Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympic Fever

Much of the world is currently in the throes of Olympic fever. The pageantry, the athletics, and of course, watching your country in the medal race.

But, you know what? I'm just not that interested.

I'm sure part of this is my anti-China bias. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I've lost interest in the Olympics more generally. The jingoism gets to me for one. And then there's the fact that my youthful dream of being an Olympic swimmer will never come to pass (although the 41-year old athlete with two kids is making me reconsider this).

But I've been far more interested and concerned with the war between Georgia and Russia than I am with Team America, Team China, or Team Korea (which is surprisingly high in the early medal count right now - good for them).

Anyway, I want to call your attention to this article. Tim Wu discusses the non-Chinese media (I refuse to call it Western because, let's be frank, this kind of coverage isn't limited to just the "West") and whether it's being too harsh on China.

Now, I agree with much, if not all, of what he's saying. Just because the Chinese have put in a lot of hard work to prepare for the Olympics doesn't mean it should be immune from criticism, particularly if all that hard work was geared towards cleaning up their treatment of laborers, minorities, or the environment. And as a good friend of mine said, if China wants to be a leader on the world stage, it's got to be able to accept the criticism. Just because you're great doesn't mean you're faultless, and it's perfectly legitimate for people to point out your faults (they do it all the time to the U.S., EU, and Russia. Indians do it to themselves.)

However, I think there's also something to the Chinese complaint. It's difficult to separate legitimate criticism from a wider cultural disdain, but I think some of the reporting falls into that. Of course, there is the gap between Chinese expectations and everyone else's reporting, driven in many ways by the high expectations that the CCP set for both itself and the rest of the world. But, while I may dislike China, I think our criticisms must be tempered with this recognition of all its people have accomplished in the past 30 years (as well as being mindful of all its people destroyed in the 30 years before that).

The criticism is getting tied up with the jingoism, and I draw a line there. It's fine to point out (massive) faults in the system and history, but the arguments are stronger (and sometimes more chilling) if they're grounded in a more rational assessment of the country.


Chengora said...

A nice little commentary from a friend of mine on the sappiness of Olympic coverage.


hcduvall said...

You're going to be tempering yourself? That's unexpected. I can't help but think the Chinese are still so unused to truly public criticism (self or otherwise), still too sensitive to it--this China is a young teenage nation that often wants the credit and respect of a 5000+ civilization tacked on. What's all the opening night (uniformly described as once in a lifetime and unbeatable as spectacle) and it's tinkering but that insecurity manifest? I mean, they built curtain walls overnight to cover up the neighborhoods they didn't have time to tear down. What are the man-on-the-street "woe is us" commentary but the petulance of that age group manifest as well?

I think the media has been doing very well, at least by the relevant parties. Salon can run its "Is Torture an Olympic Sport"-style pieces all it wants, but no one follows Salon for Olympic coverage. Commentary about the coverage is where all the hand-wringing is, and I don't see the Chinese despairing that they're expectations of being ensnared in a complete global embrace of all-is-forgiven-love being criticized internally for its own outsized outlandishness. There's been one unpredictable murder of a foreigner, multiple Uigher protests and terrorist acts, and this is the actual coverage? Mild beyond belief. If anyone wants an actual debacle of jingoism to compare to, just recall the Atlanta games. Now that shit was dumb.

For myself, I had some anticipatory schaendenfreude in reserve, but been surprised about the whole thing (technical sleight of hand and glitches aside) and actually more interested than I ever expected to be in the sports themselves. My respect for the athletes is in proportion to whether or not I think they're kids guided too far into it, and everyone looks a lot more like an young adult this time. I keep my cynicism neatly in a box in my dehydrated heart, so I know well enough for one when spite enters the fray, and there's not nearly that much around.

hcduvall said...

Oh Spain.


HoBs said...

yeah, surprised at Chengora's lack of interest. From most people I know, and from the ratings, it seems like people were all surprisingly interested this time around.