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The Beijing Olympics: Ideals Vs. Reality

Usually I'm inspired by the Olympics--including the opening ceremony and its parade of nations. Young people from all over the world smiling and waving as they represent their countries. What could be more uplifting?

But Beijing's 2022 version hit a sour note with me. As the athletes marched into the stadium, the accompanying music was a major turnoff. Schlocky versions of every famous classical music theme were piped in at full volume--a shameless sendup of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Elgar that made me cringe. Elevator music? Really?

Much has already been written about China using the games as propaganda. They even went so far as to choose a Uighur athlete to help light the Olympic flame--a cruel juxtaposition against the backdrop of China's ongoing oppression of millions of Uighurs in Xinjiang. Vladimir Putin sat in attendance, cheering Russia's athletes, even as his troops on the borders of Ukraine continue to provoke international tension. Have the bad guys won? Is it all a sham?

My best answer is the legacy of the 1936 Olympics, when Nazi Germany tried the same trick: using the games to promote their own agenda, the "superiority" of Hitler's "Master Race." Despite swastikas flying all over the stadium, perhaps those Olympics' most enduring image is Jesse Owens winning four gold medals in track and field. Hitler walked out of the stadium when Owens won the "world's fastest man" race, the 100 meters. A Black American rained on Hitler's parade.

The powerful and cynical seem unable to resist trying to use the inspiring images of the world's youth and strength for political gain. Yet the dream the Olympics promote is in fact designed to thwart their efforts. Bringing athletes from every background to compete fairly in a spirit of unity and brotherhood is anathema to what dictators and ideologues want. They want control. But time and again, the Olympics have denied their best efforts.

So yes, protest China's human rights violations and ham-handed musical efforts--but let the Games begin! Their beauty and power bely what politicians and propagandists would make of them. Enjoy the Olympics.

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