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The arrival of the Olympic torch is, to the happy denizens of the Global Village, a combination of St Patrick’s Day and Fourth of July. The Olympic torch is ignited several months before the opening celebration of the Olympic Games at the site of the ancient Olympics in Olympia, Greece.
Eleven women, representing the roles of priestesses, perform a ceremony in which the torch is kindled by the light of the sun, its rays concentrated by a parabolic mirror. It is then symbolically carried by relay around the world, so its arrival in San Francisco was a very big day, indeed. Priestesses, the light of the sun, torches and “parabolic mirrors” – it sounds like a ritual invented in San Francisco.
But as luck would have it, the Beijing Olympics are scheduled right in the middle of Beijing’s brutal repression of Tibetan separatists, which has inflamed famous Buddhists from the Dalai Llama to Richard Gere, both of whom have called for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics.
Not to mention the dramatic statement of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has never seen a fortuitous cause that he didn’t want to steer toward his own cause. Yet even he didn’t call for disrupting the opening ceremony. He merely “passionately” pleaded with President Bush, “For the sake of your children, of our children, for the sake of the beautiful people of Tibet – don’t go!”
China’s crackdown on Tibet was most unfortunate for this year’s Olympic planners, who for some reason thought that the most repressive regime left on the planet would be the perfect backdrop for the symbolic celebration of true democracy that the Olympics are supposed to represent.
After all, who would have dreamed that the same regime that staged the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre would “suddenly” revert to repression again – especially not just in time to spoil the Olympics? Didn’t Wal-Mart insist on massive government reform as a condition of making China the world’s largest exporter of socks? Who could have foreseen such a thing?
The torch was lit in AT&T Park, and as the first runner approached the gathering demonstrators, he suddenly deviated from the scheduled route and disappeared into a nearby warehouse. Torch, flame and all!
As the crowd gathered in anticipation of the glorious Olympic Torch Relay, the city fathers decided to re-route the torch run without telling anybody where – for the sake of protecting the Olympic flame from human rights advocates, I guess.
Like Hannah Montana trying to evade her adoring public, the torch was whisked to an undisclosed location where the runners began an abbreviated symbolic relay, flanked by a phalanx of police. They all jogged alongside in riot gear like Secret Service agents running beside the president’s limousine.
The view from the helicopter cameras more resembled emergency crews responding to a city disaster than a triumphant parade.
In the end, the “beacon of global democracy” was whisked away, like a rock star fleeing from a pack of paparazzi, skipping closing ceremonies to go directly to the airport, where it could be whisked away to an unknown location for its own protection.
There is something very ironic about the Olympic torch being too controversial for San Francisco that I can’t quite put my finger on (like being “too French for Paris” – or something).
But the image of the Olympic torch tearing through San Francisco like a rock star fleeing before a profit-seeking mob of paparazzi isn’t quite the symbolism I expected to see.
The running of the Olympic torch this year is more reminiscent of its modern-times origin. The very first running of the torch was at the 1936 Munich Olympics, hosted in Nazi Germany by Adolf Hitler himself.
This year, the symbolism seems to have come full circle back to its modern origin.
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