(Below: Lindsey Von, American skier, in a pose that looks less concerned with respect for women or her prowess as an athlete.)
Watching the hype played up over the years whenever the Olympic Games come around, it strikes me that the is an uneasy friction between this notion of "one world, coming together" for the sake of "The Spirit of the Olympics" and the uneasy (perhaps too easy) jumped-up nationalism which seems to infect many people for two weeks of continual coverage.
If we really are "one world" coming together to celebrate all the greatness that sports offers, then why I wonder do we have an opening ceremonies where everyone dresses in uniforms of national colors and waves flags about?
How did we get closer as a global community when so much emphasis is placed on sports like hockey, basketball, track relays and other events that are driven by national teams.
I remember in 1980 with the Olympics in Lake Placid New York and the victory that the United States hockey team had over the heavily-favored Soviet team. I like seeing the underdog win as much has th next person, but can anyone honestly say that that upset victory brought anyone closer together? No, it took us further apart. The game was played just the day after President Jimmy Carter announced that the USA would not be sending athletes to Moscow for the Summer Olympics because of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. In 1984, when the Games were held in Los Angeles, The Kremlin returned the favor and boycotted the American-based Olympics,citing security concerns. Because of the loss of this--a match-up of the two most powerful sporting nations in the world--the games in Los Angeles became a showcase for the large American team to win more gold medals, including some unprecedented success in gymnastic events.
I don't know about you, but I didn't feel like we as humans were coming "closer together" because of all the posturing and chants of "U--S--A! U--S--A! U--S--A!" that rang about all over the country that Summer.
A lot has happened in the world since of course. People worry more about terrorism cells and the ebbing economic news than they do The Bomb. But it seems that its rather cynical of NBC to pretend that we are coming together over this. No, this is all about profits and headlining a few athletes who every four years come across as convenient conduits for selling us more credit cards and automobiles and chewing gum and cell phones and soup and Snickers Bars and all that "official Olympic" sponsorship stuff we could really live quite well without.
And its not all an American phenomenon either. If anyone watched the Beijing Olympics two years ago they saw a rather frightening display of thousands of male athletes beating on drums and shouting. in the middle of that giant "birdnest" stadium. It looked to me like China's government was saying "Don't mess with us!" The displays of pomp and power that certain nations present to the world at times like this DO NOT bring us together--they remind me very often of some tribal throwback--something akin to the 1936 Games in Berlin where Hitler banned American Jews from participating in their events and the whole shebang was just a prelude to his plans to awe the world with a lot of Aryan hooey.
Understand I am not against sports. I love baseball and American football and I if I wasn't so lousy as a kid playing basketball on the playground I might love that too. And I sincerely hope many people come to Vancouver and see how beautiful that city is--it really is, and the Canadians are such generally nice people that they really make us down here look bad. (They hardly ever shoot their neighbors and relatives and fellow drug dealers with guns, for instance. Baffling, don't you think?)
But let's have no more of this faith in "coming together". This Olympics in America and I suspect elsewhere is about national competition. And frankly, with all the pain and suffering caused by nation-states in the last century, we need less, not more, of that.