So let me be clear. I think the Olympians in Rio are spectacular and I thank God for them. They shine brightly and inspire us in many ways. Frank Bruni in the NY Times did not want that glory to be supplanted by complaint. And I don’t want to write this post and supplant it either.
But I do want to complain.
I am not complaining about all those nice kids being nice, being healthy, being dedicated and having a great time with their families all lined up in the stadium to watch them be the best. Just look at Simone. Thank you Jesus!
I am complaining because I think Christians should always be testing the spirits to see if they are true. And the Olympic Games tell a lot of lies, in case you are not noticing.
The Olympics imply, if not say, that the games are about bringing together athletes and supporters from around the world in a peaceful “fraternity.” But it is hard not to think that the games are mainly for profit, not love. Certainly NBC wants profit; Brazil expected some; the athletes hope to get endorsements and sponsors so they can spend their whole lives training. What’s more, the games are about the games, not community: the tradition, the health of the movement, the sports industry that needs to find a way to be fed.
The Olympic rings are supposed to represent peace and fraternity among nations, combining, as they do, all the colors of the flags. When Michael Phelps finally hugs Chad le Clos instead of trying to burn a hole in him with his laser vision, maybe that’s working out on an individual level. But when Russia is banned and booed, you got to wonder what is really going on.
- Rio sold itself to the world at the expense of their poor. The Olympics seems to have been the political straw that broke the corrupt camel’s back. The games don’t always bring peace and fraternity. The 1996 Atlanta Games displaced homeless people, the Sydney Games foisted a huge debt on Australia, the 2004 Athens Games played a role in the Greek financial crisis, and the 2008 Beijing Olympics highlighted a repressive military state. Now, in Rio de Janeiro, private developers are reaping profits and exploiting workers, while anti-Olympic protesters are treated like terrorists.
- NBC bought the rights to distribute the footage of the “fraternity’s” activities. They cut it up according to whatever algorithm they thought would supply the most return and sold the bits to whoever would buy them. The powers assess if we are watching enough to justify their investment (they love watching us watch and watching themselves watching us). Am I the only one still complaining that giant corporations (Comcast owns NBC) can buy the airwaves? I am not sure it is right to commodify communication.
- Are there regulations for how small your bikini must be because beach volleyball players want to wear them, or because for years they pimped themselves out to get some viewers?
- Is the crush of media outlets looking for stories to harvest from among the brilliant youth of the world really a good thing for them? Aren’t they exploited for a hot minute and then discarded when the machine moves on to unharvested people?
We could go on with a lot more questions, couldn’t we? (And act like we did not already know the answers). It is tempting to hear people say, “Don’t be so negative” and shut up, just stop testing spirits altogether, just let Comcast create the world and be the ruler of the air. At the same time it is tempting to not shut up, go ahead and damn it all and miss all the beauty in the middle of the dump, like missing all those beautiful children in the favela. Maybe most of all, it is tempting just to shut down and just buy it all, as every product vies to make some connection between itself and the shiny Olympians, as if Coke really were some universal drink of love.
I am not cynical, which Merriam Webster says is a “sneering disbelief in sincerity or integrity.” I am not sneering at the Olympics. Much the contrary, I fully believe that humankind if destined to be sincere and integrous. I fully believe in sincerity and integrity. I want to have them as part of my character. And it is not hard to see how sincere one must be to train for the Olympics!
Jesus followers are set free to shine, not just complain that people are shedding false light. It’s just that when we shine, the light falls on NBC and I realize that I sincerely disbelieve that they had the world’s interests in mind when they delivered the opening ceremony in tiny bits between commercials. They pre-sold $1.2 billion in ads, showed a half hour of them during the ceremony and had five breaks in the first half hour. That could make someone cynical, not shiny. As a Jesus follower I’ll try not to go there. I’m trying to note the deadly lie in the middle of Olympics at the same time I am straining out the goodness and love all around us.