Sunday, August 12, 2012

White People Can't Run in Hijabs

Reflections on the Olympics 2012

What’s interesting about the Olympics isn’t the commercialization or the nationalism.  These have ruined it for many years, and this year is no different.  This year there is a Nike ‘swoosh’ on nearly every track suit, swimming costume and warm-up jacket.  Nike does not even have to run ads because every athlete is an ad.  Even the Russians are now labeled.  Of course, that was the point of promoting counter-revolution in the USSR – expanding the markets for U.S. and western products.  Right next to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin is the U.S. embassy, now on the ‘east’ side of town.  And right across the street?  A Starbucks.  Lining Unter Den Linden are no longer stores selling the plastic Trabant, but stores selling luxury Italian automobiles like Lamborghini. 

Ahh, freedom. 

I understand in the next Olympics, the athletes will be tattooed with the Nike emblem, with a number for individual identification.

Nor is it enough to watch the ads for one of the Deutschland’s best cars, BMW, promoting U.S. sports, but now “God’ – ah, Morgan Freeman, is portentously narrating VISA ads.  And Freeman is a self-styled liberal-leftist and atheist.  Does he need the money? 

Or the nationalism.  Is it now a requirement for every athlete to literally wrap themselves in their national flag after winning their competition?  The odious coverage by NBC featuring bland and ignorant hosts Matt Lauer, Meredith Vieira, Bob Costas and Ryan Seacrest concentrates solely on American athletes, from what I can see.  If one is not participating, that event will not be covered, which is why we have not seen some events at all.  NBC cut the tribute to the British victims of the 2005 London tube bombings from their opening ceremony broadcast, claiming Americans wouldn’t be interested.  Probably it interfered with squeezing some more ads on, but NBC is not going to say that.

So this is all as it always is.  6 corporations control most of our media.  Relax!  You are in good hands. 

However, the Olympics are still the most popular international sporting event in the world, hence there are some things that happen that are not under complete U.S. control.  I’ve got to hand it to Danny Boyle - the opening ceremony started like some theatrical version of the “Making of the English Working Class.”  Boyle, of course, is the producer of the subtly subversive film, “Slumdog Millionaire.”  The ceremony started with Tolkein’s idyllic world of the English village - which was then replaced by hundreds of industrial and mine workers emerging from pagan-haven Glastonbury Hill, and hammering out a very large Olympic ring (the one to rule them all?) - accompanied by the thundering of drums.  Strutting around while they worked were the top-hatted capitalists of ostensible yore.  Of course, to please everyone, they had to fly in the bored Queen, Daniel Craig as James Bond and the military, but then the damn thing veered back towards celebrating the National Health Service (single payer for you Yanks), British childrens’ stories like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Harry Potter, then finished with a history of British rock music, ending with the off-key contribution of “Sir” Paul McCartney.  (See commentary on ‘Music Sell-Outs,’ below.)  They certainly couldn’t end the story with crowds of tie-wearing capital-markets traders and bankers from the City with their feet on the necks of office workers and factory blokes, but hey, it’s a thought.  And maybe Boyle wished he could.

Unlike U.S. sports coverage, which is dominated by year-around exclusive focus on male baseball, football and basketball, the Olympics gives equal play to women’s sports.  This is absolutely rare.  So for the shortest time, Americans get to see strong, fit, good-looking women compete equally, and not be relegated to the background.  And surprisingly, the evidence shows that white American women cannot run and that black women have a lock on many track events. We’ve known for years that American black men outrun white men, at least in the Olympics.  And this seems to be true internationally too.  Jamaican Usain Bolt (Insane Bolt?), a theatrical name if I ever saw one, is now the fastest human on the planet, at least in short distances.  Russian and Ukrainian women are about the only women that give black American and African women a run for their medals.  This, of course, reflects social practices in Russia and the Ukraine that have existed for many years, especially during the workers’ states period.

In my day in high school, the only thing women were allowed to do in sports was join the ‘dance line,’ which was like the cheer-leader squad.  There were no women’s sports.  After Title IX in 1972 (under Nixon, I might add) American girls were finally allowed to get involved in sports, and this has made great changes in women’s abilities.  Many women of my generation are not involved in exercising at all, while many younger women participate in sports and exercise, simply due to Title IX.  Just look at the capable young female bike riders on the streets to see how this plays out in real life. 

In the Olympics, women’s achievements seemed to be roughly linked to the development of a country, and also its cultural values – specifically religion.  It is not just that countries which are wealthy or partly or mostly developed always bring forth women.  For example, Saudi Arabia is wealthy, and India is supposedly one of the great rising ‘tigers’ of neo-liberalism.  (While the real tigers are all being killed.)  Yet in neither country have women made a significant contribution in the Olympics.  The Saudi’s and other countries were humiliated into enrolling a couple of women in hijabs this year for the first time.  As a result, this is the first year that women are represented on every Olympic team.  India, with 1.2 billion people, spent more money than they ever have, and so far have only gained 5 medals – with a woman winning bronze in badminton and another in judo.  Yet China, which is sometimes compared to India, and does not suffer from Hindu and Islamic fundamentalism, sent 100s of women to the games.  African women participated too – even from the poorest countries like Kenya and Ethiopia. (One winner oddly plastered a picture of Mary and baby Jesus on her forehead after she won a long distance race.)   The Saudi women – and other women from Muslim countries – are almost invisible.  The only exceptions are some Turkish runners and one Malyasian girl in diving.  Turkey, under the revolutionary Kemel Ataturk, expelled Islamic controls in the war for independence in 1922 after a 4 year war for independence against the British.  Women were then given rights, unlike many other Middle-eastern countries.  The Turkish women did not run in hijabs or burkas, which would make running harder, and at least got into the final heats.

India and Saudi Arabia, both U.S. allies, are consistently listed in the top 10 worst countries for women in the world.  

The Malaysian girl came from a country that is only 61% Islamic, and she became the first Malaysian woman to win a medal for her country, a bronze.  I do not know her religion, but Islam is weaker in Malaysia than in Afghanistan or Iran, for instance.  Several Iranian women did compete in the Olympics.  However, they are not allowed to compete in swimming events, due to the allegedly skimpy clothing involved.  Clothing for every sport in Iran has to be approved by the regime – and Iranian women are still waiting for approval regarding karate uniforms, so they could not compete there either.  Iranian women cannot compete in any sport in Iran before an audience of men, even their fathers, which of course limits their abilities and participation.  How the reactionaries in Tehran square that with competing internationally before men at the Olympics is anyone’s guess.  Perhaps the immense political humiliation that would follow if they forbade it?

Title IX was a product of a domestic women’s movement in 1972, but was also the product of the success of women’s sports in the USSR and eastern Europe, especially as displayed at the Olympics. The comparison did not sit well with US authorities.  After all, the Soviets had attained their version of Title IX and the ERA in 1917 after the Bolshevik Revolution.  Like civil rights, which was not just a product of black struggle, but also chided into being by relentless international propaganda against racism run by the USSR, and through domestic, communist-inspired songs like “Strange Fruit” (See review of ‘Malcolm X,’ or “33 Revolutions Per Minute,” below) - abrogations of women's rights are having a harder and harder time existing in national isolation.

Red Frog
August 12, 2012

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