I love America. I bleed red, white, and blue. This is the effect of watching the Olympics over the course of the summer has had on me. Our media machine has hyped these Olympics to levels never seen before. NBC has shown 3,600 hours of coverage on the Olympics, and based on an informal survey of the people I know, we have eaten up every moment of it. Why is it?
Sports provide us with countless meaningful moments throughout history. Examples include Jack Johnson becoming the first black boxing champion, Jesse Owens and company dominating the Berlin Games, Jackie Robinson playing for the Dodgers, football resuming after 9/11. The list goes on and on with moments that defined the struggles of generations and captured the human spirit. These Olympics spilled over with historic moments. I can’t continue on without mentioning the name of Michael Phelps and how he now may deserve mention as one of the greatest athletes ever.
However, these Olympic games have proven two things. For the first few days George Bush could not escape the public spotlight as he observed the games as part of his Presidential duty. He claims that coming to these games amidst the controversy surrounding China will prove fruitful in our discussions about human rights and other negotiations with China. While time can only tell, this does not seem to be the immediate case. History has provided many examples of the entanglement of foreign policy and the Olympics. In 1980, Jimmy Carter boycotted the Munich Olympics because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Any student of history knows the lack of impact that had, aside from the Soviets in turn boycotting the Los Angeles games. The Berlin games showed Hitler that his Aryan theory of supremacy was wrong. He still tried to establish a society based on that assumption. In the 3,600 hours of coverage, the human rights violations committed by China have not been brought to the forefront of American thought. In fact, NBC seems to have a love affair with China. While this may help continue the trend of good trade relations with China, it seems that it will do little to actually promote change where it is needed most within China.
For much of the 20th Century, foreign relations were defined by the Cold War. The Olympics became another battle ground for this conflict, and the United States competed with the Soviet Union in the medal count. Now we are competing with China in the medal count, keeping up the Cold War mentality. However, there seems to be a slight shift in this ideology. Ask any American on the street, and certain gold medals have a higher value than others. Would we rather have basketball gold, or women’s 50m air pistol gold? When the Soviet Union collapsed into Russia and disappeared from sports dominance, our new rival found a new way to compete with us in the medal count. China ends the games with more gold medals than the United States, but the U.S. have more overall medals. Our counter argument is we won the medals that really count and that we won the most medals. What this seems to confirm is that while world trends may say other wise, the media and popular culture still consider the United States as the hegemonic force in the world. The gold medals that matter are the ones that we say matter. The ones that you win, and you value, they don’t have the same worth.
So what have these games provided us beyond excellent moments in sports? The pickings are thin. We know that China will continue as China always has now with the silent approval of the world media. It seems that the United States continues to think in an outdated mode of foreign policy, especially when it comes to the agenda of the world. When we look back on these games, I feel that we’ll be wondering where all the meaningful moments went.