One of the iconic images of the closing ceremony at the London Olympics was the video of John Lennon singing, “Imagine”. This late 20thcentury hymn to universalism, secularism and non-attachment to property never fails to give me a warm feeling of hope and nostalgia. Juxtaposed to the elation of the young people just finishing a peak experience competing in the Olympics, John Lennon’s message seems almost possible.
In the morning after, however, I recall how each interview of a winning Olympian included a highly visible bottle of Coke, next to the microphone; clear and effective product placement. I also recall how the the cameras keep finding the young royals watching from the stands, celebrities in a centuries long brand strategy that effectively communicates the inevitability of the class and power structure, selling the voyeuristic titillation of glamour in place of social mobility, empowerment and inclusion. And I recall, that the flag of Greece, raised at the start and lowered at the closing of these ceremonies, represents both the vision of a peaceful interlude, founded 2500 years ago by authors of democracy, as well as the collapse of economic security engineered by other young competitors who play for teams named Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase.
The commitment and dedication it requires to be a world class athlete, a gold medal winner owns my heart. I love the people who make their lives into this pursuit of human possibility. It’s also fine with me that we pay for the opportunity to see these amazing young people fulfill their possibilities by selling advertisement for products. Let’s just not confuse the real dedication of the World’s youth with the brand strategy of the World’s consumer product companies.
Cynicism is a commitment to no possibility. Idealism is a commitment to the possibility of possibility. I find myself falling somewhere between these two stances these days. Maybe it’s because I am 50, old enough to recall exactly where I was when I hear that John Lennon had been shot by a crazed young man. Maybe it is because I am finally gathering enough data about life and history to see the patterned shadows cast by the bright lights of candidates’ promises and advertised dreams. I do not want to be defeated by the mendacity of dopes who think they can fool us all. I don’t want to merely glare at the mock-sincerity of political leaders who craft their messages to divide us into segments. I want to believe that we are smart enough to see through the well made advertising, the subtle product placement and the internet-age bread and circuses.