'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Celebrate the 2010 Winter Olympics (Part 2) 

I missed this last week. Apparently, the Olympic flame has been kept under a sort of house arrest:

They came by the thousands to get a photo with the Olympic flame. They had to settle for a shot of the Olympic fence.

The chain-link wall keeping the unwashed away from the outdoor Olympic cauldron is a menacing doozy, maybe 10 feet high and peaked with sharp prongs. It's more North Korea than West Coast Canada, but there it is, fronting a demilitarized zone the size of a football field that separates the flame from the public's closest vantage point.

And in the minds of many who went to the scene on Sunday, it carried this message: These Olympics are in Canada, but they're not ours.

It's so incredibly wrong, said Alex, a Vancouver businessman who didn't want to give his surname. What always ticks me off is the officials and the dignitaries, they can go past (the fence). But that's my money over there. I'm paying taxes, big time, for this.

Indeed, while a few lucky souls with credentials to the adjacent International Broadcast Centre snapped pictures by the cauldron, the rest of us had to settle for poking zoom lenses through mesh.

It's sad, said Brianne Boehm, an 18-year-old studying at the University of Victoria. It's supposed to be for everyone.

As one might expect, the IOC responded with an inadequate face saving solution that failed to dissipate public dissatisfaction:

Now, organizers have opened an observation deck on the roof of a nearby building. From there, visitors can get clean I was there shots.

But getting there is another story.

You now have to wait, and wait, and wait in a line that usually takes an hour — all the while listening to someone shout instructions through a bullhorn.

It's better than things were. But it's not exactly ideal — and some visitors are still grumbling, calling the new setup a joke and a tease.

If you click on the link for this story (here it is, again), you can also watch an entertaining video of people complaining about having to stand in line for about an hour to take a picture of it, with one person acidly observing that such paranoid security is not Vancouver.

Oh, but it is. Perhaps, this is what some call an educational moment, when people are confronted with things as they are, not as they would wish them to be. Limiting access to the flame to political, economic and social dignataries is a perfect encapsulation of the corporatized, autocratic philosophy of the IOC. And, consistent with such a philosophy, the IOC has demanded a substantial amount of public subsidy from various Canadian governmental entities. It is essential for the populace to pay for the privilege of hosting international elites.

Brianne Boehm naively believed that the Games are supposed to be for everyone, but the IOC, since its inception, has always organized them around the opposite principle. It is rare to see athletes at the Winter Games from lower middle class and poor backgrounds, and, of course, it is impossible to attend the events unless you are either pretty well off financially or willing to incur significant debt. Even most Vancouver residents find it financially challenging to attend Olympic events.

Indeed, the Games aren't even for Vancouver, instead, the city merely serves as a scenic backdrop for the IOC and multinational television networks to make millions of dollars by broadcasting events, often edited and tape delayed, to an enormous, passive global consumer audience. As I said in 2008, just prior to the Summer Olympics in Beijing: The Olympic Torch has therefore become the symbol of the dominant neoliberal economic order. If Alex, the businessman who was unwilling to give his last name (perhaps, for fear of financial retribution in tolerant Vancouver?), is any indication, even some of the bourgeoisie are rejecting it, if only because they find themselves taxed to pay for it.

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