The Saturday photo, part XII: Juan Antonio Samaranch, recently deceased former president of the International Olympic Committee, performs a fascist salute in 1974.

Samaranch is fourth from the right.

For more details on the photo, see this article from The Times. See also Andrew Jennings, “Why Juan Antonio’s right arm is more muscular than his left (It’s had more exercise!) The Love that Dare Not Speak its Name”.

Hat-tip to my friend Jaume Subirana.


It’s three in the morning, many hours after the Winter Olympics came to a close and (more to the point) long after Sid “the Kid” Crosby scored the dramatic overtime goal that gave Team Canada its final, and most dearly coveted, gold medal by beating the USA at (ice) hockey.

Yet even now I can hear the shouts and celebrations on the streets of downtown Vancouver below my apartment window. And I don’t even live that close to the epicenter of the extraordinary street party that broke out as soon as that puck entered the net. The celebrations are no doubt in full swing on Granville and Robson Streets, some six or seven blocks away.

In the afternoon and early evening, the so-called Granville Entertainment District and nearby Robson Square were mobbed with thousands of mostly red-and-white clad revelers, chanting “Go Canada Go” or “Crosby, Crosby, Crosby,” giving each other high fives and hugs, ringing cowbells and hooting horns, climbing lampposts and bus shelters, and bursting into impromptu renditions of “O Canada!”

This notoriously reticent and self-effacing country has perhaps finally learned the trappings and gestures of nationalism. Of course, Canadians have always quietly considered themselves superior; but the emphasis has been on the quiet sense of distinction. Indeed, the exuberant displays of pride visible over the past few hours would previously have been considered to be precisely the kind of gauche jingoism that Canada had associated with other, more vulgar and less civilized nations.

So one consequence of all the flag-waving and chanting is that Canadians may be a little less smug in the future: they’ve shown that they can be just as blindly patriotic as (say) their neighbors to the south. As they become more ostentatiously Canadian, they undermine that sense of entitlement that comes precisely from the notion that “ostentatious” and “Canadian” are two words that don’t really belong in the same sentence.

The more visibly Canadian they become, the less “Canadian” they actually are.

And perhaps it’s for this reason that so many of the most visibly and audibly frenetic of the revelers were the so-called “new” Canadians, the relatively recent immigrants (and their children) from China, Japan, India, and so on.

Vancouver is, after all, an extraordinarily multicultural city; about 40% of its inhabitants were born outside of Canada, most of whom come from Asia though with a significant proportion also from places such as Southern or Central Europe. And yet there are times when this is not so obvious: the various ethnic groups are parceled out around the city and a huge number of Chinese Canadians, for instance, live and work in suburbs such as Richmond, just to the south.

Yet it was clear that very many of the crowds who poured across the bridges (some of which were soon closed to vehicular traffic because of the sheer numbers of pedestrians) to get to the downtown peninsula came from precisely these outlying suburbs.

I wonder if this is because painting your face with a maple leaf or waving the flag from a hockey stick is a form of nationalism that is more available to new immigrants than the rather more insidious distanced self-regard that has hitherto characterized Canadians’ sense of themselves. It is a habitus that can more easily be picked up or (better) incarnated, whatever one’s background or skin color.

In any case, with the Olympic celebrations, and with the multitude that packed its thoroughfares to shout and holler, Vancouver city center felt distinctly less white than it does on a regular business day.

And it is certain that the experience of the Olympic Canada (literally) on the streets was much more multiracial than the image presented by either the opening or the closing ceremonies, both of which gave us only a tokenism towards First Nations as a flimsy cover for an otherwise overwhelmingly white and European depiction of the country. (As many have pointed out, for instance, there was no official recognition at all of Asian Canada during the opening ceremony held in this most Asian of Canadian cities.)

Almost four years ago, and while recognizing all the legitimate critiques of this over-commercialized festival brought to us by Coke and Visa, I asked “why not rescue something of the (perhaps utopian) commonality that still resides in the Olympics, rather than, inaccurately, damning them as simply another set of enclosures?”

It seems to me that we have indeed seen some of this utopian commonality in action on the streets of Vancouver over the past couple of weeks, albeit (ironically) ultimately clad in a maple-leaf flag. And we have seen both its distance from the official representation as well as the ways in which it potentially challenges, transforms, and ultimately undermines the national symbols around which it seems, superficially perhaps, to be organized.

Update: Mike Cowie says something similar about this being an Olympics on and of the streets.


I’ve been lax with the blog recently. For good reasons and bad. I do have thoughts for future posts lined up, however, so expect more diagram poems, and a critique of indigenism soon. Plus something rather more directly on hegemony and posthegemony. In the meantime…

I was at an interesting conference the other weekend, over on the island, on the Commons. George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici were speaking, among others, including local activists.

At the end there was a long, plenary discussion session. As always in such sessions, the talk rather went in circles, and mostly concerned what had been left out of the conference presentations, rather than the themes that they had in fact introduced. (And I was as guilty of making such points as anyone else.)

Vancouver 2010 LogoThen my friend Fiona suggested that the issue of the commons was a good one to rally around to protest the upcoming Vancouver Winter Olympics.

She pointed to the ways in which preparations for the Olympics involve a series of privatizations, backhanders to local developers, and attempts to “clean up” the city’s Downtown Eastside (Canada’s poorest postcode) by cracking down on the homeless, banishing them to the suburbs.

(It seems that the Olympics protest site, a parody of the official site, has been forced down, apart from a single page disputing the emblem chosen for Vancouver 2010. But see 2010 Olympic Games Watch, although these seem to be mainly a group of concerned NIMBY taxpayers. More along the lines of Fiona’s criticisms is Naomi Klein’s article, “The Olympics Land Grab”. See also this environmental protest against the highway development to Whistler.)

But as I said at the time, I’d argue that the Olympics, and the hullaballoo surrounding them, manifest a rather more complex inter-relation between common, public, and private than could be summarized in a simple cry that “we are the commons, you the privatizers.” I was roundly attacked for saying this at the conference, and I’m no simple-minded Olympics booster, but…

The driving ideology of the Olympic movement, after all, is of a transnational liberal universalism. And however much the Olympic organization fails to live up to their own ideals, that ideology continues to have its effects. It translates into a public service ethos that requires some attention paid to sustainability and even First Nations issues. Moreover, and more pragmatically, the Olympics are an occasion for massive public works projects, particularly improving transport infrastructure, but also housing as well as sports venues, that are on the whole arguably in the public good. Much more so, that is, than the activities of most private capitalist enterprises.

I further noted that in my own experience the various (failed) attempts by Manchester to secure the Olympic Games (though they did eventually end up holding the 2002 Commonwealth Games, as a sort of compromise) were in fact crucial to the renovation of a sense of communal and urban identity. Some of which, yes, led for instance to massive land speculation and milliion-pound flats in the city centre, while deprivation continued round the corner. But much of which was, truly, inspiring and invigorating.

Shambles Square, ManchesterAlongside the 1996 IRA bomb, which opened up parts of the city centre that had not been public space since the middle ages, and alongside the city’s cultural creativity (music, sport), Manchester’s (leftist) city council’s determination to host the games played its part in a post-industrial renovation and sense of civic pride which has mostly facilitated, rather than ennervating, a sense of the common.

Finally, I’d add the following: what makes the Games big business (for whatever profits local developers reap are by comparison peanuts) is that they enable global advertizers to sell global audiences via global television deals to global corporations: McDonalds, VISA, what have you.

And the interest that these global corporations have in the Games is precisely the fact that, in these days of market fragmentation and the decline of public service broadcasting, they are (like the Superbowl and the World Cup, but even more so) among the few things that many millions around the world have, well, in common. It’s true that Nike et. al. are trying to convert this common affect into something that can raise a profit, but why deny that brief glimpse of affective commonality?

In other words, why not rescue something of the (perhaps utopian) commonality that still resides in the Olympics, rather than, inaccurately, damning them as simply another set of enclosures?