Olympics, conventions are misleading signs of unity

Recent displays of national pride and party unity belie internal conflict and tension.

I watched a lot of TV in August.

It started innocently enough with the Olympics. I’m a sucker for those individual stories of courage and determination in which the plucky kid defies all odds to become the best in the world.

The nail-biting suspense of the competition, the pageantry, the primary color scheme and the hypnotic sound of thousands of silly-hat wearing fans chanting “USA” lulled me into a kind of reverie.

Imagine my surprise when I awoke from my stupor to realize I was watching the Democratic National Convention, which then seamlessly transitioned into the Republican National Convention. I feel that my unaware state is defensible given the similarities of the events.

Besides funny hats and monosyllabic patriotism, all share a love of the biographical montage and a distinctly us-versus-them mentality. One could be forgiven for thinking that the Olympics was really a competition between China and the United States. There are the requisite attending celebrities and dignitaries. Although to be fair, Bush only went to the Olympics.

And of course, there’s the massive corporate sponsorship. The Olympics was a Coke event, while both parties showed a preference for Budweiser.

All this plus those wonderful themes: unity for the DNC, service for the RNC, and who can forget the one world, one dream Olympics?

I’m just not sure I’m buying what’s being sold.

The DNC seemed anything but unified. It’s still divided by the same issues — gender, race, experience, class and Clintons. The RNC’s message of service is both safely vague and vaguely suspect given the disservice the party has done the country in the last eight years.

Similarly, with more than 1.5 million people displaced from their homes to build Olympic stadiums, forced “volunteer” labor, and oppressive laws meant to silence any hint of dissent, China staged an event that seemed to say, “One world, or else.”

This brings me to the most insidious commonality: suppression of free speech and assembly.

No one is shocked to hear about China’s human rights abuses and its arrests of protestors and journalists, but what about similar arrests here at home? ABC producer Asa Eslocker was assaulted by police and arrested for filming Democratic senators and VIP donors on a public sidewalk in Denver. In St. Paul, Minn., Amy Goodman, radio host of Democracy Now!, and two producers were arrested while covering street demonstrations at the RNC.

In the name of “freedom” and “change,” nearly 1,000 people have been arrested between the two cities, many for legal, peaceful demonstrations. Police have indiscriminately employed pepper spray and tear gas, affecting protestors, journalists and delegates alike. Denver had a creepy Guantanamo Bay-style detention facility; St. Paul had pre-emptive police raids on the homes of hundreds of suspected protestors. Fourth Amendment, anyone?

None of these major spectacles were particularly free or different, but at least each was presented in a nice, shiny package that said “new and improved” on the box.
Let the buyer beware.

Paula Sen can be reached at paula.sen@temple.edu.

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