Fox News China

The Chinese-language television channels in our hotel seem to be split into news, music, and various historical dramas. The dramas are roughly half Kung Fu, half soap opera. The only modern drama we’ve caught is one that we could best interpret as Chinese Law and Order; but otherwise China does seem to prefer drama set in the pre-revolutionary past. Whether this reflects the preferences of the viewers, the producers, or the government censors, I don’t know.

At least one of the dramas we caught came from Hong Kong. It took me a few minutes to figure out why the actors’ lips were as badly out of sync as in any Saturday afternoon Kung Fu movie on WGNO: this was a Cantonese movie from Hong Kong! Only this time it was dubbed into Mandarin instead of English.

The one English language channel at our hotel is CCTV 9, which brings new meaning to the motto “Fair and Balanced”. This is like a Chinese version of Fox News, only without the entertainment value. Right now they seem to be obsessed with two stories: the class system in Tibet before China “liberated” it in 1955, and the various protests against Beijing hosting the Olympics.

The latter story features various carefully selected, attractive, young Caucasian athletes spouting off about how it’s a shame that some people want to inject politics into the Olympics. Perhaps these people should have spent more time in school and less on the practice field. The Olympics have always been political, going back to ancient Greece. Politics have been a part of every Olympics. Some of the most obvious examples were in 1980 following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan when the U.S. pulled out, and in 1984 when the Soviet Union and most of the Warsaw Pact boycotted in retaliation. In 1936 Hitler used the Olympics as propaganda to prove he superiority of Aryan athletes, (even if he had to enter men in the women’s events to do it) and Jesse Owens’ victories were held up as proof of just how broken Hitler’s theories were (not to mention U.S. segregation laws). In 1968 the Mexico City games Tommie Smith and John Carlos turned the games into a referendum on U.S. treatment of its black citizens. During the Cold War, every U.S. victory was trumpeted as proof of how righteous we were; and every Warsaw Pact victory was downplayed as the product of an evil, oppressive system that turned athletes into robots.

No one who’s ever watched Olympic coverage on TV (pick any nation) can deny the nationalistic fervor that runs through the games. If it’s really all about sports and apolitical competition why do we pick the athletes by nation in the first place? Why does everyone walk through the opening ceremonies draped in their national flag? Why do TV networks ignore the greatest athletes in the games unless they unexpectedly lose to a local favorite? The Olympics is at its very heart a competition between nations, not athletes. It is about politics, nothing less. The athletes are merely foot soldiers in the war of national pride.

This year’s games are perhaps the most political so since 1980/1984, and Beijing has no one to blame for that but themselves; no matter how many Quislings they parade on TV, no matter how many documentaries they show about old Tibet, and no matter how many smiling Anglophone athletes they recruit to complain when trivial issues like genocide interfere with their efforts to shave an extra tenth of a second off a hundred meter swim.

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