feel like I was the only one who saw it.
And maybe I was.
Weirdly enough, the Olympic Winter Games viewership in America was down 43% during these Opening Games when compared to the 2018 Olympics. Weird to me, considering that the average American’s screen time has gone up exponentially, with people now devoting a third of their waking time to mobile apps alone.
I happened to flip on the Olympic Games right as Andy Browne, Editorial Director of Bloomberg New Economy and former Senior Correspondent and Columnist for The Wall Street Journal (two of the few news publications truly respected by members of both increasingly polarized political parties in the U.S., at least in my humble opinion), stood next to NBC Sports Reporter Mike Tirico and Yale Professor/Expert on China Jing Tsu, and looked directly into the soul of the camera. He proceeded to say:
“Western governments, the White House, human rights groups, have all allegedly come out and said that the Chinese government is engaged in a systematic oppression of Muslim Uyghurs [Turkish ethnic group] in Xinjiang. They alleged that this is a massive program of social engineering aimed at suppressing Muslim Uyghur culture, language, tradition and identity. They alleged a host of human rights abuses: forced labor, coercive birth control practices, indoctrination, and that all of this adds up to a form of cultural genocide. It has to be said that the Chinese Government emphatically denies all of this- they say that accusations of genocide are the lie of the century.”
According to researchers, authorities have locked up 1 million or more members of minority ethnic groups in mass internment camps over the past several years in China, most being Uyghurs.
He went on: “Savannah [the smiling, pleasantly articulate blonde American NBC news anchor in Stamford, CT to whom they reported], what we’re going to see this evening is a spectacular, high-tech, cinematic show projected onto a gigantic LED screen, which is the floor of this stadium. But beneath this, we are going to see subtle propaganda and not-so-subtle power politics… Watch out for the two most powerful authoritarians in the world in the V.I.P. Box sitting side-by-side: Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. They have a close relationship; they’ve formed an axis of power to challenge the United States. One of the big questions hanging over these Olympics is whether Putin will send his armies and his tanks into Ukraine while the competition is going on. And if he does that, will Xi Jinping support him? If that happens, we could be living in a very different world at the end of these Olympics.”
My hand immediately went to Twitter. I expected to see a ton of people panicking over the implications of Brownes’ words.
But that wasn’t the case. I literally couldn’t find one tweet about what had just happened.
Instead, Twitter’s trending topics were: “Kylie Jenner welcomes birth of her second child with Travis Scott and revealed the news on Instagram,” A video of a man on fire in Italy was miscaptioned and was not related to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, fact-checkers say,” and “Euphoria’s Maddy vs. Cassie Feud” (Euphoria is a popular teen drama series featuring current Hollywood “It Girl” Zendaya who plays a drug-addicted high schooler living in a lonely digital age).
Google surely had to have it; the next morning I went to find articles speculating the likelihood of Browne’s assertions and predictions during the Opening Ceremony. I couldn’t find a single one.
*There are now some, but it is nowhere near a ‘trending topic’ in mainstream media
I watched the Opening Ceremony two nights before my 25th birthday. One’s brain supposedly becomes fully developed by age 25 – I learned this in college as a neuroscience major. This fact has represented my favorite and least favorite part about turning 25.
During my neuroscience stint, I became obsessed over the idea that our brains – and therefore our perception – are so deeply interwoven with the environment that shapes them that through cultural norms alone, the majority of a person’s identity is already determined before their brain even finishes developing.
I assert that my generation’s collective brain has been tainted by technology- warped from its intended form due to its placement in an over-stimulated, under-connected environment not designed to sustain its own evolutionary needs; 6 years before my birth, the World Wide Web became available to the public. The first iPod came out when I was 4. Facebook became open to the public when I was 9. The iPhone came out when I was 10.
Screens have become the main driver of culture in our environment and our brains are just doing their best to keep up.
I texted friends, who all responded in the same vein: “Damn that’s crazy. Anyways, did you see that meme I sent you?”
In my neurotic, bibliophilic solitude, I decided I had to rewatch the broadcast to document what words the reporters said exactly. But shockingly, after scouring the internet for literally an hour trying to find the broadcast (both on the light and dark sides of the web), I realized that it was impossible to stream for free. NBC offered a 2 minute teaser, and Youtube advertised “must-see moments” from the ceremony, consisting of 5-minute curated clips. The full video was pulled off of Youtube.
The only way to view the entire 2 hour, 27 minute-long ceremony retroactively was to sign up for a “Peacock” subscription through NBC for $4.99 a month. So I paid for the subscription.
“Let the world’s biggest watch party begin” said a Siri-like narrator on the replay on Peacock TV’s version, boasting a computer-generated woman’s voice that wasn’t featured during the original live broadcast.
Then cut to advertisement time: Comcast, Xfinity, Amazon Prime Video (which enthusiastically bellowed “when all the fantasy is in one place, the entertainment never ends!”), Walmart, Bank of America, Apple, prescription drug commercials in between them all;
A car commercial showing off its feature of an inside camera capable of 15 different angles (which spied on the actor who plays the driver’s daughter and her boyfriend in the backseat while he drives to make sure there isn’t any “funny business”);
Other advertisements for self-driving cars, cars with wireless chargers, cars with massaging chairs;
Streaming platform advertisements offering the most “binge-worthy” tv-shows, more prescription drug commercials;
An ironic commercial for the new Harry Potter movie that whispered, “if you listen carefully enough, the past whispers to you”.
And then finally, Andy Browne. Immediately after his assertions of cultural genocide and a possible Chinese-backed Russian invasion of the Ukraine, the screen returned to Reporter Savannah Guthrie, smiling as if she didn’t hear Brown’s words while her eyes were full of fearful reproach.
Then a happy-go-lucky weatherman with rolled up sleeves broke down a map showing how many different states are each sending athletes to the Olympics, toting small town nostalgia before cheerfully saying, “Savannah, who says small towns can’t kindle big dreams?!”
In a subsequent, horrifying display, “Imagine” by John Lennon played while Chinese ice skaters performed and the camera panned to Vladimir Putin overlooking the performance from an empty stage, looking down in approval at the spectacle of unity displayed before him.
The problem with my generation’s ability to think critically and express itself is that it has been exposed to the idea of its own reflection for too long.
Like mitosis, American Capitalism and technological advancement have combined into one massive cell, together tapping into our hedonistic nature. It discourages any type of meaningful conversation.
As a country we are becoming isolationists, yet again, but this time it is occurring down to the individual level. If cultural genocide is really going to be “the lie of the century,” how would we even know?