Beijing Olympics: One World, One Dream, One Official Cheer

June 7, 2008

On Thursday, Reuters broke the unusual story about Beijing Olympics organizers releasing an official cheer or “chanting routine”. It’s for local Chinese spectators who “might be lacking in proper sports etiquette”. (And just in case they’ve gotten some ideas from European soccer fans.)

The UK Telegraph reported today that China has issued official instructions accompanied by cartoons and illustrations showing a young girl in “approved postures”:

In the first frame she is beginning to clap; in the second, doing a thumbs-up gesture; in the third, clapping again; and in the fourth, holding both arms up in the air.

In time, she also chants: “Aoyun! Jia You! Zhongguo! Jia You!” meaning “Olympics! Add petrol! China! Add petrol!

Reuters translates this chant much too literally as “add oil”. The Telegraph translates it into “add petrol” and offers a more contextual translation: “Go, Go!” Or, more fuel, more power, which makes a lot more sense.

Li Ning, president of the Beijing Etiquette Institute (!) teaches people that the chants are flexible and they can — should they be so moved — replace the words “Olympics” and “China” with names of individual athletes or other countries. Apparently this would demonstrate “open-mindedness”. It would also be “in line with general international principles for cheering.”

Wow. Since China is importing much of the world’s best creatives to showcase its growth and power, I wonder if they consulted with these choreographers first. Nothing beats tried and tested popular appeal.

And nothing beats democracy — which we hope gets smuggled in with the other imports. Happy Saturday!

Mixed Martial Arts: Elite XC Live Fighting on CBS

June 1, 2008

In late February, Yahoo News reported that ProElite’s Elite XC fight division and CBS television network had signed a multi-year agreement to bring Mixed Martial Arts to broadcast tv. CBS agreed to air four live fights per year as primetime Saturday night specials.

Kelly Kahl, senior EVP of CBS Primetime, talked about the agreement in February:

Mixed martial arts is one of the fastest growing sports in the country and a wildly popular entertainment vehicle for upscale, young adult audiences [i.e., 18-35 year old males].

Showtime network, part owner of Elite XC, began airing the live fights to cable audiences in 2007. Since both Showtime and CBS are owned by CBS Corp., the expansion into broadcast makes sense. But just last month, Reuters reported that Sumner Redstone, CBS Corp.’s CEO, disagrees with the deal, saying it

…probably was a mistake, not because CBS won’t turn a profit from it but because it is not “socially responsible” to air the typically bloody bouts on free, broadcast TV… I’m a lover not a fighter. I don’t like the sport.

In the same report, Ed Goren, Fox Sports president, echoed this sentiment saying “We don’t need money that badly.”


I have to agree with these network heads. Extreme fighting is one of the bloodiest, most violent spectator sports since gladiator fights were conceived as mass entertainment in Rome. Two fighters wearing little more than fingerless padded gloves enter a ring and proceed to knock each other out with a combination of boxing, kickboxing, and martial arts such as jujitsu. Fighters can use their arms, hands, legs, and feet. Based on last night’s broadcast from Newark, many fighters leave very bruised and very hurt. The spectacle is nauseating.

This is CBS’ attempt to increase ratings on Saturday nights when network viewership has declined significantly. I have to ask: why is this kind of violence drawing increasing numbers of viewers in? As much as the majority of Americans now seem to want to stop the war in Iraq, this type of programming begs the question: are we really built for peace? We seem to salivate so much at the sight of bloody warriors.

Photo: Dusten Cook for The Daily Texan Online. The photo shows Matt Thompson taking down Steve Jimenez in an extreme fighting match in 2006.

Two Chinas: Spectacles in Beijing, Ruins in Sichuan

May 28, 2008

I read Paul Goldberger‘s architecture column in The New Yorker today and appreciate his take on Beijing’s spectacular Olympic Green. He writes:

“If Tiananmen Square is a monument to the Maoist policy of self-sufficiency, the Olympic Green, ten miles and fifty years away, is an architectural statement of intent every bit as clear — a testament to the global ambitions of the world’s fastest-growing major economy.

At least two of the buildings on the Olympic Green—the National Stadium, by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, and the National Aquatics Center, by the Australian firm PTW Architects—are as innovative as any architecture on the planet, marvels of imagination and engineering that few countries would have the nerve or the money to attempt. The Chinese, right now, have plenty of both.”

What I really appreciate is Golberger’s ultimate point, which makes up part of his subtitle: “….but what message does it send?” It seems that the image of progress (something contemporary architecture is increasingly called upon to conjure) — rather than actual sociopolitical progress — is the administration’s goal. He critiques:

“…there’s no mistaking the old-fashioned monumentalist approach behind it. This is an Olympics driven by image, not by sensitive urban planning…

In both conception and execution, the best of Beijing’s Olympic architecture is unimpeachably brilliant. But the development also exemplifies traits—the reckless embrace of the fashionable and the global, the authoritarian planning heedless of human cost—that are elsewhere denaturing, even destroying, the fabric of the city.

Finishing Goldberger’s article, I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between Beijing’s futuristic facilities and the post-earthquake ruins of schools, hospitals, and factories in Sichuan province, where the death toll now hovers around 70,000. The dialectical tension between these two Chinas sadly testify to the transiency and fragility of human constructions and fabricated utopias.

TOP: Photo from Goldberger’s New Yorker column on Beijing; BOTTOM: Photo by Shiho Fukada for the New York Times, two girls at the ruins of Juyuan Middle School

The Madness of Manchester Riots

May 19, 2008

A couple weeks ago, I blogged about the madness of a few cops in Pennsylvania caught on video. This post is about the madness of football fans and the riots that erupted in Manchester last Wednesday. The city was hosting the UEFA Cup final and had set up television screens around the city center for the benefit of huge numbers of football fans arriving without tickets. Reports indicate that when the main screen (set up to provide live coverage to 10,000 people) failed to work 15 minutes before the game, people — predominantly male, many “inebriated beyond the point of reason” — began throwing bottles and cans. Technicians attempted to fix the technical problem, but were pelted with bottles and cans by angry fans and had to withdraw. Rioting and looting ensued. The violence escalated when riot police arrived.


Deputy Dog’s post yesterday shows horrific footage of mobs chasing after and attacking the police. Footage from CCTV is also on BBCNews: very disturbing as it clearly shows one officer getting taken down and beaten by a swarm. 15 police officers were injured. Shockingly and fortunately, none were killed. UEFA general secretary David Taylor condemned the rioting and said the Manchester authorities responded quickly, but simply did not anticipate the massive influx of people.

The pointlessness of this violence is terrifying. Sadly, it will likely lead to greater police presence and heightened preemptive restrictions on public gatherings. Already, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said: “We want to look at the powers the police have to be able to control the use of alcohol in public places. I think we also have to look at how the message is sent to people for the future … that if you want to come to a city where you don’t have a ticket, you should think twice about that.”

Olympic Protests Hint at a Global Revolution

April 7, 2008

Just as the IOC’s decision to host the XXIXth Olympic Games in Beijing signaled a massive shift in the global balance of power and capital, so has it pried open the floodgates of a transnational movement for revolutionary change. This is an unprecedented struggle for multiple worlds that has multiple authors, multiple constituents, multiple visions (not one world running on a neocon-neoliberal feeding tube; see my 3/28 post). This photo in today’s New York Times captures vividly the disjuncture between the old orders (represented by the vertical elements: gilded monument in the foreground and the Eiffel Tower in the background) and the bodies of the multitude (the horizontal socialscape of living and mobile people):


The protests in London and Paris that today extinguished the Olympic flame (for the first time since the torch relay began in the 1936 Nazi Games) are just one node in a larger constellation of contemporary, emerging forces. This constellation is vast, complex, and ever-changing, connecting the Zapatistas in Mexico, the poor in Thailand, the landless in Brazil, Sans Papiers in France, and countless unreported others. This constellation is radically different from the struggles of the American revolutionaries in 1776, the Paris Commune in 1871, the Hungarian uprising in 1956, the student revolutions in 1968. In “We Are Everywhere“:

“What is emerging now is a dialogue of a million voices which is building the first truly interconnected global uprising, an unprecedented transnational social revolution, a revolution made up of thousands of revolutions, not just one. A revolution that is not predetermined or predictable: not going around in circles but moving in every direction simultaneously. What we are witnessing now is actually a lot more like evolution, a work in progress that makes itself up as it goes along, constantly adapting to each others’ needs. An unprecedented global (r)evolution, is taking place and many of us don’t recognize it.

… As networks grow more connected, by webs and actions, wires and stories, many things will emerge that we, as mere neurons in the network, don’t expect, don’t understand, can’t control, and may not even perceive. The only way to understand an emergent system is to let it run, because no individual agent will ever be able to reveal the whole. The global movement of movements for life against money, for autonomy and dignity, for the dream of distributed direct democracy, are following an irresistible logic. It is a logic as old as the hills and the forests, an eco-logic, a bio-logic, the profound logic of life.”

Junot Diaz Speaks

April 5, 2008

Yesterday at 7pm at the Village Community School: Listened with awe to Junot Diaz read from two of his major published works to date, “Drown” (1996, a collection of short stories) and “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” (2007, novel). Diaz gives me hope that the structures and institutions that restrict, antagonize, and exclude can also be fertile ground for criticality, complexity, compassion, and good old common sense.

Impossible to speak for, or even summarize, the richness of Diaz’ thoughts. So here’s a 45-minute video of a reading/talk he gave in September 2007 at (sorry) Google. The Q&A after his reading is precious and liberating. (This clip is NOT a sound bite. It’s sustenance for your soul without religious or ideological pretense, so go grab a cup or glass of whatever and have a listen.)

2008 Beijing Olympics: Free Tibet

March 28, 2008

The torch has been lit for the XXIXth Modern Olympiad which opens in Beijing, China on 8/8/08. Its slogan “One World, One Dream” promotes a globalized neoliberal hegemony where individuals share a single vision. Shockingly blatant and fascist in its call for autocracy (as opposed to democracy, which would translate into a “Multiple Worlds, Multiple Dreams” slogan), this multinational sports spectacle recalls two prior games: the XIth Olympiad in Berlin 1936 which coincided with the Nazi regime’s rise to power and the XXth Olympiad in Munich 1972 marked by the desperate Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation.

In 2008, these games again prefigure a new world order, one dominated by China. Massive unrest in Tibet and the government’s violent military crackdown this month reveal just how repressive and authoritarian the Chinese reality still is (despite the pr frenzy over its art fairs, cultural hotspots, open doors, and new markets). While no one wants—or perhaps can afford—to boycott the games, French president Nicolas Sarkozy has already threatened to skip out. With so many eyes (and recording devices) on China, here’s hoping the Olympic Games do prefigure a new world order, one that includes—not just dreams of—a free Tibet.

A brilliant graphic published by Neil at Beau Bo D’Or:


…and a variation depicting Beijing’s air pollution:


Vogue Cover Sparks Racial Charges

March 26, 2008

Basketball superstar LeBron James and Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen are featured on April’s cover of Vogue. In early March, the choice seemed to spark media interest mainly because James is only the third man to grace the cover of Vogue in the title’s 116-year history (following Richard Gere and George Clooney). Today, however, the choice seems to be igniting controversy and sparking debates about stereotyped media representations, particularly whether the cover’s striking resemblance to King Kong iconography actually critiques or merely strengthens racism against African American men, as well as sexism against women in general (although the latter is so rampant in fashion that the uproar is largely over the more-unusual former.)

While pundits, talk show hosts, and bloggers continue to spin this in millions of directions, consider the trio of images above: on the left, Vogue’s April cover; middle, Jessica Lang and King Kong in the 1976 remake directed by John Guillermin; right, Naomi Watts and King Kong in the 2005 remake by Peter Jackson. You decide.