The Winter Olympics recently finished in Vancouver. Every day, there were thousands and thousands of very drunk people in the streets, singing “O Canada!”, doing high-fives and, in the latter days, shouting “Fuck America.” The last day was the final hockey match between Canada and America, which had been the focus of the drunken crowd’s attention for several days before. “Hockey is the game of Canada,” said a poster.
On that last day, the isolated American flag bearers had gone underground or disappeared in the Canadian maple leaf carrying crowd, or had perhaps even put on some maple leaf merchandise. Only those from countries that were not directly competing with Canadian teams were carrying their flags, though with far less assurance. Eventually, the crowd looking for blood found none, and isolated fights broke out between Canadians. It’s amazing: when you look for self-validation based on vicarious living — feeling an achievement because someone from Canada won — deep down you feel impotent. You need to fight, you need an enemy to keep yourself together, so you can keep a feeling of warmth and belonging.
Police had a hard time keeping order. The crowds were obscenely drunk and no longer said the polite “hellos” that Canadians are accustomed to give. Instead they screamed “Canada” at the top of their voices when they passed each other. Stupid girls offered their eager lips and breasts with the euphoria of “Canada” screams among strangers.
The Olympics had brought out the worst in Canadians. I hope that the normally polite city and traditional lack of nationalism come back with the end of the Olympics.
But really . . . it was a war, and one of the most spineless. A lot of people on the streets were physically out of shape. The more out of shape they were, the more it seemed they were proud of the Canadian athletes. In a statist arena, it was as if people lived vicariously, as so many parents live vicariously through their children.
I watched the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympics on a big screen in public in downtown Vancouver. I asked myself, “What motivated me to go there?”, as I did on most of the Olympic days. Downtown was filled to the brim with people, and I hate crowds. Teams of athletes entered the arena, each team carrying a piece of cloth hung on a pole. They vigorously waved it, while the audience shouted the name of their particular political entity, feel- ing proud of it, their chests puffed up. They stood up, and euphoria passed across their faces.
Uninterested in saluting a piece of fluttering cloth with a maple leaf on it, or singing tribal hymns to a political entity, I remained seated. Halfway through, seeing drunken eyes roving over my face, I stood up. For the first time in Canada, I realized I could get beaten up.
Most people on the streets had maple leafs somewhere on their bodies, if not everywhere. Some had maple leafs painted on their faces. Some were wearing shirts with “Canada” written on them. Some had scarves emblazoned with “Go Canada.” Fake eyeglasses with red maple leafs on the lens area were the hot-selling symbol of voluntary subjugation of individual sovereignty.
I went out almost every day, to get an intuitive under- standing of what Canada will look like when it comes to the crunch. I felt sad about the home I had adopted. But, alas, I know of no better place on earth. I felt isolated, regretful about not being able to join the catharsis and feeling of belonging; but the outpouring of nationalism was scary.
Most Canadian provinces had their own pavilion. One must ask why you should feel Ontarian or Manitoban, when what you care about is Canada? Manitoba had a huge wooden structure for its pavilion. The wood was supplied from Manitoba. The irony is that Manitoba would have found cheaper wood in Vancouver. But this is the result of the mind-restricting, economics-corrupting, spirit-numbing capacities of tribal world views of national- ism and regionalism.
In the end, despite my revulsion against most of what the Olympics of today stand for, I still enjoy watching some of the games, particularly figure skating. It shows the highest that human beings are capable of physically, the grace with which this can be expressed, and the achievements that hard work can produce, a sign that disciplined work can elevate human beings. I respect the devotion that got the contestants where they wanted to go. But they all stand to the anthems, the tribal hymns, of their countries, as if their countrymen had toiled to make their achievements possible.
One day, I hope, at one of the Olympics, conducted on a non-national basis, a medal winner will stand up and say, “This is not my country’s achievement, but solely mine. Every day, I woke up at 4 a.m., drank no beer, ate non-tasty food, and toiled. I refuse to salute or wave to a tribal piece of cloth. I refuse to sing hymns to a political boundary that makes no sense to me. But I will salute what human beings are capable of, including the human capacity of standing up for oneself and gracefully accepting the product of one’s achievement for oneself.”