Patriotic Shlock: The Endless Summer

This first appeared in The Libertarian Forum, Volume XVIII, NO.7-8, July-August, 1984

What in hell is happening in America? This has been an Endless Summer, an odious, repellent, horrifying orgy of Patriotic Shlock. In all my years I have never seen so many blankety-blank American flags being waved, mindlessly, over and over again.

It started on that rotten last night of the Democratic convention, when the massed delegates were all waving, instead of the usual banners for their nominees, American flags, duly issued to them by the smooth Mondale machine. The culmination was the acceptance speech of Geraldine Ferraro, in which La Ferraro droned on about her immigrant mother, immigrant daughters, and God knows what else, all to the tune of American flags being waved, and, yes, masses of delegates sobbing and hugging each other.

I put it all down to one night’s aberration, little realizing what an orgy of mass sobbing and flag-waving we were all in for. The next step, of course, was the infernal Olympics, in which patriotic shlock reached a new all-time low. Again, what in hell is going on? There was nothing at all like this in the last Olympics held in the U.S. – the winter Olympics of 1976. There was no sobbing, no flag-waving, in fact there was a healthy realism by the media focussing on the transportation foulups at Lake Placid. But here, in L.A., in the home of Hollywood shlock, all of a sudden everyone went nuts, the audience, the media, even the athletes. The pattern began with the Opening Ceremonies, a vast exercise in tedium, when the flag-waving, the sobbing, and all the rest began, and never let up. Come on: 84 pianists in blue tuxes, simultaneously faking the playing of Rhapsody in Blue! And it wasn’t only ABC (see below) that went bonkers; the press was almost as bad, San Francisco’s famous voice of the Peepul, Truman Democrat Herb Caen, writing two lengthy columns on the wonders of the Opening Ceremonies, how it “made everyone proud to be an American again,” “proud to wave flags again,” etc. Yecchh! Also characteristically weighing in to do his muddled bit was philosopher Tibor Machan in Reason magazine, taking off on a few facts, all of them wrong, about the Olympics.

ABC was disgustingly chauvinist, much more than in past Olympics. Cameras pointed shamelessly to Americans to the exclusion of virtually anyone else; commentary was American-hype to the nth degree; behind every American athlete pictured was a huge American flag waving in the nonexistent breeze. ABC got so bad that Olympic authorities began to complain.

But it wasn’t just ABC or the press. It was the American masses, the audience themselves, that succumbed to the most unsportsmanlike behavior. The mob, bellowing “USA,” “USA,” the cheers for every U.S. point, the booing when a U.S. gymnast got less than a perfect 10. Probably the low point of the entire Games was when Carl Lewis, upon winning the 100 meters – typically, about 20 meters ahead of everyone else – grabbed a huge American flag, and virtually wrapping himself in the thing, ran around the Stadium. It was the apex of a truly obscene spectacle.

And what ever happened to the old propaganda of the U.S. media that the Olympic Games are not a team, but an individual, sport, so that one shouldn’t even count the medals gained by the various countries? That old hype apparently applied only when the Soviet Union and East Germany used to walk off with most of the medals. But now that the East European bloc was safely out of the way, Oh the crowing and oh the gloating about all the medals “we” of the U.S. were racking up! Hey, fantastic, so we beat up on the British Antilles, and all the other one-horse countries that the U.S. paid to show up. As usual, the American mob was ungallant from start to finish, as in the invasion of tiny Grenada, gloating about the huge U.S. stomping on minuscule opposition!

An old friend of mine, a U.S. patriot from many years of being obliged to live in a hated foreign land, upon watching the opening ceremonies, lamented, “It made me ashamed to be an American!”

I tell you: Watching the Olympics made me nostalgic for the good old days of the New Left, and the ranting about “Amerika” or even “Amerikkka.” One more day of this horror, one more binge of patriotic sobbing and flag-waving, and I will be ready for the Jeff Hummell Deviation (i.e. opposition to all nationalism, even national liberation against imperial States.) And for the first time in decades I look with favor on old Herbert Hoover, President when the last Summer Olympics were held in the U.S. (Los Angeles in 1932), who didn’t bother officiating at the opening ceremonies because “they weren’t important.” At this point, I am almost ready to forgive Hoover his origination of the New Deal.