Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Shane Koyczan's Olympic Feat

After yesterday surfing the fascinating links to and from Shane Koyczan's "We Are More" slam verselet, I began to think of two dominant meanings of the word "consumer". The first meaning is what we immediately and intimately acknowledge, that of material purchase and use. But goods are attractive and available depending on the consumer's own resources. Desire is often powerfully modified, lessened, even eliminated (though, also, certainly not in many cases) when the means to acquire the goodies -- and those goodies themselves -- are nestled amongst the higher branches.

The second meaning of this contemporaneously important word is more powerful, more subtle, and more devious. It acts as a stimulus for the first meaning, as well as being the prime impetus for many wars and religious straitjacketing. But "We Are More" is after different medals.

When Old Man Moses, or God, if you will, exhorted H/his flock to "go forth and multiply", the practical necessity was obvious for the continuation of the species. In undeveloped and developing countries today, practical reasons are also in play: mom and pop need a good crop of young'uns to pick up the slack on the farm when they become feeble, health care is rudimentary, there are scary infant and childhood mortality rates, and there are no social security or retirement benefits. But we're now in catastrophic overshoot. The first and most pressing reason not only doesn't apply, and hasn't for over a century, but the reverse is the case. The multimillionplus consumers who still buy the "go forth and multiply" mountaintop poem are doing so out of a misguided, outmoded, and ultimately dangerous collective belief in the everlasting, unchanging sanctity of scriptural authority. Just as the pen is mightier than the sword, so, too, is "hope" more powerful than salmon or a beet.

Which brings us to Shane Koyczan's pre-approved Olympic moment with (ironically) clustered rain clouds as backdrop, beseeching .... three? four? .... billions of variously receptive earthlings. I found it fascinating that the effort downplayed the real and trumpetted the schmaltzy Sunday school aspiration. The upwardly-mobile ad flack lays the lines down like pre-cooled fudge in a child's hand: we're not just about fishing off the Atlantic and playing shinny on the frozen backyard pond, we're more, "an idea in the process/of being realized". Koyczan then goes on to sugar the product until the nauseous closing line, "we made it be". Made what be? Has Canada not only solved all its responsibilites and problems, but done so in perpetuity? But when the chintzy rhetoric mill is rolling, who cares about elementary reflection and thought?

And this is where the "patriotic" attack the negative nellies. "It's supposed to be kitsch, to be a feel-good parallel to the Olympic can-do spirit". Well, the answer to that, of course, is which Olympics are we talking about? Amateur athletes (not the men's hockey players -- I enjoy pro hockey, but NHL players have as much connection with the founding Greek spirit of the games as an MP3 player has to Uranus) are to be applauded for their perseverance and work under often spartan support. Congrats to the non-doped winners. But what has this got to do with Canada's greatness? Pakistan and Ethiopia are also competing in Vancouver, but in those two countries (among others) that representation consists of one (1) participant. Is one person Pakistan or Ethiopia? Or is Koyczan saying that the mere fact Canada "won" the Olympic bid in itself meretorious? And the Olympic games are a competition. How are we better than specific other countries, and in what specific ways? I find a curious lack of nuance and development of those ideas. (A real tribute to Canada would have drawn out those realities.)

Canada got the nod because it made financial sense to the pork trough IOC and the sponsors the IOC had to sell it to. Period. Oh, and because Canada, being Canada, didn't piss off the Grand Dukes of the committee. They smiled, waited, and cheered the hosting prize. It's ironic, fortuitous for Chicagoans that Obama's entitlement statement after a last-minute flight to Europe in an attempt to score the (second-next?) summer games were turned down by an equally Royal IOC offended that this constant grandstander had the audacity of hope that he could charm the scammers. I say "fortuitous", of course, because the Olympics have become more expensive to produce everywhere, as the first meaning of "consumerism" has exploded ever since it was concocted immediately after WWII in the U.S., with -- twin consumer blocks of use and idea -- credit card initiation and Madison Avenue proselytizing. A one billion dollar overrun on the Olympic village and another almost one billion on security are only the hot numbers, the obvious scandal amongst a multi-pronged systemic sploogefest.

To make the parallel more direct, naked, Obama's successful "hope" campaign byte is the same as Koyczan's "dreams" and "ambitions" idea (and whatever other buzzwords the abstract revivalist sermon hit on). "Go forth and multiply" was a necessity. You could even be a tad grandiose (to steal a page -- oops! is Collins listening? -- from Koyczan's book) and say that Moses operated on a keenly felt spiritual imperative. But what Obama and Koyczan, no less than presidential speechwriters and Coca-Cola copywriters (the slam versifier is of course both initiator and vocalist), have in common is a formula for successful ideational consumerism. One need only to click on the comment-box replies to the Koyczan story in the official Olympic sponsor The Globe and Mail to see the overwhelming support for "We Are More", in many cases 40 for, 2 against. Even if one allows for a somewhat different ratio, taking into account statistical problems of sample size, motivation of respondents, and skewed bias of the readers, the fact remains that P. T. Barnum was a smart man. And Koyczan is well aware of that fact. Oh, Canada.

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