Sunday, August 10, 2008

House of Flying Gymnasts

I always forget how caught up I tend to get in the early days of the Olympics. That's when the events that I give a damn about take place (swimming, some of the gymnastics, tennis if I can ever find it on TV), and I hardly ever make it through the second week (I can't remember the last time I followed the track & field events), but what I always, always forget is what a sucker I am for the opening ceremonies. The pageantry, sure, that's part of it, but for me it's that parade of nations. I'm the guy who totally buys into that ideal of international cooperation and competition, and watching those tiny nations with delegations of four athletes mingle with the 300-athlete behemoths, all of them just as excited and wide-eyed about the whole thing as the others.

So that's how I spend my Friday evening. But, as queer as I am for the whole Mythology of the Olympiad, even I couldn't help but be ambivalent about watching China announce its presence to the world in such a celebratory and aggrandizing manner. I've seen this kind of ambivalence scoffed at or called provincial or inappropriate -- I love Sasha Stone's Awards Daily site and all, but Zhang Yimou fan worship or no (and his artistry and spectacle in the ceremony was off the charts), I don't believe such ambivalence is at all out of place. I don't know how you could not be ambivalent about giving global prominence to a country with such a horrific human rights record. Whose dismal and harmful environmental policies (or lack thereof) are evident every time you see the cyclists race through the murky Beijing air. Don't we see the same kind of ambivalence out of liberals when the Americans are hosting the games and tooting their own horn so vociferously? Ambivalence at best?

I love the idea of the Chinese people celebrating their time in the (smog-obscured) sun, and in these times of global tension, any occasion that brings the world together like this is something to be happy about, but the political is never far beneath the surface in these things, and I don't think that allowing for moral reservations about the Chinese government is at all inappropriate. It's a complicated world, and it's okay to recognize that.

And in the interests of ending this post on a positive note, given how much I've been digging the games (the swimming and men's gymnastics anyway), I'm posting my favorite moments of the opening ceremonies. I'm a total homer for my tennis players, so of course, the best parts were seeing them and their exuberance. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal looked like they were going to jump out of their skin.


NicksFlickPicks said...

I was so ambivalent that I didn't even consider watching, so maybe I'm just enjoying having my prejudices flattered. But I love what you said here (and appreciate that you, unlike me, at least had the integrity to watch it before passing judgment).

Anonymous said...

I've been reading/hearing comments in this same direction for the last few days. And basically, I don't get them.

When China was elected to held the 2008 Olympic Games, the situation was pretty much the same as now or even worse. What political decisions or stategies go on in that process is far beyond my knowledge or comprehension, but it was decided that way, so let it be.

Now, they have built all the infrastructures necessary for the Games and seem to have everything organized correctly, regarding the sports events. And now what, are they supposed to keep a low profile? To keep a low profile not to remind the whole world (represented in the election comittee) that they elected China and now feel ashamed for doing it? Why should they?

See... I don't get it.


JA said...

If I looked like Nadal, I'd always want to jump out of my skin.

Just sayin.

Also, fuck China. Fuck China right in its ear. I didn't vote for George W Bush and I didn't vote for China to pretend they're a civilized nation.

Joe Reid said...

I don't think the Chinese should feel ashamed -- there was a part of me that felt really happy for the Chinese people as they got to have their big moment, and I celebrated with them. To a point. Because this went beyond a celebration of Chinese athletics and culture, as we heard again and again. This was the coming out party for modern China, and I can't really think about modern China without thinking of the human rights abuses, the treatment of Tibet, the support for the Sudan, et cetera.

If the United States were hosting the Olympics this year, under the Bush regime with a war going on and Guantannamo hanging over our heads, I'd have the exact same reservations. And I assure you, the world community would have them as well.

Vance said...

I think it's the promises they made when they bid for the games that some things would change and improve. That the media would not have censored access to the net. That the air pollution would be to standards, that they wouldn't be putting citizens to the side so they could bulldoze their houses for a path to the Olympic events (or at least, not as much as they did in the end).

THAT'S What the bitching is about anonymous. (Or at least, just part of it which CAN make China accountable). Sure they can celebrate. But by doing it when they are sweeping their dirty little secrets to the side?

On the otherhand... ooh... gymnastics!!!

Deirdre said...

I have a certain amount of ambivalence any time vast amounts of money are spent on sports (professional or otherwise) as opposed to, say, curing cancer or fighting poverty or whatever. That China's the host here just adds to it. That said, we're all still trading with them, and buying their cheaply made products, so we can't really bag on the IOC toooo much. The world turns a blind eye to repression all the time, why should the Olympics be any different?

Anyway, speaking as a citizen of Toronto, I'm glad we didn't get the Games - for any number of reasons - but we sure could not have put on a spectacle like that. However, while we're talking Olympic hotties, can I put in a plug for (almost) local boy and our flag-bearer Adam Van Koeverden?

Joe Reid said...

Well, I could say that you could apply that argument to anything -- why spend money on anything rather than to cure cancer. Why buy a movie ticket on a Saturday night when you could donate it to cancer research? A sporting event like this boosts the economy and blah blah blah.

But you linked to that foxy kayaking pic, so I'm gonna let it slide.

jessica said...

I am a complete Olympics junkie, having watched basically nonstop since Friday night's ceremonies. The parade of nations is always my favorite part too and I couldn't help but to get excited when the USA came out with 647 athletes! The tiny delegations are incredibly moving, too, but I swell with pride when the US comes out. Also poignant, to me, were the mention of the only two female athletes being the prime minister's daughters (hopefully taking their small standing and proving to their entire nation how powerful and strong women can be) and the nation whose one female athlete went missing, seeking asylum from persecution for being such a strong woman role model. It's at times heartwrenching and heartwarming, and I get really invested in the whole spirit of the games.

As for the games, so far, some AMAZING finishes in the pool, some good wins in basketball, beach volleyball and fencing, and some high drama at the gymnastics qualifiers (too many ankle injuries! lots of falls! lots of skill! NO WAY those Chinese girls are older than 14!). I'm pretty excited.

Plus, those snazzy opening ceremony outfits practically SCREAMED Ralph Lauren, even if Heidi hadn't mentioned on Project Runway that he'd designed them.

Joe Reid said...

The women's gymnastics is a problem for me. I have a baseline uneasiness about the whole gymnastics industry and the paces they're put through, which always seems creepier with the girls. This isn't helped by the ridiculously young-looking Chinese girls (seriously, they're kindergarteners!), or the announcers talking about how far the Romanian girls have fallen because their coaches hug them when they fail. The American girls at least look like real teenagers, but I'm much happier watching the guys. Shocker. Though the overall scoring issues are something else altogether (how does someone completely fall off their apparatus and still get a higher score than ANYONE?).

As for Ralph Lauren, I wasn't really digging those outfits. The hats were the worst offenders, but they seemed almost joyless.

jessica said...

The hats were bad, but overall I thought they all looked cut from a Polo ad. They weren't anywhere as good as the winning design on PR but I still enjoyed them.

Girls' gymnastics (because, really, the only woman is that Russian/German 33yr old) is a scary, creepy, intimidating sport. I spend the whole time watching it basically clenching my fists in horror at the prospect of any number of heinous injuries, but when everything goes well I admit to being all-out amazed by the feats they (and their male counterparts)perform. If I watch on that basic level, and don't think about the torturous workouts and diets and pressure (which includes tuning out those ridiculous commentators and their unhelpful opinions) or even try to understand the obviously biased scoring, then I enjoy it immensely.

deirdre said...

You're quite right, Joe, take that argument to the extreme and it's why do anything rather than cure cancer? But my point was more that the Olympics are a seriously expensive frill no matter who's hosting, and while it's great that some attention's been paid to China's human rights abuses during the run-up to the games, it's going to be back to business as usual in two weeks, and everyone knows it. The pearl-clutching on the part of politicians and the media strikes me as a tad disingenous, is all.

And yes, isn't Adam scrum-diddly-umptious? He and your man Nadal were in the same stadium just north of me for the Rogers Cup finals (one watching, one playing). Sadly, I didn't know this until afterwards.

Bo said...

Ah Olympics. Many V-shaped men in lycra. Mmmmm. Doing amazing pretzely things with their bodies! Being all committed and focused and having pouty lips of intensity Mr. Spring. (Isn't it his destiny to be a gymnast with that name?) Thank goodness my live-in boyfriend, TiVo, is happy to work overtime catching every potentially exciting moment.

Watched a series of specials on China by Ted Koppel on Discovery and a one nighter on NBC with bionic former anchor (who speaks Chinese, which made him very hot to me). All quite interesting. And today's piece on CNNfn about how companies that located manufacturing to outsource in China are starting to be pinched by costs for meeting higher environmental standards and meeting higher requirements for worker conditions, pay, and benefits. Surprising.