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Thought Control, Costas, the Olympics and
Imperial Occupations Past and Present

by Paul Street
August 29, 2004

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I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you really want to see how the dominant corporate-state media manufactures mass consent to American racist, capitalist, militarist empire and inequality, you've got to look at sports, entertainment, and (for the lack of a better phrase right now) personal improvement media as well as the news media.  Beyond its functions of mass diversion, distraction, and infantilization, the non-news media is loaded with authoritarian ideology, presented in ways that are every bit as significant (maybe more significant) as what goes on with the more officially propagandistic and openly Orwellian news and commentary wing (see for example Paul Street, “Killing Us Softly: Politics and Entertainment,” ZNet Magazine, April 21, 2004).

Take, for example, the ongoing US Olympics coverage, brought to us by NBC, a subsidiary of leading world “defense” contractor General Electric. On August 24, NBC's master of Olympic ceremonies Bob Costas told viewers about the unexpected degree of success experienced by the Iraqi national Olympic soccer team in Athens. Costas finished this segment by quoting with approval some Iraqi commentator who said something very close to this (I am quoting from memory): “maybe our soccer team will help the world think of us Iraqis as something more than warriors who know how to handle AK47s and rocket propelled grenade launchers.  We might know how to shoot guns and grenade rockets but we also know how to play soccer.”

At this point I switched to ABC and learned that the US is escalating its bloody, provocative assault on proud Iraqi occupation resisters and cherished Muslim shrines in Najaf. The New Crusaders’ field supervisors are ratcheting up the speed of the killing lines on their big rolling imperial slaughterhouse, pulling out some of the really big hardware (no that's not how they put it, that's just anybody with a measure of truth reading between the lines).  When ABC returned to commercials, I went back to NBC to learn that two happy and tall bikini-clad American women had won the first (I think) women's beach volleyball gold medal in Olympic History and that America has won a large number of gold and silver medals so far. 

It strikes me that Costas really needs to find some American to quote saying that “maybe all this U.S. athletic success will help the world think of Americans as something other than rogue state imperialists, arrogant murderers of international law and Arab children, rapacious bullies bent on global domination. We can take out Arab and Pashtun villages, neighborhoods, homes, and children with cluster bombs, black hawk helicopters, stealth bombers, M-16s, and satellite guided missiles and maintain more than 700 officially acknowledged military bases across every continent on the planet but doggone it we can also run and swim fast.” 

A correspondent named Alex wrote me today to say that he “tried watching the Olympics a few nights ago. After about 30 minutes, Costas noted that the Russians won a bunch of gold medals in the 1980 games, and then said: ‘but remember these Olympics were boycotted by America and much of the free world.’” “Sports commentator” qua American ideologist Costas’ “free world” officially included a number of Central American states being terrorized by US-equipped/funded/supported death-squad regimes in 1980 and beyond.  Disgusted by Costas’ determination to downplay the Russians’ accomplishment and his unthinking acceptance and advancement of a rather dubious and in fact heavily ideological and imperialist construct (“the free world”), Alex turned off the television.

Alex's comment got me thinking about that 1980 Olympic boycott and how it looks in light of contemporary events. The horrible thing the Soviets did to merit “the free world's” athletic embargo in 1980 was to invade Afghanistan, which happened to be on their direct border -- the only time the Soviets ever invaded a nation beyond their assigned post-WWII (Yalta-imposed) geo-sphere of domination and influence (Russia and Eastern Europe).

Interesting.... Consistent with its far-flung imperial presence and bloody record in countries across the planet, the US has recently invaded, overthrown governments, and maintained occupations in not just Afghanistan but now also Iraq, two nations rather far from its national borders, killing tens of thousands of people in the pursuit of its power-mad power “elite's” ambitious and venerable global imperialist economic and geopolitical agenda. These criminal occupations would not have occurred but for the Afghanistan-related dismantling of the USSR, which, for all its problems provided a significant deterrent to the New Crusaders' limitless imperial ambition. Maybe the rest of the world should have boycotted Rogue State America, refusing to play games with its athlete representatives in Athens.

Later last night, watching the local Chicago NBC news (delayed by the Olympics) we learned that a tornado touched down in suburban (and very white) McHenry County. The sirens didn't go off and so people sat in their backyards unaware that a funnel cloud was coming around the bend (as it happens they lucked out and escaped without injury). 

That strikes me as a useful metaphor for the American victims of the next 9/11, most of whom will die without a clue, blinded to the gathering danger and its causes by a corrupt and cynical media that can't tell the whole truth about anything more serious than a gymnastic meet -- if even that.

Paul Street is a writer, speaker and researcher in Chicago, Illinois.  He is author of Empire and Inequality: Writings on America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2004). He can be reached at:

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