This post is not about the 2014 Winter Olympic games themselves. The exorbitant cost of the games and allegations of corruption have been well-documented, as have the moments of sporting triumph, and heartbreak.
Instead this post covers the coverage of the games by Western journalists. I think in our coverage of Sochi we learned as much about ourselves as we did about Russia, and it was at times counterproductive.
There was the twitter phenomenon of journalists posting photos of their unsatisfactory accommodations. No wifi, broken doorhandles, and failing plumbing, all presented as voyeuristic selfies. Leave it to Bill Burr to call BS on all of us (skip to the 5:22 mark for his Olympics rant):
All the journalists complaining that the water isn’t running and all that type of shit…am i the only guy who watched all those cold war movies when i was growing up? You know what it’s like over there…there’s 20 people who have some shit, and everyone else is getting fucked; its unbelievably corrupt.
A little later in the podcast comes a money quote about Russia’s intolerance towards gays:
How can you have the technology to blow up the world, and still not understand humanity?
Likewise, opposition leader and vocal critic of the Sochi Olympics Garry Kasparov also found the coverage of Sochi banalia tiresome:
As Kasparov makes clear, there are more salient political issues that have taken a back seat to bathroom selfies: freedom of speech, transparent elections, and freedom of religion and sexuality.
Perhaps incensed by Putin’s smug homophobia, sexual freedom in Russia has become a cause celebre. This is a worthy cause but, as Julia Ioffe recently wrote, advocacy journalism has become counterproductive in the backdrop of Sochi. (“The Only People Harassing the Gays of Sochi are the Foreign Journalists“)
There was a lot of mockery of the opening ceremony, and especially of the police choir singing Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’. It was kitsch.
But Putin loves kitsch. Why was the police choir invited to perform? Because Putin wanted them there! They performed the song at a November 2013 tribute event during which Vladimir Putin was overcome with emotion and actually cried! (video in the link)
The 2013 performance:
О вкусах не спорят.
It is counterproductive to bash the kitsch without understanding where it’s coming from. And, as Bill Burr implies, the ‘scandals’ that did come out of Sochi suggest that many journalists did not understand, and continued to be shocked.
This had two impacts:
– Engaging in Russia-bashing at a moment of heightened national pride actually boosted Putin’s popularity. Pictures on twitter of broken doorknobs will never induce Russians to root against their own Olympic teams (and Olympic Committee organizers). Russia was the first winter Olympics host to top the medals table since Norway in 1994.
– Second, it left all of us susceptible to some epic trolling at the closing ceremony:
In Soviet Russia, Olympic Games troll you..