Monday, August 11, 2008

Dissonant Olympic notes

Just watched Michael Phelps win his third gold and set his second individual world record, and there's nothing dissonant about that. I love to see people achieve things, and this emphasis on individual achievement (not that there isn't team achievement too) in the American culture has to be part of the reason the U.S. does well -- besides the obvious advantages of size and prosperity.

Which doesn't really lead us to the opening ceremonies, but it';s where I want to go. The NYT said it contained a reassuring message: "Do not worry. We mean no harm." I don't think that was the most important message at all, though some aspects of it were there. Assembling 2008 drummers to do exactly the same routine, with the same gestures and facial expressions was impressive in its way, but it also sent the message that this regime doesn't consider the individual as important as the people in mass, especially doing utterly uniform and identical things, is what we cherish. Did anyone else find that other than reassuring. Matt Leone in our office today said it was impressive but just a little creepy.

The impression was reinforced by the gigantic wave-like show with various boxes going up and down to create waves, characters and ather graphic images. Impressive again, in its way, but both more and less so to know it was all done by people, not levers or computers. It almost said -- though the opening ceremonies contained plenty of CG -- that we don't need no stinking computers, we have 1.4 billion people and they're eminently trainable and obedient. There was almost a Triumph of the Will-like display of gigantic, impressive collective action. You know this is a collectivist regime rather than one that cherishes the individual as an individual. I don't think this regime has the kind of geopolitical ambitions that should make the U.S. worry much, but I would hate living under it.

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