This morning, Roger Cohen of the New York Times wrote “These Olympics are good for Brazil and good for humanity, a needed tonic. Watch Usain Bolt or Simone Biles and feel uplifted.” This may be true for him, but for anyone with a minimally critical perspective on what has happened in Rio over the last decade of mega-event hosting, this is unadulterated bullshit.
When I say bullshit, I mean bullshit as a rhetorical category as defined by Henry Frankfurt in his seminal essay “On Bullshit”.* Bullshit, according to Frankfurt, is a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts that falls just short of lying. And while it may be true that watching athletes perform on the global stage can give the sofa-bound Cohen an uplift in difficult times (especially for USAmericans watching their “democracy” unravel), Rio 2016 is so full of institutionalized violence, violations of human rights, transfer of public lands and finances to private companies, bullet filled black bodies, and corruption scandals of Herculean proportions that Cohen’s “uplift” stinks from 5,000 km away.
Cohen’s saccharine apology for transferring billions of public funds into private hands to give him a happiness bump is one of the well-established methods of dropping a load of bullshit on the growing Olympic pile. To Cohen’s deliberate misrepresentations of reality I would add the following gems from Tania Braga, the head of sustainability of Rio 2016, who dropped a load at a recent conference called Mega-Sustainability:
“Rio 2016 is contributing to global sustainability by undertaking a carbon mitigation program that invests in the reforestation of cattle farms in Mato Grosso, offsetting spectator emissions, participating in a stray dog and cat program and promoting tourism in favelas.” While she might not have been lying, the idea that carbon offsets in Mato Grosso can in any way compensate for the internal combustion of Rio 2016 is risible.
Another rounded stone within Braga’s remarks was revelation that Golf Digest magazine awarded the Rio 2016 Golf course with a sustainability medal of some kind. How is it possible, in any sober consideration of the word, that a golf course in a wetland that removed an environmentally protected area and will host 20+ residential buildings where every apartment will have 2-3 cars could possibly be environmentally sustainable? Ditto with the LEED classification for the massively expensive Museu da Amanhã, the same classification given to the Mané Garrincha Elefante Branco in Brasília. Obviously, it’s bullshit.
The examples of Olympic bullshit are legion, creating a rich loam with which future events will be fertilized. Here’s an example of bullshit from LA 2024:
Chief Strategy Officer & newly elected IOC Athletes' Commission Chair @AngelaRuggiero on the vision of #LA2024! pic.twitter.com/avZjFMoMHp— LA 2024 (@LA2024) August 9, 2016
Yet within the lava-like flows of bullshit are some shiny truth gems, bits of undigested roughage that we can shine up and hang around our necks as b.s. bling. For instance, in response to the empty arenas of Rio 2016, the organizing committee said that they had met their financial goals and would “teach underprivileged children Olympic Values” by giving tickets away. That is to say, Rio’s children will learn that a multi-billion dollar international corporation will only give away tickets to an event from which they have been structurally excluded (and that their parents have financed through taxes), after the organizing committee’s self-imposed financial targets have been met and they need to recuperate some of the symbolic capital of the Games by having young black and brown faces in the stands. This isn’t bullshit, it’s truthiness.
And when the diving pool at the Maria Lenk swimming center turned green, the Rio 2016 response was that “Chemistry is not an exact science.” Indeed. The robbery of USAmerican swimmers gets more media attention than the death of kids and cops in Rio’s favelas, Guanabara Bay is more, not less, polluted every day, and just because there hasn’t been a full scale disaster we can wait for the Lords of the Pile to declare Rio 2016 a commercial, social, political, and environmental success. And among all this flying bullshit, the IOC won’t step in to finance the Paralympic Games as their members each pull down $900 a day, enough to fly all the Paralympians to Rio.
And more bullshit is yet to come, with retrospective films, sports business conferences, disappearing legacy promises, and a looming spectre of urban and social unraveling after the bullshit gets flushed, untreated into the South Atlantic.
* Thaddeus Blanchette and Ana Paula da Silva employed the concept of bullshit to very good effect by in an article entitled “On bullshit and the trafficking of women: moral entrepreneurs and the invention of trafficking of persons in Brazil.” Dialectical Anthropology 2012 36(1): 107-125.