Monday, October 05, 2009

The Olympics are for The World, Not the Most Powerful

What has gotten much attention the past few days is the hypocritical Republican response to the United States losing a bid to host the Olympic Games. What is not being discussed is why it is, in my opinion, altogether fitting and proper that Rio de Janeiro and South America won the right to host the games. If we believe in any such thing as fairness and equality, we would concede that it is time that a country beyond our own receive some positive publicity and be able to showcase its strengths for once. It is not as though we haven't had our time in the sun many times before and I believe that giving this privilege to other deserving cities is worthwhile. In instances like these, those of us who believe that world harmony involves giving every country a seat at the table can find much in the decision upon which to rejoice.

If, however, you are so tactless as to mention this notion in conservative circles, prepare to have your patriotism questioned. If you dare to believe that this country ought not to bill itself or carry itself as the epicenter of everything, they'll claim you're trying to give away our political power on a world stage out of misguided guilt. This fact, above all others is what enrages me most about the Right. The fear of losing something intangible and poorly understood at best is what has driven so much invective recently. It would seem that the party of no is also the part of me first.

Specifically regarding developing nations, we rarely see much news or attention devoted to their affairs beyond natural disasters, instances of shocking social injustice which we have long set aside, or the occasional eccentric spectacle. We enjoy the sensationalist aspect of the man with four wives and twelve children, for example, but almost never are we informed about any good, meaningful news that occurs in a developing nation. Those who spread, make, and shape information dispersal never feel much of a compulsion to explain or cite the style of governance and policy matters of other countries, unless, of course, it's meant to provide some needed contrast to our own system and our own way of doing things. To wit, issues of dire importance to Brazil frequently never make it into the American consciousness. As a result, the view we hold of most countries besides our own is a romanticized one full of as much fiction as fact. Frequently, it is also years out of date. Due to our own response and to the way that substantive concerns of other nations are summarily placed at the bottom of the deck, it is hardly surprising that, with time, resentment has built.

I feel as though I understand this attitude somewhat. As a native Southerner, it wasn't until I traveled North and West that I realized how much of our national discourse and national identity is formed by the large cities found up and down the East and West Coast. One rarely sees much news or attention devoted to the South beyond natural disasters, instance of shocking social injustice supposedly long put aside, like racism, and the occasional eccentric spectacle. Those who spread, make, and shape media rarely feel any compulsion to broadcast good news about the region. Unless meant to provide some sort of needed contrast to the rest of the country, Southern policy decisions or viewpoints rarely find their way into substantive conversation. As a result, the view we hold of the South is a romanticized one, likely forty to fifty years out of date, and comprised as much of fiction as it is of fact. And again, because of this, resentment has built.

Our attitudes may be frequently thoughtless and condescending, but they are not deliberately malicious. We don't mean to snub other countries of the world or regions of our country, for that matter, but we get caught up in our self-importance and inadvertently leave others out in the process. When major challenges arise, they are those of misunderstanding and ignorance first, not of destructive intent. They could be corrected so long as we made a concerted effort to get out of our own head space and take into account that being truly fair and balanced means a little additional legwork on our part. With as much going on in Washington, DC, or New York City, or Los Angeles, it is easy to merely frame the context and the debate based on our largest metropolitan areas. In doing so, however, we leave out the contributions of those without the economic or political clout or population size to suck up enough of the air in the room. If we collectively did our homework and examined areas not particularly well-examined, we might even shockingly concede that people in other countries and even in other parts of our own aren't really that different from us after all.

If we believe that the phrase "Citizen of the World" is more than just a smiley-faced, feel-good platitude, then it might be wise to devote more of our increasingly divided attention to other areas. If we believe that "United Nations" is what its name says it is, we'd take care to live it in our waking existence. In saying this, I do recognize that it would be unnatural for any country to not devote most of its focus on itself, but what I do notice when I survey the news of other countries is how predominate our presence is and how it exists, a bit uneasily at times, equally and at times with frequent dominance alongside their own native concerns. I'm not sure the American ego will be quite so gracious if someday we are no longer Number One. That would definitely be a humbling experience, one which I have no desire to neither prophecy nor to propagate. Ultimately, if we were a world community, that fear among many would be irrelevant anyway.

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