I’m not a fan of nationalism in any form, extreme or otherwise. That’s a hard position to explain during the Olympics when everyone is actively encouraged, by our Prime Minister among others, to forego the traditional Canadian sense of composure and modesty to wave flags and cheer unabashedly. (Not that I’d follow Harper’s exhortation advice on anything.) It get’s even more complicated when I admit that I love the sport aspect of the Olympics. I told one friend that I’d be cheering the athletes and booing the IOC, VanOC, Harper and Campbell every chance I got. So, fair to say I found the Olympic festival to be a challenging time, full of conflicting emotions and a guilty sense of admiration.
Let me clarify by saying that I admire Olympic athletes for their athletic ability and the purity of their performances. How could you not admire some of the stories that manifested themselves? A young skater whose mother dies suddenly goes on to skate the competition of her life and take a medal; a guy throws himself down a skeleton track head first at 145 km/h to come from behind and win gold; a couple in ice dancing (is that really a sport?) pull off a gold medal in a competition perennially dominated by Europeans; both men’s and women’s hockey teams come through to take the gold medal in “our game”. And that’s a very incomplete list. It was heady stuff, and I cheered along with everyone else when Sid potted the golden puck yesterday.
I’ll admit it; I was proud to be Canadian in that moment.
The feeling hadn’t been there the entire last two weeks though, and it isn’t there today. I’m still overwhelmed by the disgrace of our government’s arrogance and their lack of integrity; still ashamed that we are lapdogs to the Americans practically everywhere except on the ice; still ashamed that the spectacle of the closing ceremonies may be a swan song for the arts in BC because of our government’s desire to line their pockets instead of support programs that made that kind of expression of artistic ability a possibility. I still consider nationalism, in even its most benign forms, to be an evil thing, pitting nation against nation at a time when cooperation should be the only word on any politician’s lips.
On top of that nationalistic fervor, seen as a positive aspect of the games by so many, there’s the fact that athletics are only a part of the spectacle. They are the draw that corporations use to attract and entertain so that we are watching all that advertising, using our Visa cards exclusively, eating the least healthy fast food possible and shopping at all the right stores for all the right products. Do you think that this is the spirit of the Olympics? Is it the true spirit of athletic competition to sell out the games and everything pure they are intended to be so that corporations can sell product more effectively, and so that local real estate investors can get rich on the public dime?
Can I share a secret? To justify watching the game yesterday, I had to think of it in terms of which team had more of my favorite players on it, clinched by who was playing my favorite goalie, rather than by what national colors the players were wearing. I’ve written before about the evils of nationalism and patriotic fervor. I won’t start again here. Suffice it to say that nationalism magnifies our differences instead of celebrating our similarities. I had to try to ignore the commercials and strategically time my smoke breaks.
This morning on CBC they were talking about the political ramifications of the games and how they might trigger an election, with Harper and his conservative slaves riding high on the euphoric high of the mass hysteria and group hypnosis brought on by the games. How sad. How cynical. They were talking about how happy everyone was too. How we threw a “good party”. One politician was impressed by how the games drew us together as a country. All for the low, low price of roughly seven BILLION dollars. How many homeless people could have been helped with seven billion dollars? How many programs like Insite could have been carried on in perpetuity or created in other places? How many jobs, permanent ones, not six-month, part-time ones, could have been created? But there’s no profit in that kind of social altruism, is there? No commercial opportunity or advertising rebound.
There are times when I sort of mourn what I see as a loss of innocence. I remember my unadulterated joy when Canada struck gold in Salt Lake City and look back on it now with a bit of nostalgia. I found myself wishing that my enjoyment of the moment yesterday afternoon wasn’t toned by the more expansive context that I see the games within now. I wished for a moment, to make a pop culture reference, that I had taken the blue pill.
But I didn’t, and I wouldn’t if I had to do it again, and how I see the world is irreconcilably changed. I still celebrate what athletes from around the world were able to accomplish these last couple weeks; the adversity they overcame, the excellence they achieved. They are amazing and heartbreaking and wonderful (especially if they did it without drugs or gene therapy or blood doping).
Forgive me if I don’t get a Canadian flag tattoo though. That part of the spectacle just makes me depressed.