Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sochi: Catching Fire on Ice

Will Johnny Weir be the Katniss of the Sochi Winter Olympics?

The openly gay figure skater has stated in interviews that he is "prepared to be arrested" at the Sochi Winter Olympics, scheduled to take place February 7 to 23, 2014.

In a case of calculated evil, the repressive Putin regime in June enacted a law banning "gay propaganda."   

The law prohibits statements maintaining the "equivalence of traditional and non-traditional sexual relations." Foreign citizens who violate the law in the media face a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 rubles (up to $1500 U.S.), arrest for up to 15 days and deportation.

"If it takes me getting arrested for people to pay attention, and for people to lobby against this law, then I'm willing to take it," Wier said to CBS, adding: "Like anyone, I'm scared to be arrested. But I'm also not afraid of being arrested."

Sochi spokesmen have clearly stated that the anti-gay law will be enforced at the Olympics. Then the International Olympic Committee turned around and lied, saying that would not happen.

The result of the legislation has unleashed a flood of violent attacks on LGBT Russians. People have been assaulted, threatened, kidnapped and murdered. A gay newscaster who came out mid-broadcast was fired, and the state media outlet deleted any trace of his reports on YouTube.

The comparison to the film and books The Hunger Games seems apt. While the hairstyles and costumes may differ, the similarities are clear. The gargantuan hypocrisy of the futuristic terror in The Hunger Games also pervades the upcoming Winter Olympics, which have yet to begin.

But the Olympics-specific violence has. An electrician at an Olympic residential building where the Games will be held was raped and tortured by Russian police.  They deny any torture took place.

The threat of violence pervades the country. Competitors in the Olympics and the fictional Hunger Games are faced with threats from their rulers. Vaunted to international celebrity status, they ride a fine line between standing up for the common people and obeying their overlords just to stay alive. Meanwhile, outside the arena, thousands suffer.
Yet, already, straight athletes are showing support.  

Nick Symmonds
Only recently, trackster Nick Symmonds openly defied the "gay propaganda" law by dedicating his silver medal to LGBT Russians. He met with a member of the Russian LGBT Sport Federation as an obvious show of fealty towards the increasingly contentious controversy. Here he is in a photo posted on the Gay Games blog.

While he suffered no harassment at that event, the reality is that both inside and outside the arena, the climate of fear is already burning bright.

The International Olympics committee has already shown its cowardice by siding with the oppressive Putin regime. The IOC has threatened sanctions against any athletes who show defiance against Putin's fascism.

Other straight allies include hockey players who are going to the Games. NHL players Henrik Zetterberg and Victor Hedman have voiced their disapproval of the antigay law. Whether they will soon be stifled remains to be seen.

Even a Swedish high jumper's subtle fashion statement of rainbow-painted fingernails has been warned by colluding sports officials. Emma Green-Trigaro's fingernails posed such a threat to sports overlords that they threatened her with fines.

Really, you cabal of corrupt creeps? Fingernail paint?

LGBT athletes and fans of course know the deep-rooted history of homophobia in the IOC. As far back as 1982, the IOC sued former Olympic triathlete Tom Waddell with a lawsuit over the use of the word "Olympic." That vindictive act, which ignored lesser events like the Rat Olympics and the Police Olympics, forced the first of many quadrennial events to be renamed the Gay Games.

Eventually, that decision became a good thing, for the Gay Games have proven to be a more egalitarian and friendly event that never approached the fiercely competitive Olympics.

Critics wonder what "good" can come of allowing the Sochi Games to take place, citing the horrendous hypocrisy of the international community that allowed Nazi Germany to host the Olympics in 1936. While Jesse Owens' four-medal victory served as a symbolic "f*ck you," the events legitimized Hitler's regime and paved the way for World War II and its subsequent holocaust.

While many in the LGBT community continue their infighting over a vodka boycott, the larger issue remains. NBC, the U.S broadcaster of the Games, and its corporate sponsors, have openly displayed their duplicity with Russian media, which flagrantly stifles any form of dissent.

Coca-Cola, McDonald's and other major sponsors offered meager lip service of support for their LGBT consumers, while on the other hand pouring billions into sponsorship.

And where has their money gone? Oh, didn't you hear? Half of it was stolen by Putin's pals in what critics call "a monstrous scam." Billions gone, missing, misappropriated in a mafia dictatorship of corruption. And the sponsors? They're lovin' it!

As an expansive Grantland piece says, "This isn't an Olympics. This is a heist."

So, what of the athletes? What should they do, sacrifice their careers for a civil rights issue? Some athletes have called for a boycott, like German lesbian cyclist Judith Arndt.

The most idealistic, if not practical, idea is to move the Games out of Russia, Vancouver, preferably. 

But nearly all athletic organizations involved have strongly stated the importance of athletes' participation in the Sochi events. Gay multi-medal-winning diver Greg Louganis is against a boycott, saying it will hurt the athletes.

Gay celebrities like George Takei, Harvey Fierstein and Stephen Frye, however, have called for a full-on boycott.

While it's easy to boycott the likes of Coke and McDonalds –the stuff is toxic crap, anyway, and technically not even food–  a Chicago group is doing just that

But what's more difficult is the idea of boycotting the Games, of not watching, of not wondering just what the hell is going to happen.

Will someone arrest Putin himself? After all, he's a divorced adulterer. That's hardly "traditional."

Like the subversive phoenix pin and guerrilla imagery, even the hand gesture of solidarity in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire sequel trailer, several ideas have emerged as ways to "get away" with acts of defiance which may or not make it onto TV screens via the corrupt and complicit NBC network.

Openly gay New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerrup plans on wearing a rainbow pin. Proponents of hand-holding gesture have started sending out ideas and graphics. Others have called for an array of rainbow patches and small flags to be revealed at opportune moments by athletes and fans. This all reminds one of the secretive phoenix pin worn by Katniss in The Hunger Games.

But with so few openly gay athletes anywhere, let alone at the upcoming Games, the burden of defiance may fall to the likes of one young man.

The fabulously flamboyant Wier's figure skating routines and costumes have already rankled the antiquated group of figure skating officials, many of whom are sad, bitter closeted gay men. Weir knows he'll be a target, yet he remains defiant.

Will Weir step onto the ice in an outfit that, like the cautious hero Katniss, transforms into flames, or the symbolic phoenix wings?

Are the fates in our favor? Who knows? Every revolution begins with a spark.

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