Looking Away from Beauty

07-08-450Solnit

EVERY FOUR YEARS I marvel all over again at those bodies honed like precision instruments to defy the bounds of human ability, those people flying with graceful force over hurdles, off diving boards, into somersaults in midair, speeding down tracks, slicing through water. The athletes’ bodies are relentlessly particular, concrete, personal, and tangible: the reality of flesh, of heart, of effort, of this tense face, that muscled arm, that DNA, and that training and determination. This is why it’s so peculiar that the Olympics suspend these bodies in an abstracted superstructure of nationalism, as though this feat of balance really had something to do with Austria, that burst of power really represented Japan.

The elegant sinewiness of a sprinter, the coiled power of a diver, has little to do with the abstraction called nationhood, except that the sprinter or diver is being put forward as the public face of his or her nation — or the mask. There are other faces to nationhood. We live in an era where truth is most often found by looking away from the spectacle presented to us. Corporations consciously choose their masks: BP claims to care about climate change; Chevron had its “People Do” advertisements of the 1990s, in which the oil giant advertised its noble deeds (often obligatory environmental mitigations that cost a tiny fraction of the company’s earnings). Chevron doesn’t want you to see that the toxic emissions of its Richmond, California, refineries make the mostly poor, nonwhite people living nearby seriously ill. Or its complicity in human rights violations in Africa, Asia, and South America. Then there’s Nike, one of many apparel manufacturers that would rather you think about the celebrity spokesperson or anonymous Adonis than the sweatshop workers who, in all their bodily misery and deprivation, have infinitely more to do with the product. In the same way, nations have infinitely more to do with prisons, laws, and foreign and domestic policies than athletes.

Sports bring us the human body as a manifestation of nature — not just the elegant forms of athletes, but their animal ability to move through air and water. At the Olympics, these bodies are co-opted by a political culture that wants to be seen as natural, legitimate, stirring, beautiful. Beautiful bodies are just one kind of nature that nations like to claim. After all, this country invented the idea of “national” parks and claims the sublimity of the Grand Canyon (which preceded it by hundreds of millions of years) and all those purple mountains’ majesty as part of its identity. Corporations too like pristine landscapes, particularly for advertisements in which an SUV perches on some remote ledge, or a high-performance car zips along a winding road through landscape splendor. Few car commercials portray gridlock or even traffic — that your car is just a car among cars — let alone the vehicle’s impact on those pristine environments. Of course most of us have become pretty well versed in critiquing advertisements as such — we assume they are coverups if not outright lies. But the Olympics have not been subjected to the same level of critique.

On August 8, the Beijing Olympic Games will begin, and television will bring us weeks of the human body at the height of health, beauty, discipline, power, and grace. It will be a thousand-hour advertisement, in some sense, for the participating nations as represented by athletes with amazing abilities. In reality, the athletes will be something of a mask for what each nation really stands for, and this year the Olympics as a whole will be as much a coverup as, say, the Mexico City Olympics of 1968, which came hot on the heels of the Tlaltelolco Plaza massacre of students, or the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which gave the Nazis legitimacy as they turned Germany into an efficient totalitarian death factory. Ironically, the 2008 summer Olympics begin on the twentieth anniversary of the 8888 (for 8/8/1988) Burma uprising against the brutal military dictatorship that has controlled that country, with crucial backing from China, for more than four decades now. The Chinese government is also busy terrorizing Tibetans protesting for religious freedom and liberation of their colonized country; it is also the main protector of the Sudanese government carrying out a holocaust in Darfur.

It serves the nations of the world to support the exquisitely trained Olympian bodies, and it often serves their more urgent political and economic agendas to subject other bodies to torture, mutilation, and violent death, as well as to look away from quieter deaths from deprivation and pollution. In the struggles for land and resources — for Chinese control of Tibet, and for the petroleum fields of Sudan and the timber and mineral wealth of Burma — bodies are mowed down like weeds. The celebrated athletic bodies exist in some sort of tension with the bodies that are being treated as worthless and disposable.

At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, two young African Americans from San Jose State University won first and third place in the two-hundred-meter dash, gold medalist Tommie Smith setting a world record in the process. On the podium, receiving their medals alongside Australian silver medalist Peter Norman, they gave the Black Power salute. Bronze medalist John Carlos wore beads that signified the lynchings of his fellow African Americans. They were shoeless to represent black poverty. Norman joined them in wearing Olympic Project for Human Rights badges. Their actions suggested that great bodily gifts could not be separated from bodily suffering, or conscience. It was a beautiful moment, one of the iconic moments of the 1960s. As athletes, they had represented their country magnificently; as human beings they had testified to the complexity of that nation and their place in it.

In response, International Olympics Committee President Avery Brundage banished the two men from the rest of the games and a spokesperson called their act “a deliberate and violent breach of the Olympic spirit.” The Olympic spirit by this measure insists that athletes be bodies without minds and hearts. But the insistence that athletes not “politicize” the Olympics is really an assertion that the politics of the Olympics be determined by governments, not movements and individuals, most particularly not participating athletes. When authorities say we should not politicize something, they mean that the politics of the status quo should not be questioned. Fortunately, people nowadays have become more skeptical of masks and more sophisticated at connecting the dots.

The global route of the Olympic torch this spring was interrupted again and again by human rights protests, so that rather than a triumphal tour, the relays seemed to be a flight from principle and responsibility with activists in hot pursuit. The athletes, too, have refused to be silent. Some joined Team Darfur, “an inter-national coalition of athletes committed to raising awareness about and bringing an end to the crisis in Darfur” cofounded in 2006 by speed skater Joey Cheek and water poloist Brad Greiner. This will be the invisible competition at the games: between the official desire to strip athletes of any meaning their country does not superimpose on them and the desire of some athletes to give true meaning to their acts.

Bodies in peak condition performing with everything they’ve got are an image of freedom, as are pristine landscapes like Yosemite and the Tetons. But the reality of freedom only exists when these phenomena aren’t deployed to cover up other bodies that are cringing, starving, bleeding, or dying, other places that are clearcut, strip-mined, and contaminated. Television coverage of the summer Olympics probably won’t cut away from those sleek athletes to the charred bodies of massacred villagers and the anguished faces of young gang-rape victims in Darfur, or the bloodied heads of young monks and uncounted corpses and prisoners in Burma and Tibet. But the associations between the two are crucial to our sense of compassion, and of what it means to be a part of a global community.

Rebecca Solnit is a writer, historian, and activist. She is the author of seventeen books including Men Explain Things To Me (2014), Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas (2013), and River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Midwest (2004) . She is a columnist for Orion, and a regular contributor to the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch daily newsgram.

 

Comments

  1. This is a fantastic article. Thank you! This is a thoughtful reminder about the ways nations use bodies but silence people.

  2. While I wholeheartedly agree with your thoughts, Rebecca, I can’t help but wonder what chaos there would be if each Olympic medalist chose to make a protest statement while receiving his/her medal. AS far as the Olympic games being a synthetic reality, perhaps we need the respite of a few hours in contemplation of the grace of athletic human bodies as an antidote to the overwhelming pain and suffering in so much of the world. Yes, the games may be a vehicle of nationalist posturing, but I say far better that we compete on the playing field than on the battle field.

  3. Sorry Rebecca, no cigar. I still can’t pick you for my team, whether Olympic commentary or spelling bee.

  4. I’m sorry, but I can’t begin to agree with the logic of this piece. The Olympics present the one opportunity our flawed species has to celebrate our being in a pure, natural and unfettered manner. To introduce the grimy, oversold elements of our everyday struggle to the Olympic arena in a premeditated fashion undermines this completely.

  5. The corporate behemoths which abuse bodies all over the world will never accept a sense of responsibility for anything which does not serve the bottom line.

    And, given the way the BIg Boys on Wall St. are crumbling, perhaps we should cherish this Olympics as an artifact of sorts for it may be the last for a while.

    The ecosystem world-wide has some surprises in store before the next 4 years unfold.

  6. Absolutely correct. A brilliant piece detailing the desires of the human person – you have captured our fear of the truth. China continues to kill people. Everyday the death toll mounts. Monks, Uiygurs, political dissidents, Tibetans are being murdered. We must speak for what is right. Thank you for speaking this.

  7. “The Olympics present the one opportunity our flawed species has to celebrate our being in a pure, natural and unfettered manner”
    It represents how much a government is willing to spend on training sports people, how many faciliities are available to the general public, not necessarily in tandem with money spent. It represents stuggle to some atheletes and to others a life immersed in their sport at the cost of all else & insistence of their governement.
    Our BEING is far more than our body.
    The medal league tables and national anthems are all about nations not amazing individuals or the extrordinary capacity of our bodies.
    The same bodies that sweat and toil. Sport is an isolated use of the body not in its practical useful sense; the skills and feats of manual labourers are amazing too, the pitching of a bale be it in the hay field or the cotton factory: the uncelebrated many who make our lives what they are.
    Yes I will watch some sports I enjoy the shapes and energies of swimming and speed skating….

  8. I have often appreciated your clarity and thoughtfully precise language and your well meaning heart, while not always agreeing with all your views. I will be going to Beijing in November (www.commonground2008.com) and this time was thinking along the lines of what you wrote. So thank you for explaining my own thoughts to me.

  9. Once again, Rebecca Solnit “connects a few dots” for us in an insightful and heart felt way. How can “politics” ever be separated from the “facts on the ground,” except in some sanitized, bipolar fashion. Yes, China is all of the above and the world needs to be reminded again and again in a nonviolent way that their choices are wrong. The Olympic’s, as a world wide tradition, bear an even greater responsibility to the truth of it all. Sadly, it doesn’t begin to live up to its potential to help the world move towards balance. These China hosted Olympics are a case in point. The “beauty” (one defintition) of the athletes and events is marred by the fakeness of the mask, the stories within the story. Thank you Rebecca for shedding a bit more light on the subject.

  10. Unfortunately, we live in a glass house and so must begin by throwing stones at our own edifice. The US has sponsored Israel’s occupation of Palestine for more than 40 years now. It’s a brutal occupation, with upwards of 60,000 dead (killed, actually) Palestinians over the decades. All so Israel can be bigger. The US is presently making war on both Afghanistan and Iraq, and at the behest of Israel, may soon commence bombing of Iran, a nation that has not invaded another since AD650. So while we must make the plight of Darfurians and Tibetans known, we must also decry our governments enabling of the world’s last occupation and Apartheid rule.

  11. How about we just enjoy the Games for what they are and quit being so judgemental, micro analytical and self righteous for once in our otherwise dull lives ?

  12. Speak for yourself, Regis. You go ahead and enjoy the games, OK?

  13. I’m very happy to have this commentary, even though it states the obvious. I hope others will add some ideas about what people might begin to do to transform future Olympic “games” into something less inhuman.

  14. “The Olympics present the one opportunity our flawed species has to celebrate our being in a pure, natural and unfettered manner.”

    The ONE opportunity? There are countless opportunities to celebrate our being. We just need to get into the habit of creating them ourselves. We don’t have to wait for governments/corporations to do it for us

    Unfettered? Pure and natural? The Olympic frenzy is more like a giant ad agency’s dream, a huge outdoor nationalistic agit prop drama. Whole cities scramble to hide their homeless, their pollution messes, their violent politics, painting on the heavy make-up of “purity”, “naturalness”, to encourage spending, to sell a prettier image of themselves to the watching world, to seel more “officially sponsored” products, to rake in more tourist dollars.

    “Unfettered” means free. What is free about an event that punishes people for trying to represent more than just which national grop they belong to?
    Do we have to shut down our sense of fairness and moral intelligence to be great athletes? Do we have to shut out
    reality in order to enjoy watching a sporting event?
    Actually, most of the time most of us ARE shutting out the harsh reality of human life on this planet. That urge is understandable. But what we in fact need MORE of, is staying present, and turning toward beauty that is not afraid of truth.

    As we give our time and attention to international competitions…we often get suckered into exaggerated nationalism, a prime breeding-ground for more local and global conflict.

    The games don’t need to go away, they just need to take place in the Real World, not inside a Disneyeque Olympic Village where prisons, weapons and spewing factories are not screened behind Computer Graphic trees and smiling faces.
    The Olympic games did not/will not replace war. If only that were true. This world would look a lot different, if gaming trumped territory-grabbing and murder, starting right after the Olympics first opened up to broadcast media around the planet…with a speech by Adolf Hitler.

  15. It’s great that the games are in Beijing. Politically – both in terms of human rights and the environment – it should function as a real eye-opener for the world. Beijing and China are a glimpse deep into what the 21st century will likely be for almost all of us. It’s not going to be pretty, but we need to see it and know it, just so we don’t go gentle into that good night.

  16. Having participated in the Olympics, I was on the U.S. Olympic snowboard team in 1998, I couldn’t agree more with this article. “1000 hour advertisement,” says it all for me. Since I’m no where near as eloquent as Rebecca, I’ve never been able to relay this to people without coming off as being bitter because I didn’t win.
    Since snowboarding was a relatively young sport, the joy of it for me was being part of a truly global team: The World Pro Snowboard Team. For years I traveled and trained with athletes from 9 different countries. When the Olympics came into the picture, we were forced into U.S. Team uniforms with Visa patches on them and given instructions on how to act if and when we made it to the podium. When they told us, “It doesn’t hurt to shed a tear when you receive your medal.” it became clear to me that we were being primed for nothing more than a television show. I love sports and being an athlete. But the commercialism of the Olympics, as well as the nationalism, has always rubbed me the wrong way.

  17. Can we say bleeding heart?

    What those men did was defiant and something they were willing to sacrifice the rest of the Olympics for. They knew what they were doing and they wanted to be a martyr.

    I understand the dissatisfaction with the way the world is, but it’s not going to be solve via protesting or whining during the Olympics. If it wasn’t solved prior it’s not going to be solved during.

    The Team Darfur (as far as I can tell) isn’t so in your face as those that did the fist in the air…..type deal on the podium….

    Olympics isn’t about empty hearts and empty minds….just because the issues this person thinks is important doesn’t mean they are to the world and instead of enjoying that for a couple of weeks the world can do something together they would rather ruin it with OMG the world sucks. Well everyone knows that and they know that every single day they watch the news. It is not asking much to allow people to enjoy a moment where it’s not OMG the world sucks….

    But people are selfish and think that what they think is important is and should be important to everyone else and if they see suffering then by golly everyone should suffer and shouldn’t have fun.

    *buzzard*

    Wrong.

  18. So Jammer – if the world’s problems are not going to be solved at the Olympics (a surprise to no one), where would you have them solved? Where would YOU begin? I would hazard a guess that oppression, hunger, and dispossession are not subjects that ever needs addressing.
    If you don’t think that political and economic conditions around the world are not important to everyone, then you must be living quite comfortably. Enjoy the Games!

  19. I’m not cynical and thinking that my opinion must be heard every waking moment.

    Just because you’re not talking about it during the Olympics doesn’t make it less important. The Olympics might be all corporate out..big deal, what isn’t? But what it is also is that it’s a place where the world comes together to do things that don’t have to with war and a whole lot of political crap.

    People think that just because this person isn’t complaining that what China has done isn’t on their mind. No. What is on their mind is to have a great time at the Olympics and not taint their time by being negative and cynical about where the Olympics are being held.

    But if one goes to the game and all they do is protest and whine then what memory do they have for later? What fun did they have?

    It’s why you don’t date someone you work with. That’s why there is separation of Church and State…things have their places and if you start tainting everything with your negative notion about the world as if people don’t already see it…well you’re ruining other people’s good time and that’s far worse because that’s something that solves NOTHING…you just create a massive amount of bitter.

    You know what you do to solve problems? You bring them up before they Olympics came. You protest the announcement that China got the games. But all that’s past. They have them, they’ve prepared…now their going on.

    Instead of ruining what could be a great time talk about it later. The problem will still be a problem after the games. China is under a lot of pressure from the tragedies of the Earthquakes and other things…then this political stuff and the security of the games.

    They are focusing on making sure the games run well. They are not in the mood to hear about how self-righteous everyone is about their dealings with others. That matters. Give them a GREAT Olympics…give them a happy moment and then they will be less aggressive in someone telling them how wrong they are for being this way or that with their Political pandering.

    You don’t browbeat someone and expect them to be receptive to your cynical and negative statements about the way they handle things…cause they sure the hell won’t listen to you.

  20. For those who believe concern for ethnic cleansing is self-righteous,just remember – this is China’s century. When they come for you, I’m sure you won’t complain.
    This from today’s Huffington Post.
    “The host nation of China has the ignominious distinction of possessing one of the world’s worst human rights records. From an illegal military occupation of Tibet, to repressive policies in Muslim East Turkestan, to stringent family planning that has included forced abortions, and the jailing of democracy and free speech activists, there is little to say positively about how China treats those who live inside their borders. Taking a look from Beijing towards the African continent and we see China’s endless thirst for fossil fuels manifesting itself by propping up the Sudanese government and providing Khartoum with the money they need to perpetrate genocide in Darfur. These are not issues that the global community has taken lightly and it is because of their gravity that the political side of the 2008 Games will be a focal point over the next few weeks.”

  21. Huffington Post is a load of Huffing that’s for sure.

    One day something good will come from them…..just not today.

    You present China with an aggressive approach you will get nowhere and as we’ve seen thus far…such an approach has not (and will not) work. 1 billion people making up about 18% of the world’s population are not going to be forced to comply with those who depend on them for goods and services when talked to in such a manner.

    Protest during the Olympic games and make that the focal point of these weeks to come, and you will fail….horribly. Not only will you fail, you will piss them off and where will leave you? Further from what you wanted had you just made them happy instead.

  22. Awesome and insightful. One of the most difficult things to get people to see is how power, privilege, and freedom work in only one direction in this culture: that of the elite in control. So much becomes clear when we can just clarify that one point. This article makes the case beautifully and precisely.

    Those athletes who have been brave enough to make a statement were consistently made examples of for the others who would follow in their footsteps, to make absolutely certain that the status quo would reign. Anyone who still doesn’t see this might do well to read “The Culture of Make Believe,” by Derrick Jensen, which documents case after case of such oppression.

    On a personal note, there was also only one team I was ever picked for in school, but mine was archery. In this I somehow know that we can get to where we are going if we just keep aiming ourselves, like arrows, with intent, with love in action, and of course, with good spelling. (-:

  23. Every effort has been tried to some degree with China. Mostly, China’s abuses are ignored. That has not worked. China has also been cajoled, then scolded. These have not worked either. I’m afraid that the Chinese juggernaut is well underway – it may be too late for it to change. It is a rather xenophobic and paranoid political culture now fascinated with rampant capitalism. The only thing that might work is if the major nations of the world banded together to bend China in the right direction. But it is likely too late. Looks like the 21st century is going to be the century of Fascist Capitalism – followed by ecological collapse. So those who protest are morally correct, but may be screaming into the wind.

  24. I would recommend anyone interested and moved by Solnit’s article here to check out the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions reports on the role of mega events (including the Olympics) in the displacement of millions of people globally. They also have a recent report specifically on the situation in Beijing.
    Also the book Inside the Olympic Industry: Power, Politics, and Activism, by Helen Jefferson Lenskyj, is worth a read if you can get your hands on it.
    If you’re convinced that none of tis has anything to do with the “real” intentions of the Olympics, then all of this will probably just annoy you, as I imagine everything else does that suggests people suffer because of things you enjoy. Just don’t look very deep into the history of the modern Olympics and you’ll discover how political (and economic) they have always been.

  25. As some posters here have noted, the essay by Ms. Solnit is rubbery in its logic. All her English-class over-poeticized gallimaufry about these athletes’ bodies being about “freedom” – was she listening to head USA cheerleader George W. too much? Has she never heard of the word “steroids”? Is she not aware of how freakish and reflective of money these body-abusing elite athletes are? Wake up a little here – check out the “Steroid Nation” blog by a University of Iowa sports medicine professor to get some education on this. Lastly, the athletes know they are participating in a sham, and we viewers should know it too – but that’s what television is for, and hoping for some sort of political resistance there is futile. Let the world have its two weeks of fascist nationalist theater “celebrating” ruse and artifice – then let’s storm the Bastille. Go Maldives!

  26. It’s only as bad as people want it to be not because they love truth, but because they are cynical and don’t want to believe that what they fight for could actually occur for a couple of days: Imperfect peace.

    But why allow that to be true? Because then they wouldn’t have anything to cry over or blame someone over.

  27. OUr mythos is thick with references to being sensitive to the needs of victims. The tale of the Good Samaratin – the only one of 3 (a Rabbi and someone else in Jewish hierarchy – Samaratins are “unclean” according to Jewish tradition), who would bend and help an injured man laying in the road.

    Rebecca is on the long uphill climb of trying to keep us aware of some prorities other than spectacle and celebrity and money.
    Go ahead, enjoy. Not much most of us can do anyway.

  28. But as Jammer now realizes, Russia invaded Georgia just as the olympics began – with Putin sitting comfortably in the Olympic stands. Not far away from Putin sat Bush, he of ‘shock and awe’ fame. Both sit there making a public mockery of ‘imperfect peace.’ And Taiwan is forced to march in under the banner of ‘Chinese Taipei’ because Big Brother insists. At a smaller scale, there has been a homicide-suicide and the first of what likely will be many athletes, has been tested positive for steroids. See how the real world intrudes on Jammer’s pretend world?

  29. I knew of Russia’s “invasion” prior to the Olympics starting. I knew of them sitting together.

    It’s not a public mockery. I never stated there was perfection. What I did state was that it was the only time the world can actually get together without there being a bunch of problems. Nixing problems all together can never happen, and especially not with people who are so negative in these postings.

  30. Jammer – You put Russia’s ‘invasion’ in quotes – as if there was some doubt about it. It is indeed an invasion.
    The Olympics is about nationalism and super-nationalism, about re-inforcing stereotypes, about commodification of all innocent notion, and globalization of capitalism, about both state and private doping of individuals, about cheating and subterfuge, about state-based medal counts. And in between all that there are some remarkable performances by individuals. But to only take note this last thing is to be blind to reality.

  31. To always complain you’ll never be satisfied. I’ll stick to complaining when it’s necessary and something can be done.

  32. One should never be satisfied. There is no progress without dissatisfaction. Satisfaction breeds complacency.
    There is no complaining going on here – it is a matter of communicating as a means to organize – and without organizing we can do nothing about the world’s problems, which at this time are only getting more dire. Of course, it may already be too late. But that’s because there are people with a vested interest in preserving the system as is and those who live with blinders on. Neither wants to rock the boat. So that leaves it to the activists to fight the good fight.

  33. The past dictates future. What past protest for the Olympics actually brought about change?

    Anyways just like communication has been changed from letters and telegrams to Email and Text—one should assume that protesting would get an upgrade.

    Always do the same you’ll always get the same. So far protesting has given all of those that have done it…no ground. Change should start with those asking for it of others.

  34. Jammer – The past is not passive. It is created. And as creative organizing got us the 8 hour day, women’s suffrage, an end to Apartheid, the institution of social security, and a million other ideals – it is requred for the Olympics as well. As nothing is accomplished without toil, then such toil is mandatory. If all was left in the hands of people such as you, we’d all still be in the dark ages. No one is ‘asking’ for change. Change is demanded. And it will come or people will die trying – as they always have.

  35. Then you will die in vain.

    It worked in the past because the past is where it needed to happen. Now that’s occurred it is a different approach that is needed.

    It is people like you (since we are taking this route) that would have done the same old same old with the American Revolution….beg the King for less taxes. It was the new idea…the never before tried idea of Revolution that gave America its birth.

    It is the new ideas that renationalized the moment, not the over done ones such as you are, and most everyone else, are suggesting.

  36. Jammer – No, it is people who wanted real change that threw the tea into Boston Harbor, who protested, and drew up the Declaration of Independence. Those who died in the Revolution did not die in vain. It is those Americans who die in Iraq who die in vain (or actually, for the Bush White House). You would have them continue to do so. Because you don’t protest. And you don’t take action.

  37. It would do you well to actually read what I typed than read what you think I typed.

  38. “It was the new idea…the never before tried idea of Revolution that gave America its birth.”
    Gawd. Americans are always doing this. Your revolution was by a million miles not the first. Even if you ignore dozens of others, how about the English revolution, which brought down the monarchy, more than 100 years before the Boston Tea Party?
    There are no new ideas, chum, just new ways of using old ones.

  39. Yes,Kraft, it was a god-awful comment for someone to make about the US. I dare say, that the England and the English are long guilty of same. And you STILL have a monarchy – an expensive contraption of pomp and circumstance if there ever was one.

    And Jammer confirms what you say ‘eactly.’ As if anything he typed previously has even a remote relationship to what you wrote.

  40. It does. He stated there’s nothing new under the sun…only different ways of going about it.

    Exactly.

  41. And so your suggestion is to celebrate the games as if ethnic cleansing were not going on? As if the olympics were divorced from politics? So that what – China can have a free public relations coup while it transgresses on others (and its own)? Or maybe you are suggesting armed struggle against China’s government.

  42. When someone complains to you do you listen to them? If they keep complaining do you listen to them still or do you start to ignore them and do as you see fit?

    A country’s government is no different than a person in that regard. You have to do something different to get their attention other than the same old same old….because they are ignoring you not only because they can but because so is the rest of the world.

  43. Thank-you Rebecca for an incisive analysis of games that should never be happening at all, in a country with such well-documented human rights abuses.

  44. Hey, Palspal, I’m not from the UK, or the US, or Europe… FYI!

  45. Kraft – That’s quite alright – I’m sure the English don’t mind you defending their ‘revolution.’

    Jammer – So you think repression is A-OK. That when China kills, one should just sell coffins to the victim’s families. And when China pollutes, one should just buy a gas mask. And when China is given the Olympics, one should cheer cheer cheer! Sound like the ‘Good German.’

  46. Where were you in 2001 when they got the bid?

  47. Jammer – Demonstrating in Palestine against Israel’s Apartheid rule, among other things. And you?

  48. It doesn’t matter where I was. I am not complaining about China’s place right now.

    You are.

    But you did nothing to prevent them from having the games. So complaining now that they have them is not worthy of your time or anyone else’s. Especially since you had your chance to actually make a difference, now you’re just not.

  49. Oh, but I was against China getting the games all along. Alas, I’m not on the Olympic committee. You seem to grant those who subscribe to certain ideals re human rights have inordinate power over the state system. Pretty skewed view you have.
    But its never too late to work for change. One can only hope it will bear fruit some way some how. But the obstacle is people such as you who side with the state against humanity.

  50. The world works one way and if you try to change it you’ll lose. But if you work with it and change it from where you stand instead of trying to take it all on at once, you’ll actually accomplish something.

    China is far too big for you to take on and then sit there and complain about how they are not listening to you demand them to be like you. You’re not changing to be like them and the are more so demanding than any protester who ever sat foot on their land.

    Don’t push and complain about being pushed.

  51. Jammer – “The world works one way”??? What sort of gobbledygook is that? Do you have any idea of what you are talking about? Or are you just some Pro-China reactionary that we should change to be like China? Who in their right mind would want to be ‘like’ China – what ever that means. You have no idea what effort people put into making change. Progressive change comes only thru hard work, if change does not come, its not the fault of those who work for it – it’s the fault of complacent people and those who drink the coolade.

  52. “The world works one way and if you try to change it you’ll lose.”
    Hmm. That’s what they said when the campaign against the slave trade began – and that took a lifetime of thankless work to achieve. Too big, ja, I remember that’s what it felt like when we were being squashed by the apartheid regime. Jammer (which means ‘sorry’), Jammer, that kind of attitude gets no-one anywhere.

  53. Jammer is an apologist for the regime in Beijing. And so that influences his world view regarding the struggle for change.

  54. Nowhere in my comments have I stated any pro-China statement. If you’re going to twist words then do so better.

    You can bring up everything from the past until you are content that you’ve mad an invalid point…but it still doesn’t answer the statement as to how protesting China has changed anything.

    Because it hasn’t and yet you want to continue to run into the wall until what? Magic happens?

    how many people have to go to jail for a cause that’s not working?

    At least during the slave trade and the civil rights there was actual head way that could be shown by people’s reactions. China has not altered one iota throughout past protests and protests of now and yet y’all think you’re doing some good.

    Reality check for all.

  55. You’ve offered no alternative way to working for change but only that the efforts have not worked. Until you offer alternatives one can only conclude you are against progress re human rights. That would make you an apologist for the Beijing regime (and perhaps other dictatorships as well).
    Some who bring light onto the situation have to go to jail, some don’t, but the victims pay a much higher price – their lives, their freedom, their property, their homelands. This all has to see the light of day whether or not change is forseeably tangible or until the Enlightened Jammer tells us his new procedure. Enjoy the games!

  56. Continue doing the same thing.

    We all see the progress it has made with China thus far.

    Nadda.

  57. Jammer – You’re inability or unwillingness to offer alternative methods can only lead one to conclude that you are merely an apologist for the regime. This stems from a world view that depicts those who struggle for human rights as ‘self-righteous.’ It may not do any good, but when the State comes to get you, you can be safely assured that someone will contest it despite your political position.

  58. I’ve already stated one.

    Give them the best games without the protesting and then after they have done their duty as the Host you can explain away your position on what they are doing. I’m sure you could get a whole lot of people to play along if you have a great way of explain it to China.

    You have to speak the way China will understand. These protest have done NOTHING. The world cares but China is 1 billion strong of not caring…there’s a small fraction that do care but they of no concern because they can be squished.

    The Americans were fed up with the Taxing so they did something that was outside the law because they tried to do everything within the law and it got them nowhere….

    …well everyone has done everything outside of China’s laws and have done nothing within.

    Take a different perspective.

    But of course you could resort to name calling..it seems to be your forte.

  59. The Games are largely an opportunity to bring attention to the woeful state of human rights in China. Other than that the games are close to irrelevancy as is China being the ‘host’. There is no reason on Earth to ‘give them (China) the best games.’
    Human rights activists come in all flavors. They speak separately and as one. There is no one strategy.

    But you still have not offered an approach – ‘to speak the way China will understand.’ What is your specific suggestion on this? Mandarin? It certainly cannot be that activists look at it from the Chinese government’s perspective. That’s no model for humanity, and no model for the 21st century.

  60. You just don’t like what I’ve said and it really bugs you that I actually could answer your question.

    Continue being negative…so far it’s made China better.

  61. But you have to admit that you have no concrete suggestion for approaching China. That’s because: A) you favor the Chinese government over its citizens; and B) you are resentful of political activism in general.
    So where do you stand on continuing the independence of Taiwan? Or for that matter, the quest for freedom in Tibet and Xinjiang? I can guess.

  62. IMO, Solnit’s analysis of the Olympics applies to a countless number of phony events, “days” and spectacles that seek to manipulate
    our behavior in ways that serve corporate ends.

    My response is non-participation.

    I don’t watch TV or own a cellphone or a Blackberry. I don’t own or drive a car, preferring to walk or take public transit.

    I mark events in my personal, family, community or national history that have meaning for me–not the phony inventions or heartstring-pulling appeals of greeting card marketers and mall merchants. I buy gifts because I choose to, when I choose to, because I want to.

    All of this changes nothing, of course. The structures and formats, policies and processes devised to maximize profit and minimize dissent, the lies, misrepresentations and manipulations continue as before, utterly oblivious to anything I might say or do.

    But there is real personal freedom in opting out; of refusing to buy, in any sense, what the corporations and their democratically elected facilitators are peddling.

  63. “A girl is only worth a tenth of a boy.” – Chinese Saying.

    That sort of sums up their entire thinking.

    The took baby girls and placed them in a field and left them to die because???? they were not boys.

    They favor boys so much so that their are more boys than girls in that country and not enough girls for the boys. They very well might have created an entire generation of gay boys—maybe out of necessity just to be with someone.

    Humor doesn’t translate so well across the screen.

    Anyway, China isn’t pleasant. See the Gymnastic men and women? Both teams got the gold and did you see how they reacted to doing well? Nowhere near how the American’s reacted and they got the Bronze and the Silver. They are beat to win…abused even.

    Yao Ming is mistreated for his talent and celebrity.

    No one can rightfully doubt the wrongs they have and do commit.

    But one can rightfully doubt the idiotic notion that protesting has added some sort of change in China other than the harming of said idiot protesters.

  64. So who claimed success in bringing change to China? No one here. But the work has to go on in myriad ways in the hopes that critical mass is achieved at some point and in some place. But any dope can watch the games and pretend nothing else matters but the pagentry and the medal count.

  65. Instead of forcing the world to think what you think is important…maybe you should wonder why China doesn’t think it’s important.

  66. Who is ‘forcing the world to think what *we* think.’? If only activists had such power.

    So Jammer, tell us why your country does not believe human rights is important.

  67. Yeah…if you had that power you’d be exactly what you’re complaining about.

    I’m from Texas.

  68. Texas, that explains it. The execution state. The W state. The let’s pretend we are cowboys state. The scrub-clearing state. So it is not surprising you identify with China state values. Free to make money, but don’t rock the boat values.

  69. No, activism fails (when it does fail) largely because conservatives are fond of the state (despite protestations to the contrary). Thus conservatives resent bringing human rights issues to light as it upsets the status quo. As if China could be humored into change.

  70. No. But if you’re smart as you claim you know that if someone demands you to do something then you won’t want to do it.

    That’s how teenagers work. Parents demand…they refuse. You have to know who you’re talking to in order to get them to see that what you are suggesting is a good idea.

    Protesters fail on that for China, otherwise we’d see significant changes.

  71. Nah. You are attributing too much family pop psychology to what is essentially STATE behavior with long-standing cultural overtones. China is NOT going to leave Tibet alone, never mind give it independence, based in whether some human rights activists are pushy or not. Nor will they permit political dissent just because activists take a gentler approach. All activists are doing is keeping the flame alive in hopes that critical mass is reached thru some combination of methods and circumstances. As it did in Apartheid South Africa, as it did for the English slave trade, etc. Activists need for many things to go right to effect change – all they are really doing is keeping issues alive as best they can. But global issues at the nation-state level cannot be reduced to the level of family squabble.

  72. If I can’t attribute my thinking then you can’t attribute the past of other countries because they are not China.

  73. China is in the nation-state system with all the requisite obligations and perks that all states have. If the British and American empires did not have to answer to anybody in their heyday, they have had to since – or will do so eventually. China too shall have to answer one day. One can only hope it is before China’s political culture is imposed on us all.

  74. I think an ideal subject matter for the next Michael Moore film would be the juxtaposition of the Beijing Olympics with two weeks at Gitmo. Self-discipline versus torture. Manufacturing ideal environments for setting world records versus sadistic environments designed to break the human spirit. Going for the gold versus dwelling on suicide. Water sports versus water boarding. Celebrating the nation-state system with national anthems versus hip-hop and heavy metal pumped in around the clock. Possibilities are endless.

  75. Maia (comment 14) makes really good points. The Olympics are pretty far from being pure and natural, and all the emphasis on nationalities can lead to dangerous nationalism.

  76. The only thing “to do” in such a case has ever and always been a massive public appearance by large numbers of caring people in peaceful demonstrations of resolve to never again attend to the spectacle or buy any of the products advertised. The pressure on so many just to survive in this chimera called “globalism” is creating more misery and anguish than we can begin to grasp. Most poeple only have enough energy left at the end of a day of the struggle to survive to crash and watch the gaudy false pretense of international unity in sports, and other junk-tv.

    If the dream were to become real, and streets all over were filled with a resolute mass, we would have to confont the new phenomena of “free speech zones” which are no more than cages far away from any attenion of the MSM. If any could break free and get the message out, mass arrests and violence by authorities would be unleashed. We would then witness the brutality of the Brave New World Order in no uncertain terms.

  77. I’d like to thank you for writing my thoughts out in your article, I can see that lots of people are noticing many flaws and I just don’t understand why… I do agree with you.

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