China: Just Sweeping People Under The Bed?

Clutter=bad analogy

The most recent edition of Play, The New York Times’s quarterly sports magazine, had an interesting essay by freelance writer Tom Scocca, titled True or False: China is fit to play host, on the coming Olympic games.

In the piece, Scocca challenges the idea that the Olympics itself represents a history of moral and ethical ideals. He mentions punditry’s recent love affair of repeating that “the running of the flame was a ritual invented for Hitler’s Games,” and goes on to say:

The Olympic Games are also, as a matter of record, a fascist spectacle, sustained by global corporatism. For more than two decades, on into the 21st Century, the I.O.C. was presided over by the former sports secretary of the Franco dictatorship. The same set of rules that will bar participants from waving the Tibetan flag this summer will also block anyone form unfurling an unauthorized Nike advertising banner.

Although the essay feels disjointed at times, the ideas Scocca writes about—cheating, political oppression and violence, and corporatism—are all worth considering as the world’s audience gears up to watch the summer games and debate the choice of China as host.

It’s unfortunate, then, how Scocca ends an otherwise thoughtful essay:

From outside, there’s a tendency to see the whole buildup as Potemkinism, a spectacle put on to fool the visitors. In some regards, that may be so — try using the free wireless to reach Blogspot, or even the BBC Web site and see what happens — but people in Beijing, Chinese and foreigners alike, keep coming up with a different analogy: the Olympic preparations are like tidying your house in a hurry before company comes over. The clutter gets stuffed into cabinets or under the bed; you wipe down the bathroom the guests will be using; you hide the dirty dishes and dig out matching forks and cloth napkins. This is not the way you live every day.

Are you defrauding your guests? Or are you showing them how you would live, if things were different?

Last time we checked—and throughout most of Scocca’s essay—the argument over whether China is fit to host the Olympics had more to do with human rights, political violence, and oppression than a matter of defrauding the outside world.

Tidying up your house for party guests would work as an analogy if the world were only concerned with pollution and trash cleanup. But people being swept up and displaced like clutter (watch the horrifying end of this clip from the BBC) is altogether different from temporarily closing factories and reducing the number of cars on the road.

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Russ Juskalian is a contributor to The Observatory and a freelance writer.