Patriot Games

An Olympic opening song called ‘G’day’. A pre-pubescent girl as spirit of the nation holds the hand of an Aboriginal elder. Stockriders storm the stadium as the Sydney Symphony Orchestra plays the theme from ‘The Man from Snowy River’. It was a glorious spectacle of kitsch, revelling in the myth that the ‘ordinary person made Australia without conflict, oppression or environmental degradation. The current Foster’s advertisement for its latest round of global marketing gives an even more accurate rendition of the dominant ideologies of our country. Full of postmodern irony, and copied from a Canadian campaign for the Molson Brewery, the advertisement begins with an apparent disavowal of the conventional myths of Australia. ‘I don’t have a kangaroo for a pet. I don’t wrestle crocodiles. And I don’t wear a cork hat.’ However, it then steps into a new level of myth-making. ‘I fight wars but never start wars. I would rather make peace.’ The photographic images and film footage shift from the hand-on-heart ordinariness of the old digger to a focus on Major-General Cosgrove and the Australian East Timor contingent. ‘I can wear my country’s flag with pride. I am the rock. I am the ocean. I am the island continent.’ Our country is peaceful, tolerant and multicultural, intones the mock passionate voice-over. Ordinary people in brotherhood.

This iconic use of the image of the ‘ordinary person’ to bolster the standing of state and corporation is everywhere, and the Games have accentuated its force. The travels of the Olympic flame around Australia were central to this process. It is not an adequate critique of the ‘sacred flame’ that it was first revived in 1936 by Adolf Hitler as a way of linking the people of Nazi Germany to the deep past. It is not sufficient to note just that the munitions manufacturer, Krupps of Essen, produced a series of stainless steel torches weighing about a kilogram, to be carried in relay from Olympia in Greece to Berlin. And it is not enough to document that IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch used to be a fascist. We have known that for a long time. Writing in the New Statesman in 1993, Andrew Jennings recorded Samaranch’s dubious past:

Samaranch, now in his seventies, deserted from the army of the Spanish Republic during the civil war and hid in Barcelona until Franco had won. He spent the next thirty-five years climbing the ladder of fascist politics, ending up as the head of Franco’s rubber stamp Catalan ‘parliament’. Ten years after the Allies discovered Auschwitz, he volunteered for the elite fascist Falange, wore its uniform and gave the fascist salute. This he did until Franco died in 1975.

What is needed is a thorough examination of the use of the myth of ‘ordinary’ heroes. Nevertheless, such stark connections to corporatism point up the way in which states and corporations bask in the uncritical milieu of myths connecting pseudo-sacred meanings, instrumentalised passions, and beliefs in the ascendancy of ‘the ordinary person’. Despite what the Foster’s ad tells us, the use of ‘the ordinary person’ as signifying the peace-loving nation (Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom), masks a new reality of mediated and globally projected violence. These are the nations that are continually being drawn into war despite their postnational ‘pacifism’. Just as Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson in The Patriot) is tired of violence, having fought against the Indians and French, so are we. He is reluctant to fight the English in the American War of Independence, but when following the threat to his family he does enter the war, it is with a vengance. And so do we.

This point can be taken further. Ordinary people, non-combatants, now bear the brunt of wars whether it be in Iraq, Kosovo or Chechnya. State-down attempts to contain or even suppress national liberation movements now increasingly use ‘ordinary people’. In East Timor, the Indonesian government supported the outlaw local militia groups such as the Besi Merah Putih to disrupt and terrorise the independence process. Currently in West Papua, the ruling Indonesian party, Golkar, is said to financially support a local counter-independence militia called the Satgas Merah Putih or Red and White Taskforce. In the Philippines, the government is using local groups called the Civilian Armed Forces Geographic Units against the Muslim autonomy movement.

Next time let us not pretend that these things are not happening. Global events such as the Olympic Games could be splendid events if people such as John Howard, Juan Antonio Samaranch, John Elliot, Paul Hogan and Team Nike had to pay for tickets like the rest of us. If only we didn’t have to see repeated television footage of John Howard stepping into the reflected glory. Next time, let us get together without them, and leave behind the history of an instrumentalised, commercialised patriot games. As John Clarke might then say, ‘Let the People’s Games begin’.

Support Arena

Independent publications and critical thought are more important than ever. Arena has never relied on or received government funding. It has sustained its activities largely through the voluntary work and funding provided by editors and supporters. If Arena is to continue and to expand its readership, we need your support to do it.