very little of your tax dollars goes toward infrastructure.

To me, this is us being blinded by the spectacle of corruption while being uninterested in the reality of corruption
In contrast:
Abstract Outcomes of the Spectacle:
   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…
…like this…

…which is actually indoctrinated and fomented from a very young age.***

Silly inter-city rivalries are just that, silly.  But when you take into account that some of the most bitter rivalries are between two teams from the same city (i.e. Inter-MIlan vs AC Milan) you start to wonder why cities are going to war with themselves.
   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

I’ll just leave this here…

6. ????
7. PROFIT!!

   Now watch how this plays out in teh real world…

CTV ain’t no fool.  If you watch carefully they checked all the boxes:
1. Canada
2. Entire Video
3. Entire Video
4. 0:46
5. Entire Video

Believe.  That’s some heavy shit right there.  Belief in general is like a sacred burial ground in most people’s minds which you better not disturb.  Specifically, it is the burial ground where rational thought is laid to rest.
Belief in fact makes a virtue of not thinking, so I can see the appeal of this promotion.  For the record, I’m no different.  I remember getting caught up in another company’s (far superior) “believe” campaign a few years back:
London 2012 ain’t shit when it comes to heartstring manipulation

Halo 3’s “Believe” campaign was masterful in my opinion, every bit as good as the game itself.  Particularly heart-wrenching were the faux-interviews with veterans of the Human-Covenant war where they recounted the horrors they experienced.  It actually got me misty-eyed more than once.
   Now you might think that its stupid of me to get so emotionally caught up in a video game and at the same time criticize the emotion heaped onto the Olympics, but lets examine that shall we?  I at no point mistake the Halo 3 campaign for real life.  There is a rich back-story to the game and these TV spots play with my emotions the same way a piece of literature might.  But its fiction, it knows its fiction, I know its fiction, it does not masquerade as real life and it makes no apologies for being fiction.
   When you look at the CTV Olympiad fucktardation in contrast, you see that a fiction is being created and passed off as real life.  There is nothing “real” about the Olympics beyond athletic competition.  All of the national pride, honour and posturing is filler and I would argue that its damaging because it leads to needless rivalries and resentment between so-called nation-states which are nothing more than arbitrary lines drawn on a map and rarely reflective of actual regional affinities in the broadest sense.
   Look at Afghanistan for example: Afghan nationalism is a bad joke because there is no Afghan nation, just ethnic groups with varying degrees of power and size, more or less shoe-horned into a weirdly shaped bit of geography in South Central Asia.  The most dominant ethnic group, the Pashto could conceivably become their own nation if they wanted but I remember being emphatically told not to use the term Pashtunistan (“land of the Pashto”) in front of Afghan people because it would incite fierce nationalistic emotions and opinions which the invented nationality (Afghan) simply could not.
   Are we immune to this kind of fabricated nationality in North America?  Absolutely not.  Say there was an Olympic competition between an American from Buffalo, NY (108 km from me) and a Canadian from Whitehorse, Yukon (5218 km from me), I could, as a nationalistic Canadian, be reasonably expected to cheer for the guy from the Yukon even though I have never been there and share no regional affiliation with him, rather than the guy who lives a life more or less like mine an hour away.  Such is the “logic” of nationalistic fervour.  
   If you want more proof of how contrived and pointless national affiliations are, ask Xerxes about how his million-strong, multi-ethnic Persian army fared against a couple of Spartans.
On second thought, don’t ask, don’t tell…ZING!

   I think we should recognize the Olympics for what it is; a necessary evil.  It is so far one of the few stages for excellent athletes to test their skills against their peers across the globe without paying out of their own pocket to facilitate these meet-ups.  Unfortunately we must deal with all the other bullshit that goes along with it if we are to enjoy the athleticism of pure sport.  By other bullshit I mean primarily advertisements from sponsors looking to bolster their market-share, and advertisements from the home nation’s government trying to reinforce its sovereignty by piggy-backing on the achievements of the athletes who live under its fictional jurisdiction.
“LOOK!! A guy who resides in the artificial construct known as ‘Canada’ just won a gold medal, the highest award in a similarly artificial construct known as ‘The Olympics.’  By virtue of his achievement you are now proud to be Canadian.”
…And we all were

No thanks.
   The next time you see a spectacular Olympic performance from a so-called “rival country” and you are forced to grudgingly admit that they deserve the medal, remember a few things:
1. The country does not deserve the medal, the athlete(s) does
2. You personally have no rivals in a sport you are not competing in.  You are a spectator.
3. You are not giving up your respect to a member of a rival nation, but to a fellow human being.  
Enjoy your spectacle!
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo
***I purposefully abstained from mentioning the riots in Vancouver after the Canucks lost the cup to the Bruins because to simply view that as a sports riot is reductive.  But that is a story for another day.

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