Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Someone to cheer for in the Olympics

For the first time I happy that China is hosting the 2008 Olympic Games.

I'm not going to write about the politics of what's happening in Tibet and the surrounding regions; that's something I'm still learning about; there are plenty of other writers and bloggers who I've found helpful. Let me know if you find any particularly good ones. I would not particularly recommend Lindsey Hilsum's article in last week's New Statesman, though I've given you the link anyway, which seems to run against some law of good sense or another (unusual for her -- I usually find her articles there to be excellent, very insightful). On the other hand, for example, of things that I whole-heartedly recommend, my friend and colleague Jo Nash is in Dharmasala, and her blog reveals much we are not hearing about how this conflict is playing itself out in other parts of the world.

Let's not underestimate the importance of this movement, even if what's happening in Tibet isn't occupying as much space as it should in the nightly news, which simply seems to be because there aren't enough pictures to warrant circulating the story on 24 hour news channels, and that in itself should be cause for serious concern and questions. Primarily, how could such an authoritarian, reprehensible regime be awarded the games in the first place?

In the best tradition of the political-as-personal (or the self-important funnelling of international events into narrow, narcissistic narratives on blogs), I want to take this opportunity to revisit one of my favourite whinges, in this new, improved context. So my story starts 20 years ago. I've wanted the Beijing Olympic Games to fail, and fail most miserably, from the start, you see, just as I wanted the 1996 Games in Atlanta to fail miserably (and, less so, the 2000 Sydney Games, but that was for entirely different, entirely petty reasons that I'll go into another day). I want the games in Beijing this summer to fail because these should have been Toronto's Olympic Games.

We – and I say 'we' even though I haven't lived in Toronto for over a decade – were in serious contention for the Olympics that, to be fair, should have gone to Athens in 1996, the hundredth anniversary of the modern Games. And the whole city was prepared to accept a noble, well-fought silver behind that sentimental choice, even if Toronto, we felt, our city best represented all of the ideals of the modern games in our tolerant, multi-cultural city where people from all around the world have come together in some sort of harmony.

But those Games, back in the days when you could shamelessly still buy Games outright, went to Atlanta, Georgia, home of Turner Broadcasting, Coca Cola, some airline or other and a host of other capitalist unsavories. It was a fitting and worthy choice for the 100th anniversary of the Games, because ,as one radio commentator said at the time, athletes could come from all over the world, enjoy a day of international co-operation and friendly competition, and then at night gather around the burning crosses of a Klan meetings.

But eight years later, after Athens had their much-deserved Games, it should finally have been Toronto's turn. And we were convinced, in the post-scandal IOC, where no one could simply buy the Games like a take-away pizza, that the voting member of the International Olympic Committee could chose no city other than Toronto to host the 2008 Games. Of course we were wrong that money would no longer play a role in the selection of Olympic cities, and we forgot, too, that the IOC is a happy gathering of retired fascists, deposed royals and assorted assholes of all races and nationalities who look with quaint nostalgia upon China's versions of state censorship and oppression. We lost.

At the time the selection for this year's host city, I remember being completely ambivalent about the possibility of the Games coming to Toronto. I wanted my city to be recognised as World Class, yes, I wanted to investment in public services and beautifying the city that the Olympic money would bring, but like most old-school lefties I was always making mental lists of what the money should have been spent on instead: public services, affordable housing, a war-chest for local independent coffee shops to fight off the inevitable invasion from the Starbucks Empire. I was also aware how the attention of the world's media would – and should – force us to face some uncomfortable questions about how we mis-treat our own minorities and indigenous groups.

But, the IOC saved all Torontonians from all of those difficult questions and self-examinations, and now it's China problem instead. And it it really couldn't have happened to a more deserving nation.

I've heard that they are 'unhappy' that the coverage of the World's MediaTM is focussing on these negative events. Well, tough shit. See – shit is never too far away in excretera. And this shit will be very tough, very painful, for this country that has been constipated for far too long. That goes with the territory, and I'm finally glad that something good might come out of these, or perhaps any, Olympics. With any luck, Tibet can use this opportunity to garner sustained global pressure on China to do something about Tibet – and not just Tibet, of course, but everyone else with a gripe against this State, all of whom I think and hope we might see a lot of in the next few months.

So maybe the IOC knew what they were doing when they gave the Games to Bejing. Maybe the IOC, instead of being a tea club of pensioned Nazi sympathisers, are actually an undercover band of freedom fighters, cleverly disguised.

Well, no, because what is particularly damning right now is the sycophantic way that other nations – and unfortunately right now it seems that Europe is particularly culpable – are collaborating with Chinese sensitivities. This began with the awarding of the Games to Beijing in the first place. But while individuals are starting to make noises, at last (e.g. Speilburg et al – better late than never), nations and Official Government Spokespersons are spewing out the same, inoffensive, watered-down lunch. It seems to me watching the news last week that the protests in Greece were quickly and violently suppressed by Greek security; Greek cameras and producers pulled away from the scenes interrupting the Chinese envoy's speech after the torch lighting. And they won't be the only nation to be pathetically compliant.

One more thing: How do we like China's defence in all of this? Who is really to blame for their brutal oppression of a population that does not want to be ruled? That evil extremist, the Dali Lama. Why not? Demonising your enemy to subdue your own people always seems to work for other Superpowers that China aspires to join around that table in Davos or wherever it is that the lizard-rulers of this planet's most powerful nations meet. But while I don't know as much about Buddhism as I'd like to, even my basic understanding knows that there is little room in its tenets for any violent action. No justifications for realpolitik or terrorism that I know of. I think they need a better excuse, really.

excretera. explained

This is just shit, really.

Blogging, I mean. Me blogging, to be more specific. Well, most things, actually, seem to me to be shit. But right now I'm talking about blogging. Don't get me wrong: I think blogging is a wonderful thing and I'm really enjoying reading lots of very smart people's very intelligent ideas, and lots of very funny people's very humorous posts, and lots of people with a gift for writing being endlessly entertaining. And I want in on the action.

But when I ask myself why I want a blog, I don't have an easy answer. No academic ideas I need to get off my chest (I can do that here), no particular agenda to promote, no specific cause I want to advance. I just want to write, and I want to say, publicly, a lot of things about a lot of different subjects.

Which leads me back to shit. Because when I ask myself why I want to write a blog, that's what I see. For those of you with a clear sense of purpose and direction, blogging, I'm guessing, is a convenient and efficient way to broadcast important ideas cheaply to an infinite audience. For me, however, despite my misgivings and my ummings and gosh-shuckings, it can only really be regarded as desperate self-promotion; an act of narcissism. But such a diagnosis is SO 1985. So I'm thinking that this is more of an act of anal aggression: the psychopathology of the twenty-first century!

So when I say 'shit' I don't mean that flippantly in the slightest. I regard shit as occupying a place of central importance in our culture, in our mental space. But I don't mean the actual stuff, shit -- please do not send me your pictures -- but shit as a metaphor, shit as a function, shit as imbued with psychological meaning.

I'm not explaining this very well. It all comes down to the concept of anality. (It's great fun, in academia, when people ask you what you're research is, to reply in all earnestness, 'Right now, I'm really into anal aggression.') I'll let some more intelligent people speak for me:

For its faeces are the infant’s first gift, a part of his body which he will give up only on persuasion by someone he loves, to whom indeed, he will make a spontaneous gift of it as a token of affection; for, as a rule, infants do not dirty strangers. [...] Defaecation affords the first occasion on which the child must decide between a narcissistic and an object-loving attitude. He either parts obediently with his faeces, ‘sacrifices’ them to his love, or else retains them for purposes of auto-erotic satisfaction and later as a means of asserting his own will. If he makes the latter choice we are in the presence of defiance (obstinacy) which, accordingly, springs from a narcissistic clinging to anal erotism.

That's Freud, on the idea of anal-eroticism. So it seems that now I'm ready to move out of stage of auto-erotic narcissism and share my poos, my spontaneous gifts, with you all, rather than just hoarding them for my own self-indulgent satisfaction. But there's another, more compelling side to anality. Here's another psychoanalyst, Melanie Klein:

These excrements and bad parts of the self are meant not only to injure but also to control and to take possession of the object.

So poo can be the first gift to those we love most, or a deadly weapon that we wield to attack our greatest of enemies. (For both Freud and Klein, incidentally, these are one and the same: the mother. I'm not going to be so narrow in my range of objects of love and hate. I hope.) And it's Klein's concept of anal aggression that I think is a more compelling narrative for explaining these tendencies in our culture, for people's need to project something of themselves into strange, foreign object/people, to put something from inside themselves (their ideas, there opinions, their theses/faeces) into the world, into someone else's insides, in order to control and manipulate -- ultimately, to render that Big Scary Other less strange and foreign.

More specific examples will doubtlessly follow.