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.