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it is no secret that we love the Olympics. Let’s get that out of the way. It’s probably the only time that in our heart of hearts we feel that patriotism is appropriate, because at its best, the Olympics should be a celebration of the world and a positive cultural exchange, founded upon the idea of sport.
Of course, that is idealistic, and it rarely gets to be that. The Olympics have been marred by terrorist attacks, political ploys, accidents, other assorted violence, and human rights violations throughout the years. This Olympics is the third that has seen heavy social media presence, and it’s a sign of the changing times: we now know immediately that the Russian government are intolerant fucking assholes about LGBTQ issues, and we have a funny Sochi toilet/garbage/water meme. Hooray. These are absolutely what will be remembered about the competition—the tidbits of gross and #sochiproblems. In past eras, this might have been written about in a newspaper, but most people would only have their nation’s telecast as a reference point, which would be likely to show as little as possible of the bad stuff, depending on the nation. We saw this acted out in miniature in the Super Bowl (yes, the Super Bowl is impossibly miniature compared to the Olympics). Fox didn’t show (m)any fans in their main telecast, they didn’t cover the arena politics, they didn’t cover the armed guards who established a perimeter around the big game. It was a neutered broadcast of the largest event in North American sports, and we got most of our actual details about the event from Twitter and news blogs, because that’s the only reason we know anything in this country these days. The national media is a giant, play-acting farce.
It’s tame to discuss Sochi toilets. It’s less tame to discuss the Russian government as an entity being supremely and ineffably fucked up in a way that isn’t comedic, referencing Putin’s man-boobs and God Status, the prevalence of vodka/alcoholism in Russia, or how god damn cold it is. Let’s not forget “Mother Russia” or cossacks or Anastasia or any other references to Russian culture that you can pull out of your ass.
Russian culture is in actuality a lot more complicated than that, and the jokes are probably designed to get past that. Most areas of what we today know as Russia are populated by mixed, distinct ethnic/cultural groups, overseen by a government that is alternatively strict and lax, strong and inept, globalist and isolationist. As an outsider writing this piece, I can’t claim to understand Russia, its diverse culture, its government, and its nuances. But I would like to direct you to some reading material if you want to know more about how the Sochi Olympics came to be, and the shitstorm that wrought a thousand awful toilets:
THIS is an in-depth look and photo essay about how the Sochi Olympics, specifically their construction, have affected the locals of the region and the environment. Basically it’s a massive public health hazard and human rights violation, among other things. Story by Tom Balmforth, photos by Abbas Atilay.
THIS is a short National Geographic piece from the January 2014 issue that gives a quick rundown of the history/conflict surrounding Sochi’s region, Putin’s persona, and why/how Sochi became an attractive but unlikely spot to host the Olympics. I had the pleasure of reading it in print this month, but you can read it online by signing up for a free account on their website. Story by Brett Forrest, photos by Thomas Dworzak.
The caption says that the resort ad has been criticized for using fascist imagery. I wrote a thesis in college about Russian snapshot photography and how it was affected by propaganda throughout the 20th century, using some examples from athlete imagery, and I would say that this is a relatively accurate statement. The aesthetic of the ad hearkens to Soviet-era Olympic propaganda, showing the virtuous “perfect” athlete, but in a stance that both makes him passive (looking away from the viewer) and sublimates him in with the dictator (huge head, position of power, actually watching you). It’s an interesting read.
Both pieces contain multiple interviews with locals to the region and provide an interesting insight to how the Sochi Olympics came to be. This is highly recommended reading.