The Day After

What if last night’s Canada/US hockey game were in some way faked or simulated? What if, for instance, the last minute goal that sent the game into overtime were artfully allowed to happen and Sidney Crosby’s game-winning play was actually somehow orchestrated by a kind of secret Olympic Star Chamber? I’m not suggesting that I actually believe this to be the case, I’m just posing a thought-experiment to discern what, if any, difference there would be in people’s experience and reactions to the event if they were to find out that Canada’s sensational win had been somehow managed. Would it make a substantive difference to peoples’ memories of the event if this were uncovered to be the case in the next week, the next ten years, or somewhere down the twisted path of time? What if everyone knew ahead of time that the game was rigged, as in popular wrestling?

Today in a cafe the couple sitting next to me were engaged in an exchange that went something like this:

Her: “It would have been lame if the Canadians had just smoked the US, don’t you think?”
Him: “Uh, yeah. It’s better when they face adversity. That’s why it was good that we lost the second game.”

Of course, this conversation would have been significantly different if Canada had lost the final match, but I think it brings to light an interesting point about the nature of spectacular sport: it doesn’t really matter if these evets were “natural” or scripted. In fact, these media events are all the more satisfying when they unfold in a manner that suggests an idealized script.

What this couple was lauding about the Olympic hockey event was that it unfolded in a narrative manner as if it had been intentionally scripted. Perhaps the belief that the win was not in any way managed adds to the sense of wonder over the event’s ability to generate the maximum amount of drama, tension and glory for the Canadian champions, but admiration for the physcial abilities of the Canadian team seems to be mixed, in the overheard conversation, with admiration for the player’s ability to create a good “sports experience”, which includes a certain amount of dramatic tension and last-minute reversals of fortune. In short, the Canadian/American hockey playoff is to be remembered, not because the players were so good at what they did, but because they managed to put on such an entertaining spectacle.

The Olympic event produced an experience that could galvanize the artificial construction we call nation, uniting, for a moment its diverse races and classes into at least the illusion of a focused social body. Would such an experience be worth orchestrating for the various governmental and corporate investors in the Olympic culture industry? If it were advantageous to manage or “fix” it, would it even be possible to do so? The idea that Canada’s overtime win happened spontaneously adds a certain credence to the always precarious claims of nationhood, as if the universe itself were conspiring to affirm the Canadian experience, but is there any reason to think that learning the event had been faked would undermine our faith in the Olympic experience? Perhaps we would simply extend our admiration to the clever organizers, media outlets and politicians as people who should share in the glory over the players’ accomplishment.

A cohort mentioned today how, after the game was over, there was a deluge on the streets, not just of revelers, horn-honkers and flag wavers, but of people taking their dogs out for a much needed pee. Amidst the flurry of nationalistic sentiment and celebration, it seems that a more everyday collective force was at work, with Canadians across the nation simultaneously producing their pets to fertilize the earth in a great torrent of suppressed fluids. This unintentional synchronization of activity illustrates the point that it doesn’t matter whether the event was scripted or not, the net effect is the same: like thousands of dog owners orchestrated by a chance factor, the Olympic spectacle calibrates diverse people with the entity we call Canada, and with the larger geo-political construction of global politics. And this seems to be a feat that governments and other entities whose existence depends on upholding a certain network of global power relations would be willing to invest quite a bit of resources in producing.

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