Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Olympic Opening Ceremonies, Progressive Values, and Hypocrisy

I'm on record as being a big fan of Olympic Ceremonies. Frankly, the sillier the better. Remember the Vancouver Closing Ceremonies, where they just brought out a bunch of inflatable moose and guys dressed as Mounties and Michael Buble was there for no reason, singing about maple leaves? Loved. That. Shit. So, when the London Opening Ceremonies proved to be every bit as spectacular and silly- and then, all of a sudden, celebrated Great Britain's progressive history- I was obviously quite pleased.

If you don't believe me on the progressive narrative, check out this from Andrew Sullivan and this from David Zirin. These two don't agree on much- Sullivan is a British Tory, Zirin an American Socialist- but they both know that Danny Boyle was trying to celebrate progressive values. There were suffragettes and punk rock. There was heavy suspicion of Dickensian captains of industry. There was a celebration of British soft power and culture. And of course, there was the NHS.

Of course, sports always claim to celebrate progressive values. Sports, supposedly- hopefully- represent a Grand Meritocracy where your background doesn't matter, only your ability to play. The field or court or ice or track is supposed to be a safe place where ethnic, tribal, or nationalistic rivalries don't matter; it's supposed to be a place where we can just play a game together, and while we're competing, there's clear mutual respect. Every sport tries to sell itself based on these values.

And a lot of times, it's bullshit. Most of the time, even when it's not, the meritocratic and diplomatic elements are lightly draped over corporate and kleptocratic heavy machinery. As Zirin points out, that's certainly the case in the Olympics, with the abject corruption of the IOC and the obsession with "brand protection". That opens folks like Boyle up to charges of "hypocrisy". But it's also a lousy reason to not celebrate progressive values; if that's the standard we're going to use, we're just going to end up with less celebrations of progressive values in sports. I find the argument that the Opening Ceremony would have been better had it accurately reflected a corporate mindset or had it avoided values altogether really, really unpersuasive.

Anyway, as I've said before, the fact that the major sports industries know they have to sell their product in progressive terms is, in and of itself, a victory. I'll celebrate that, then go out and make sure they live up to their ads tomorrow.

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