Monday, July 23, 2012

No Land's Man

This article about Sudanese runner Guor Marial has been a small seed of thought planted in my mind for several days. It feels like it's germinating now, so I'm going to try to unearth it roots-n-all to get a look at just what I think it means. This most philosophical swing of the bat hinges on a small part in a book I recently picked up by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek entitled Living in the End Times, in which Žižek postulates that capitalism and the global order it maintains are nearing an endgame. From there he draws on the five stages of grief as a framework to analyze our world systems, social realities, and ideologies. It's been an engrossing read so far despite the excessive verbiage, but it is philosophy after all, I suppose.

The headline of the article above contains the story: "IOC allows runner without country to compete in London under Olympic flag". Well, the whole story is that this runner belongs to the infant nation of South Sudan, whose recent secession from Sudan is much too new to have established the proper Olympic body from which to authorize and send athletes. So, the IOC has determined that Guor Marial may participate in the Olympics without representing a country; he will instead run under the Olympic flag.

Because the IOC could have created South Sudan as a country recognized by the organization if it had wanted to, we can ask what reasons they may have for not doing so. I see a couple possible ways of reading this elision of South Sudan in favor of their own flag:

1.) Since Marial refused to where the flag of a Sudan that has seen dozens of his family members killed under its colors, the IOC could have denied his right to participate. They found a solution that maintained their established order (a country must have an Olympic body in order to participate) while allowing Marial to participate. This is one you might read in the news.

2.) "We at the IOC have resolved that the Olympics shall be your country, and the Olympic Village, your hometown. Your food, McDonald's and your flag, ours. You are the embodiment of a bodiless, faceless organization that has waited decades for such an opportunity to both humanize and commercialize the WeAreTheWorld-ness of the Olympic Games."

3.) It offers a sentimental story for the IOC to tout in the wake of their strange reticence regarding the 40 year anniversary of the 1972 Münich Games and its accompanying tragedy. The IOC has refused to acknowledge the tragedy in the opening ceremonies because they  fear backlash from extremists feel the need to "maintain political neutrality." Marial's story gift-wraps a sympathetic angle that will likely be covered in excess--certainly much more than the Münich massacre. Do you smell roses? That's the IOC.

As I see it Marial embodies a non-entity at the Games. Bearing the Olympic flag contains the statement that he is at once from everywhere and nowhere. He runs representing sport for all men and women, but he is also a neutral, neutered participant in the world's games--shackled and destined to represent only a void. Here, Žižek might cite the Lacanian moment when the "signifier falls into the signified," or, when the word becomes indistinguishable from the thing it names or even gains supremacy over the object. If these circumstances have never happened before, is it possible that Marial is the first person in history of whom the words "Olympic athlete" are true in their fullest sense?

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