Friday, July 27, 2012

Could these be the last Olympic Games?

Ah, the thrill of the sprints! But oh, the boredom of the national anthems! Surely even Americans are embarrassed with all the hype when the Imperial anthem is played for the hundredth time, and the hundredth American flag is paraded up and down the arena. Don’t we yearn to hear the anthem of the Falkland Islands or Liechtenstein, just once? Well, maybe this will be China’s year - who knows?

The whole Olympic spectacle is a celebration of tribal values. Maybe it always was. History records the names of some of the individual winners at the ancient Games – but rarely of the city-states that sponsored them. Did the states bask in the reflected glory of the winners? Maybe they did. Human nature can’t have changed much.

Maybe today’s offensive chants of “USA! USA!” were “Spart-ah! Spart-ah!” three thousand years ago. Then as now, maybe the Games tended to unite the factions within each winner’s nation while stressing the inferiority of each loser’s. “We’re number one! We’re number one!” If China wins enough medals we will get sick of the cry, “Zhongguo! Zhongguo!” (“China!” in Chinese).

Hypocrisy is the theme, and always was. Individual athletes are encouraged to be kind to one another, while their families back home elect (or at least obey) psychopaths bent on slaughtering the families of certain other athletes. For the duration of the Games, the audiences show remarkable tolerance towards athletes who wrap themselves in the national flags of the most brutal of nations. It doesn’t make sense.

The 2012 Games are especially hypocritical. Some commentators have pointed out the similarities between the militarism of these and the 1936 Berlin Games, when it was Germany that was on the prowl for war. Were the armed forces of Germany as involved as the armed forces of Britain are today? In 1980 when Russia was “The Evil Empire”, were the Games as militarised as now?

The British Army will be using the Games to experiment with civilians as human shields. Who ever thought we’d see rocket-launchers sited on blocks of flats in East London, to be fired at attackers – or imagined attackers? That sort of thing is a War Crime when it’s done in Syria, isn’t it? Ah well, all together now: “Ingerland! Ingerland!”

I have a dream, that Olympic athletes will one day again compete as individuals, with no flags and no anthems to bore us. It may seem perverse, but I would prefer commercial sponsorships than national. Coca-Cola may ban the wearing of Pepsi shirts by audience-members (which it does, in London); but at least there is no Coca-Cola Tribe whose President will be firing rockets into the villages of Pepsi loyalists during the running of the marathon. No Ford Tribe will be invading the homes of Dodge loyalists and raping their wives during some of the medals presentations. National sponsors, however...

The Games’ organisers are being criticised for accepting sponsorship from Dow Chemical, because one of its products (Agent Orange) was used to mutilate millions of Vietnamese children during one of America’s past invasions. Well, Dow Chemical is a nasty company with a nasty ethic. But let’s be fair: Agent Orange only became a means of mass mutilation when it was dropped from US planes piloted by so-called war-heroes commanded by psychopaths both military and political.

There aren’t all that many producers that don’t benefit from military ventures one way or another. My father accidentally made a modest fortune when wool rose in value during the West’s invasion of Korea in the 1950s. The soldiers needed warm clothes in the Korean winters, and it made sense for him to shear the wool off his sheep and sell it. I don’t say Dow Chemical is quite as innocent as he was, but the principle is the same.