Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Spirit of the Olympics, Brought to You by RBC and Coca Cola

My 8-year-old daughter has been excited about the torch coming through Lethbridge since early December or maybe even November. We had the day marked off for attending the festivities for weeks. That hallowed day dawned today!

Dutifully I packed cheese sticks and Olympic mittens and other supplies and the family headed off to the torch relay ceremony site this afternoon.

Earlier this week it came to Claire's attention that there would be Olympic hoodies for sale at the ceremony. Frantically, she scoured the house looking for any money she may have mislaid; she also nailed me for some back-owed allowance. Enough to buy an Olympic hoodie!

When we got to Henderson Lake and found ourselves a place in the crowd to watch the stage, did Claire pay any attention to the various performers? No, she did not. Her only desire was to go to the Olympic-crap trailer to buy a hoodie. She expressed this desire with verve and frequency.

The poor child has been buying-addicted since a young age and this does not come from me. I am the supreme anti-shopper. I sincerely hate shopping. Part of why I hate shopping is the way I feel manipulated and hypnotized in stores, so I guess she got that part from me. She fixates on some desirable object only to immediately forget about it once it is owned. This pushes my buttons big time. This area of parenting is one where I am not skillful.

The whining went up a giant notch once the torch had arrived and her purgatory at the ceremony (yes, the one she'd been waiting to attend for weeks) looked to be through. I continued to explain that we were there for the ceremony so Claire declared that she wanted to go home then. Okay; we took her up on the offer. Meltdown and hitting her mother: Claire. Yelling in her face, "Clearly you didn't understand the point of coming here was to see the Olympic torch!": me. Yes, excellent parenting.

Clearly, though, Claire has a much cannier grasp on the Olympic spirit than I have. I have never been at an event where the line between sponsor and what the event was actually about was so blurred. Imagine if you went to a music concert and the musicians spent 80% of the time they were playing mentioning who their sponsors were and even singing jingles from those sponsors.

If you weren't there, that's what you missed! First there was a Coca Cola concert, then there was an RBC concert. The concerts were more about Coca Cola and RBC than they were about the Olympics or even Canadian Olympic athletes. I spent precious life hours cheering for Coca Cola and RBC in the name of the Olympics. Talk about being trapped and implicated.

I have had an RBC account since I was a teenager. Changing bank accounts is harder than getting a divorce. I know because I got a divorce but I still have a joint account with my ex-husband (he just doesn't use it). And I really like Coke. It is the only pop I drink when I drink pop. I probably won't change my bank or change my pop. But I am disgusted by what I experienced tonight. It was crass and embarrassing.

And invasive!! I went to honour the torch and got that shit!! Plus a painting-entertainer who used a spinning canvas to create an RBC-brand-colours, torch-lady painting in just 8 minutes, just to add insult to injury. A painting in just 8 minutes!!! And isn't this great--RBC presented this masterpiece to the Boys and Girls Club as a legacy of the torch ceremony! Branded kitsch!

The ceremony began with a First Nations prayer by a man called Francis First Charger. I do not know Mr. First Charger. He could be one of those guys who is very sincere or he could be one of those phony prayer guys that come in all nationalities and backgrounds. The prayer was in Blackfoot, which I don't understand, and people were mostly not paying attention to him. I did pay attention to him, though. When he started to speak, I had this feeling that he was actually for real and I looked right at him for the whole prayer. He was too far away for me to tell if he was looking at me but I felt connected to him.

I had this feeling that we should be prayed for in Blackfoot. If a Blackfoot person can pray for us, this is good news. Most Canadians are too close to this to get it. How about this parallel: it's like the Dalai Lama praying for the Chinese (which he does).

Another First Nations man did a hoop dance before the RBC and Coca Cola branding-fest. Sometimes I wonder if hoop dancing and other competitive Pow Wow dancing is too kitsch, like the Ukrainian dancing my daughters do. But the Ukrainian dance club dancers are crazy for their Ukrainian dancing and the hoop guy looked way into it. It's just the contexts fuck with our heads. There is no way to attribute meaning to hoop dancing in the branding-fest context or Ukrainian folk dancing in the 21st century North American urban context, so then the meanings that are attributed are fake. There is something that carries through in the dance, some energy and connection to a real spirit; but the manmade-fibre, "authentic" costumes and the blah-blah-blah about high stepping through the Poltava region or butterfly story ritual seem forced.

I also cried. I almost always cry during our national anthem and this one was sung by a bilingual choir of beautiful little kids who sang it in English and French. I cried through the English part. I also changed the words when I sang, as I recommend all Canadians should do: "Our home and the natives' land" and "In all our daughters' command" are the proper lines. The first for obvious reasons and the second because it's about time our daughters got a turn.

I cry because I am very moved by the tolerance of this country. It's probably because Canandians are retardedly polite and reticent, but I'll take it.

I cried during the French part because I think it's really beautiful that we are a bilingual country, a country that includes Quebec, a huge country that includes all these disparate places that are more similar in their tolerance of their fellow human beings than different in their regional xenophobias.

I also cried when the torch came. I cried because of the human scale of torch bearing, one step at a time, for miles on end, through little towns and big cities, all across our experiment of a nation, held by a human being (and the Lethbridge torch-bearer lady seemed genuinely honoured), passed off to another, one step at a time. I'm crying now writing this! I'm crying because the Olympics really is a beautiful idea and the Olympics really do connect people. The raw athleticism of the participants and the coming together of nations in peace is authentic and inspiring.

So fuck you, actual decision-maker people at RBC and Coca Cola, whoever you are, for sullying something beautiful just because your company paid to help.


  1. very thoughtful post here Tasha. I too have conflicted thoughts about the whole Olympic schtick - part of me wants to celebrate the world coming together, human aspiration and achievement, that kind of good stuff. Part of me looks at Vancouver (this year, anyway) and is agog at the resources poured into the Olympic effort - what are the long term implications for the city's population and environment? What got neglected to focus on these Games?

    Someone asked me the other day if I went to the ceremony and I had to admit that I just can't get into the pep-rally spirit, though I'll probably actually watch a ton of that stuff on TV and still be inundated by that commercial crap. But at least I can use some of that time to go to the fridge for a beer.

  2. Yes, when a commercial comes on you can tune it out, as opposed to when you're at a ceremony in a crowd awaiting a torch and you're trapped by RBC and Coke!

    I was reminded today about how the core values of the Olympics and the actuality are so far apart (see today's post)--like every other institution. How to balance commercialism with core values; can it ever be done?