It seems a lot of people are boycotting watching the Olympics this year, and I’m trying to figure out why I find this vaguely irritating. It’s not that I disagree with their reasons. In fact, I agree with all of them: the anti-propaganda laws in Russia, the commercialization, the corruption of the IOC, the insanity of the training schedules of the athletes, etc. The following is my inarticulate attempt to parse my contradictory feelings (I’ve rewritten it like ten times, because anything to avoid working on my dissertation).
I won’t be watching the Olympics either. I don’t have TV (statement qualified further down) because I find ninety percent of TV programming offensive (and good God, the commercials). But if I did have TV, I probably wouldn’t boycott the Olympics, because what would be the purpose? The Olympics won’t stop because I choose not to watch. Russia won’t suddenly become a non-bigoted country. I enjoy parts of the Olympics, in particular the opening and closing ceremonies, and I’m making the assumption here that those who are boycotting also like the Olympics. I mean, if you wouldn’t watch them anyway, it’s by nature not a boycott.
Before I go further, let me qualify here what I mean when I say I don’t have TV. I actually do have a TV. A really old, boxy one. I have Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming, so I watch my fair share of stuff other people may or may not think is crap. Last night I watched The Third Man. I’m occasionally deeply involved in a lovely Australian show called Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (although I must say the latest episode was full of troubling stereotypes of Chinese people). I have been known to watch Titanic up to three times a year. This is not about judging people for the specific things they watch.
So what is it about? Why do I feel that scratch of irritation when someone proclaims their personal boycott? I think it has to do with the fact that this kind of boycotting is masquerading as political when it is inherently personal – like I said above, a boycott will have zero results except you don’t get to watch the Olympics.
The people making a choice to boycott probably understand this, because they are thoughtful people. If they weren’t, they would not be considering a boycott. Because the stand they are taking is politically useless, justification via the personal becomes important, i.e. the disgust they feel for certain characteristics of the Olympics: the commercialization, the corruption, the anti-gay hatefulness, the focus on product over humanity. (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here and assuming they are not boycotting simply because of principle. I think principle is a terrible reason to do anything). But why take such a strong stand on just the Olympics? The things they object to are rife in our pop culture in general. If these things are worthy of this extreme kind of stand, why not take that stand against all of it and just chuck your TV? Why not extricate yourself from this mainstay of pop culture once and for all?
So if you really want to boycott the Olympics, consider extending your critical thoughtfulness to what you have not considered boycotting.
Or maybe think about softening your view and join me in watching teary-eyed as the athletes come out smiling and waving, because hey, they worked really hard for their places, and penalizing them for the grossness surrounding the Olympics is like spitting on our soldiers coming back from an ugly war. Ok, it’s not totally comparable, but it does have its comparable points. (I will be watching said opening ceremony at a bar, in case you were wondering).
Of course, it could be I’m irritated because I’m secretly ashamed of getting all teary-eyed over the happy athletes when I know the whole thing is corrupt, and hearing people say they are boycotting for good reasons that I might not actually boycott for if I actually had the choice makes me feel guilty. That and perhaps I like showing off my moral superiority in that I don’t have TV in the first place.
Nah, couldn’t be those things.
Photograph: Jasmine participating in her personal favorite Olympic event, Running On Da Beach. She always gets first place.