The Winter Olympics begin on Friday in Pyeongchang, South Korea, with the opening ceremonies kicking off two weeks of nonstop action in a bunch of sports that you probably haven't cared about since four years ago.
With the looming threat of war on the Korean Peninsula, this year's Olympic broadcasts will likely come with even more appeals than usual to the idea that the games somehow transcend politics and international rivalries. Don't believe it, says Michael J. Socolow, author of Six Minutes in Berlin: Broadcast Spectacle and Rowing Gold at the Nazi Olympics, and a professor of journalism at the University of Maine.
That's a hope has been dashed ever since the first widely broadcast Olympics, which were hosted by Germany during the rein of the Nazi regime, Socolow writes.
The Nazis understood the Olympic Games offered a unique propaganda opportunity, and they seized it. Ever since, every dictator and totalitarian government dreams of impressing the world through the supposedly apolitical lens of sports broadcasting.
But sports, and sport broadcasting, can never be apolitical. To argue that sports can transcend politics is to miss the obvious fact that politics often structure our shared experience of sports. The greatest moments in American sports history—like the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, Joe Louis knocking out Nazi Germany's Max Schmeling in 1938, and Jesse Owens winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games run by Nazi racists—were all intensified by the political context in which they took place.
Ironically, it was Nazi broadcasting advances that created the global superstardom enjoyed by Owens. But his legend wouldn't be the same had he won his gold medals in, say, Ecuador. Context matters. He won in front of Hitler, just as the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey team won when the Soviet Union seemed ascendant and the Carter administration weak and vacillating. The Olympics have always been embedded in politics, and that's what makes them worth watching. Well, that and curling.
Read the whole thing here.
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