For those of you who hate your country and live in a hole, the Summer Olympics recently graced London. The Brits received generally favorable reviews for their hosting of the event and now can begin the long process of applying for another job. Next up is Rio De Janeiro. Four years from now, NBC and various other flagship channels around the world will splice together inane montages of Brazil’s finest beaches, butts, rainforests, and favela cleanup jobs. It’s sure to be scintillating. (“I’m just amazed, Bob, at how far they’ve come.”)
We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves: the Vladimir Putin-sponsored Winter Olympics are just around the corner. Nothing like a showcase of autocracy, oil money, and KGB-style security arrangements to complement snowboarding and ice dancing. The burning question: How much will it cost the Russians to steal Canada’s sure-thing curling gold? Stay tuned…
The obsession with triumphant Olympians is a well-documented phenomenon in China. Apparently, the press has drummed up some pretty intense interest in medal counts. The twist is that only gold carries the stature worthy of public respect. In addition to the sad side effects for athletes, there is an element of real nationalism to this trend based on historical grievances and a metaphor for China’s rising place in the world. This makes some sense: no one doubts Olympic jingoism (like the constant use of the first person plural while commenting on women’s field hockey) exists. For the most populous country in the world, one rising fast in power and still quite backward, the Olympics is a chance to channel the inevitable chauvinism.
That’s us at the top. We won. If only there were medals for cutting CO2 emissions.
Most commentary has framed the quadrennial Chinese fad as an unhealthy preoccupation, much like the US fascination with Vice-Presidential candidates. Probably so. We can’t help but wonder, especially in an era where soccer is seen as the only acceptable form of European nationalism (though healthy doses of Euro-skepticism and xenophobia aren’t hidden), if this isn’t rather normal. At least more so than Maoist “friendship first, competition second" nonsense. For all we know, Americans don’t come off as obsessed with medals because Americans win most of the medals. Call it class. Between baseball stadium beatings, football hooliganism (talking to you, Raider Nation), and high school signing day being broadcast on national TV, however, there is no class to be found. Let’s not act too puzzled at Beijing’s “medal factories.”Tweet