Critical Mass returns with a comic look at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games so far, and a more serious message about Russia as a whole
Hark, insects. The hive is positively abuzz with the ongoing Olympics taking place in Russia’s tourist resort town of Sochi. If you have internet access or a television or even a particularly clever toaster you’ve no doubt heard about the shepherd’s pie of controversy surrounding the whole thing by now. Before we begin getting into the brass tacks of it, let’s all take a second here to appreciate that Russia has a tourism industry.
Snide jokes about the fundamentally unappealing state of Russia in general aside (don’t worry, I’ll do more later), the hullabaloo stems mostly from the fact that at current, Big Red’s human rights policies could stand to be quite a bit, erm, human rights-ier, to say the least.
This has been the big, veiny elephant in the room ever since Sochi won the Olympic bid back in [do your homework Hoffman]. Not so hot on the gays, those guys. Understandably, a lot of folks take issue with that. As if this weren’t enough however, the entire event has been mired in a smorgasbord of ancillary scandals ranging from the deplorable and in some cases completely hilarious state of the hotel accommodations to the not-even-a-little-bit-hilarious euthanasia of stray dogs in a last ditch effort to pretty up the place.
“Man. Good thing we got rid of all those innocent animals or this place might have looked shitty.”
So yes, the Ruskies have been taking a lot of heat from the rest of the world in light of their recent and not-so-recent lapses of better judgement. And the world can hardly be blamed, after all, the persecution of human and animal rights is nothing to balk at, especially during the proceedings of the prestigious and time-honored tradition that is the Winter Olympics. Between the homophobia and the animal cruelty, and in light of the relevance of the event itself, this is akin to hosting the Superbowl at Michael Vick’s house.
As if to pile more turds on the fecal fudge sundae that is Russia’s global reputation, there is also the looming threat of terrorism rearing its ugly head, as well as the country’s notoriously hope-for-the-best-y policy on safety protocol, calling the well-being of the athletes themselves into question, because getting sent to Russia to compete apparently wasn’t harrowing and unpleasant enough.
All of this has culminated to set the stage for what will no doubt shape up to be the most controversial and possibly disastrous Olympics in recent memory, with politicians and talking heads the world over weighing in and speaking out, like Obama’s decision not to attend the games, instead sending openly gay delegates in his place. Suffice to say, overall popular opinion towards Russia lately has been sour to say the least.
So the pot is boiling, the critics are riled, and the world waits with bated breath to see how it’s all going to play out. For their part, Russian Olympic officials battle the consternation over security, scrutiny over abysmal human rights policy, and overall perceived lack of preparation with… Well, I’m not exactly sure what they’ve been doing to battle it to be honest.
Regardless of their tactics, or apparent lack thereof, they don’t seem to be very effective at neutralizing the palpable tensions lingering in the air. Twitter is exploding as we speak with testimonials of journalists and athletes settling in to haphazardly thrown together and in many cases obviously unfinished hotels, and Russia’s best response was to throw their hands up and cry foul, insisting that they’re being sabotaged, a lofty claim that they can allegedly prove thanks to apparent surveillance equipment in hotel bathrooms. So, they tried to fight allegations of ill preparedness by bringing to light pressing concerns about privacy. Kinda getting into a ‘lady-who-swallowed-the-fly’ situation there, aren’t you Russia?
But let’s forget all of that. In fact, let’s forget everything I just said. I’m not a legitimate journalist and as such attempting to cover this story in any comprehensive or professional sense is a fool’s errand. Plus, everyone’s already well familiarized with the situation by now anyway, so it’s a redundant fool’s errand at that, making me a redundant fool.
I know precious little about Russia aside from the cherished stereotype of men in funny hats drinking vodka in the snow and pronouncing their Vs as Ws. This information is inconsequential to the proceedings of the Olympic games, and is likely an exaggeration of the reality as well, so let’s dismiss it as such. As a person with an exclusively YouTube-based education of Russia, the only confirmed facts I can tell you about the country are that every single citizen has a dashboard camera and they have a strange and fascinating relationship with bears and radioactivity. And one would be remiss to forget the absurdly beautiful, crazy flexible women that can apparently be ordered through the mail.
So, being that I am admittedly uninformed, I won’t presume to be an authority on the place, its government, or the people over which it presides. “But wait”, I hear you say, “If you know nothing of Russia aside from cartoonishly racist stereotypes and amusing limericks about Vladimir Putin, why are you eleven paragraphs into what appears to be an opinion piece about Russia?”
Well holy friggin’ crap reader, I was totally getting to that if you could relax for a goddamn second and let me arrive at the point organically. Jeeze Louise, it’s non-stop with you people.
What I was going to say before you started interjecting like an asshole was that I’m willing to bet that your average workaday Joe Public probably knows roughly as much about Russia as I do, maybe even less, assuming I’m not rounding the bare minimum already.
Let us not forget then, that propaganda is a two way machine. Allowing sensationalist headlines to color our already ignorant view of a culture seems to me a foolhardy way to conduct ourselves, especially given that a few short decades ago we were drawing up contingency plans for the day these chess-obsessed nuke-fiends breached our borders and squashed our way of life beneath their unfeeling commie boots.
The cultural tension has yet to fully dissipate, is what I’m saying, and historically speaking it’s a damn slippery slope of popular opinion that leads from anecdotal disapproval to outright bigotry, and not the fun playful kind like I’ve been exercising here.
I’m not saying we need to take it easy on them or overlook their failings. I’m not suggesting that we give them a free pass on the injustices by which they abide, either. I am simply pleading that we remember to draw a distinction between the backward, baffling decisions of a convoluted and seemingly arbitrary government and the relative innocence of its people.
People the world over tend to be pretty much the same through and through. I’d like to hope that it’s clear to anyone willing to think on it long enough that the opinions and actions of the Russian government are not a direct reflection of its people as a whole. Unfortunately, given the outcry of anti-Russian sentiment in the wake of these scandals, I feel as though it might be important just to reassert that fact. It can’t hurt to have it fresh in our minds.
I feel like if we kept the whole ‘government =/= people’ equation at the forefront of our thoughts, we’d be a lot less inclined to go to wars with other countries or allow the divides between diverging cultures to sink to irreparable depths. How many soldiers in history do you reckon have been truly gung-ho on the letter and law of their government’s policies? Probably a few here and there, sure, but it’s far likelier that both sides of any given war largely consist of terrified, profoundly unenthusiastic human beings just trying not to die because holy balls war is scary.
But I digress, as I’ve wandered off on a tangent again as I am oft wont to do. The point I was awkwardly craning my neck in the direction of was a simple, succinct one:
Hate the Russian government and condemn their unacceptable actions as much as you want, but remember that a lot of non-government people live there too, and it’s a statistical impossibility that all of them are dicks.
The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games will come and go, hopefully without violent incident, as the public eye inevitably drifts to the next target of our compulsory media frenzies. Yes, Russia’s going through some shit right now, and yes a lot of that shit is downright unacceptable when held to what is commonly accepted as the global standard for basic human and animal rights. That’s some fucked up jive and it needs to be worked on. You know who probably knows that fact better than all of us? Russians.
So maybe instead of throwing stones at an entire country we should cut them some slack and give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re just another populous caught beneath the weighty ass of an oppressive regime, and they need our support and unity, not our hatred and judgement.
Oppose the persecution, deride the ineptitude, and fight honorably against the obvious injustices that are being ignored and perpetrated by the powers that be, but don’t write off and label an entire group of individuals based on the actions of the minority without taking time to consider that the majority may be just as sick of the bullshit as we are.
Keep separate your ire and your compassion, and remember that regardless of where our borders lie, we should stand united against any affront to the dignity and freedoms of all among our race. After all, unity is what the Olympics are supposed to be all about.
I’ve seen many opinions on this subject, and on Russia in general, formed in an instant based on biased journalism and sensationalist viral media, which is all too often the case when matters of equality and ethics are on the table. Now, by my own admission I am uninformed, so I’d be out of my depth to dismiss these people as incorrect. I do however have a gut feeling that the global reputation of our potato-chomping, gulag-dwelling comrades has been universally and unjustifiably besmirched based on an unpopular image lent to them by the nightmarish PR team that is the combined failures of the Russian government and Sochi Olympic planning committee, and I guess Ivan Drago didn’t do them any favours either.
So yeah, so far Sochi has been a circus of laughable ineptitude and utter atrocity, and it’s not even halfway done yet. Does this underline some serious issues within the government that Russia should have to answer for on a global stage? Absolutely. Does it emphasize the need for a revision of their policies regarding equality, human dignity and general not-being-fucked-up-itude? Da, comrade.
But does it give us all an excuse to hogtie the entire country and drag them all through the dirt as if the citizens themselves are responsible for the bat-shit crazy, utterly surreal world they live in?
Nah, man. That shit ain’t cool. Sure, some people there might be bigoted and ignorant, but those jerks are everywhere. Russia just has the rotten luck of having their jerks running the show. To call every Russian an ignorant homophobe is to imply that every American is personally dropping drone strikes on innocent civilians, or that everyone from Columbia makes excellent cocaine, or that all Canadian people are unbearably polite.
So by all means folks, continue taking the absolute piss out of the legendary farce that is Sochi 2014, just please try to keep a conscious effort to relegate your derision to the government, and not its citizenry at large, because 7 out of 10 scientists agree that Russians are human beings too, and aren’t human rights what everyone was so butthurt about to begin with?