This is the third article exploring how International Olympic Committee (IOC), as a controlling dominator energy, cast a dark shadow over Vancouver during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. It shut local businesses out from profiting from the event and it attempted to re-define the vast, multidimensional complexity of Canadian people into insulting one-dimensional cartoon figures.
Another aspect of IOC’s darkness was its attempt to manipulate and control the people and their Olympic stories. It failed to do so for many reasons that, in my opinion, come down to the fact that we are Canadians: relatively free sovereign beings who stand in our power and claim our space as rightfully ours. It is an example of what Mark Lakeman of City Repair in Portland, Oregon calls “placemaking” where people claim their space in their community as belonging to them.
Lakeman defines “placemaking” as “creating a shared vision. While professionals are respected as technical resources, the community is the driving force so the world we inhabit reflects who we are. Placemaking is as much about psychological ownership and reclamation of space as it is about physically building a place. Creating a common ground that transcends the differences among people powerfully addresses isolation and creates an environment where people feel like they can do anything they set their collective minds to.”
Sovereign beings are a problem for dominator energy. As sovereign Canadians, we are grounded deeply in our own time and space, fully occupying and claiming it. We do not need externally referenced authority figures to tell us what to think, who we are, or how to live. Sovereignty is the ultimate goal of placemaking. First Nations peoples have always been powerful models of placemaking and thus a serious problem for the dominator energy of governments. Here in Vancouver, most of us acknowledge that we are living in the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples. This acknowledgement has huge implications for freeing us all. Our ignorance in not understanding the significance of honouring First Nations peoples’ wishes to rename Stanley Park XwayXway is our loss.
The dance between these two fields of energy, the sovereign and the dominator, has been fascinating to analyze. In the end, from my perspective, with respect to the Olympics, I say, “We owned it.”
Social media exemplifies individual sovereignty and so it has always been problematic for the Olympic machine. In an interview with Maurice Cardinal, author of the book, Leveraging Olympic Momentum, he said that IOC's rules legally bind any official group involved with the Olympics to saying only positive things about the experience. This meant mainstream Olympic media sponsors could not criticize what occurred.
“The IOC has based its relationship with the media largely on a system of control: very tight regulations about the Olympic trademark, what can be said, what can be used, who can shoot images, what video can be published,” says Alfred Hermida, a professor at UBC’s journalism school. “That system of control….doesn’t work in an internet age when, basically, we all carry around with us the tools to be journalists.”
During the Olympics, social media took the opportunity to take center stage. At competitions, celebrations, protests and cultural events, ordinary people as well as social media participants blogged, Twittered, Facebooked, IPhoned, and filmed anything that moved. As Kris Krug of True North Media House told me in an interview, “It was an experience of people reclaiming the power by using social media to tell their own unique stories.”
As a result of social media’s participation, different stories got told. The Red Tent campaign, for instance, brought attention to the chronic homelessness in Vancouver that IOC tried to hide. Reilly Yeo, a volunteer with Red Tent, said that they deliberately chose to fight the Olympic symbolism with their own symbols. They dropped a beautiful 45’ banner off the Cambie Bridge with police permission. Social media documented it.
One Kevin Murray article in The Tyee explained the power of social media exemplified by the W2 Culture + Media House in the Downtown Eastside, “…VANOC, for all its money and power, can't keep up with W2's Twitter-tech savvy. Tweets launched from W2 are far outstripping those with VANOC hashtags, and the various 140-character angles on the Games clearly are more diverse.”
One way dominator energy gets nullified is if the playing field is levelled. Social media has that effect. At the W2 opening on February 10, documented by social media, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson recorded some of the event with his IPhone and then said, “We are all media.”
In a W2 debate on the state of the arts in BC during the Olympics, participants commented on the contrast between “the privileged celebrations of the Cultural Olympiad and the raw spontaneity of a homeless shuffle [that was documented by social media]”.
As well, participants were “highly critical of branding of First Nation's issues, like the commodification of the Cowichan sweaters or the Inukshuk logo (now a trendy tattoo request at Adrenaline on Granville Street), and the lack of attention given to the Stolen Sister's campaign.
The United Nations initiative to protect the intellectual property of indigenous groups hasn't achieved what it might, notes Younging, and the selective use of First Nations artwork and imagery during the Olympics give an incomplete picture." A facade is created by showing individuals’ art without showing the reality of people’s living conditions."
We ignored and challenged the dark, bullying threats of Big Brother IOC monitoring our Twitters and blogs as we immersed ourselves in the experience, blurring the lines between participant and audience. I found myself repeatedly screaming about the overbearing police presence on my Twitter page, saying things like, “Alien cops get out.”, “Don’t chew on our ears. You stroke our ears and we’ll stroke yours”, and “It’s our party and we can protest if we want to!”
We stymied IOC control tactics on more than one front by our insistence that this was our party and we could do as we wished without asking Daddy for permission. One incident I lovingly recall was the hilarious partying of the Canadian Women’s Olympic hockey team after their gold medal win and the IOC’s silly criticism of it. Social media documented the party.
Women’s gold medal hockey players celebrate YouTube video
At a Social Media Club meetup, after the Olympics, one person said that the 2010 Olympics could have been a much richer experience if IOC had embraced social media. With ordinary people welcomed to co-create the story, it could have been like one big, cozy living room experience that everyone participated in.
The True North Media House was a virtual media centre set up for the Olympics so independent social media people could assemble all their blogs, photos, and films together in one place. Kris Krug described the initial IOC attitude to social media as hostile and apprehensive. IOC stopped True North participants from taking photos, even prohibiting pictures of the physical structures of the buildings that hosted the Olympics, claiming them as part of their copyright property.
Krug said IOC did an 180 degree turnaround in the last week of the Olympics. Rather than continuing with their demonizing tactics like the “cease and desist” order sent to Krug, they welcomed them with open arms. 100 True North participants were part of an invited group of Flickr users who IOC fed lobster and champagne to, while announcing Flickr and IOC were now in a partnership with an Olympic photo-sharing pool on Flickr.
Perhaps IOC reluctantly accepted that, as Krug said, after years of unsuccessfully trying to control social media, it needed to embrace it because it is not going away. But the IOC’s dominator energy, much like mainstream media, also co-opts and controls social media for its own benefit. How many lobsters does it take?
The problem with social media for IOC is not just giving up control of the experience for their sole monetary benefit. It is also about losing control of the story. Who tells the stories creates our reality. Social media flips the power dynamics. Hierarchical, controlling dominator energy cannot pump out one-dimensional stories to control us if there is social media around. The social media presence at the Olympics mediated the experience so very different perspectives freely self-emerged from all over, like mine. It helped ensure truth-telling, as is also currently happening with the G8/G20 conference.
Another way IOC tries to control the Olympic story is with Cultural Olympiad’s digital edition (CODE). CODE uses free events, films, arts projects, music and community gatherings during the Olympics to get ordinary people involved. It was a wonderful part of the Olympics. One marvellous example was the Vectorial Elevation. Every night, moving spotlights appeared in the sky over English Bay to everyone’s delight.
But there is a darkness to the story that adds a whole new dimension. Cardinal indicated that IOC fears if ordinary people are totally excluded from this elitist monied event, as mere observers, there could be riots. CODE was put in place to stop that. During the 1984 LA Olympics, Hollywood agents taught IOC how to stage these free events creating, in effect, two Olympics.
Hollywood taught IOC that the Olympics are a TV event, not a live event. All the money is made with TV licensing. People in the live audiences are used as props to convince the rest of the world that the Olympics is a popular event so IOC continues to be welcome worldwide. This increases TV ratings and TV is where the money is made. How much money?
This is from one IOC media sponsor:
“We’ve been given unprecedented exposure in the world’s media. More than 3.5 billion people have viewed some part of the Games. That includes more than 185 million Americans — that’s well over half of the population of the United States. In Canada, the proportion who watched at least some part of the Games was even higher: an incredible 99 per cent.”
Well, then, how did we own it? Through the power of social media, we told our own stories and had our own experiences. We protested and played together in community which Vancouver is famous for. We also partied hard. Cardinal said that he was in the crowd downtown every day and night of the Olympics. He said 75-80% of the crowd were Canadians, mostly Vancouverites. He said it was the biggest drunk fest he had ever seen. From his perspective, the high and fast escalation of expenses in the last seven years in Vancouver were probably 70% Olympics related. He believed people were desperate to have fun, full of the pent-up frustration of money woes and exclusion from their own city. Liquor stores closed early to stop trouble.
But what really proved we owned it? Well…. it was the game! The game!
“Despite a gold medal victory and more than 100,000 people partying on city streets since mid-afternoon, Vancouver police reported no major incidents Sunday evening.”
This Vancouver Sun article went on to twist the story, claiming it was all about patriotism and the Olympics.
“Nonsense!” I roar.
I was downtown that night. People would not stop cheering. The joy was palpable. We Canadians had once again played out a very archetypical story that resides deep in our collective psyche: we are the gods and goddesses of hockey and we won the men’s Olympic gold medal hockey game.
Want proof? I turn to the authority of the people and social media. This is part of what I Tweeted that night:
Canadian Women & Men Rule the World of Hockey!!! 2:56 PM Feb 28th
Wild hockey fans celebrating on Main Street after Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal.
We owned it! …our lives, our stories, our home… Oh Canada!
There is only one universal law: we have an unalienable right to our own inviolate space.
Read more articles by Kathie