[Citation Needed]: A Critical Look At #SochiProblems.

“Look in the mirror, and tell me what you see!” 

-Cool Runnings (1993)

The best part of the any Olympic Games are the Opening Ceremonies. For a brief moment, the whole world shuts up. The distracting and fearful groan of the 24-hour news machine is reduced to a muffled tantrum as viewers buckle up for another in a series of avant-garde pageants. I, for one, enjoy indulging in the massive dose of choreographed WTF required at every Open Ceremony.[1] However, the most interesting part of any Opening Ceremony is that we get to see how the host country views itself. The ceremony is meticulously crafted to show the rest of the world what the host country is most proud of. Even when the host country portrays sensitive parts of its history, this is both intentionally and tastefully done.[2] With that in mind, the Opening Ceremony not only shows the world how the host country sees itself but also how it wants to be seen.

Russia was robbed of this well before the cameras started rolling.

From the moment journalists set foot in Sochi, the Twitter hashtag #SochiProblems has been dogging any attempts by Russian authorities to put up any kind of façade resembling efficiency.[3] To a large extent this is because of the media poo-storm surrounding Russia’s intolerant government legislation. Dovetail this with the fact that the Sochi Games are the most expensive and corrupt Olympics on record, and you’ve got yourself some tasty fish in a very small barrel.[4] However, it’s important to remember that China’s games were surrounded in controversy as well. We all remember the droves of people displaced to make room for the Bird’s Nest, right? So why has #SochiProblems caught the attention of the Internet to such a large degree? One reason is that China did a much better job of veiling the ickier side of their Olympic logistics, making it more difficult to publicize. However, the real difference is…


Social media proliferation.

The difference between 2013 social media usage compared to 2008
(when the Beijing Games took place) is staggering.
Source: Pewinternet.org


Social media’s prodigious nature has made it super easy for trends like #SochiProblems to make the rounds. The result has been an Internet pile-on over Russia. Since the inception of #SochiProblems and the popular account @SochiProblems, authors and bloggers have capitalized on the trend. Their motivations are self-aggrandizing at best (in a desperate plea for ad traffic) and predatory at worst.[5] While the Internet lathering itself up into a bastard frenzy is nothing new, the competitive environment fostered by the Olympic Games adds an interesting wrinkle. Every little mishap or snafu surrounding the Olympics has the added weight of an international incident behind it. The egos at play during the Sochi Olympics complicate the already wonky relationship between the United States and the Russian Federation. Indeed, a lot of the initial Sochi hate came from journalists arriving in Sochi from the US. Sarah Kaufman of policymic.com addresses it here in her bitter indictment of the #SochiProblems trend:

“whining journalists and social media fiends: Have just a bit more respect for Russians, because while you might think you’re just ridiculing the Olympics, for many, this is their everyday life.”

While Kaufman’s reproach of such criticism has its merits, she is too quick to unsheathe the Sword of Cultural Relativism and dispense ethnographic justice to anybody with an Internet connection and an opinion. For instance, Kaufman fails to see the distinction between hating on Russia and hating on Russians. Unfortunately tweets don’t usually come with qualifying statements contextualizing the author’s intent:

Oh, @BC_Garvey, y u so deep tho?

To this end, Kaufman sees #SochiProblems less as commentary and more as a problem betraying Western ignorance—another chapter in the epic tale “The Ugly American,” bound in hypocrisy and penned in high fructose corn syrup. We think we’re hot but really we suck. I get it. Chances are your reader base already agrees with you.

But can we take the animosity that these Olympic Games have brought to the surface and turn it into something positive? Something constructive? Let’s shift the focus from the hosts to the hosted, look ourselves in the mirror, and go a few cognitive levels beyond shame and self-flagellation.

I think a lot of people went into these Olympics looking for a fight. Many of us take issue with Putin’s autocratic regime with special attention to its recalcitrant (bonkers, backwards) stance on homosexuality. As well we should. But riffing on their fly-by-night preparations isn’t doing anybody any good. The United States is not perfect either, folks. Not yet. For example, look at this little morsel of honey-roasted horseshit out of Kansas.

Instead of getting smug over Russia’s shortcomings, let’s think about securing basic freedoms and rights for people in our own country. Americans have the infrastructure that Russian’s lack. Americans have the political voice that Russians lack. Why, then, don’t we use it? Instead of hating on other cultures, let’s look inward, gain a true, critical perspective on the state of our own country, and then move to succeed where Russia has struggled: Making how we see ourselves reflect how we are seen. I’ll see you in Brazil.


[1] Par example, 2014’s “Tolst®y 3: Balloons and Holograms” and 2012’s “Danny Boyle Presents: Garbage Pail Drumline”.

[2] Russia’s Communist Revolution as choreography.

[3] By using your search engine of choice, you can avail yourself to a number of #SochiProblems greatest hits listicles. Check them out, and then come back to the Realm of Complete Sentences to take in more of my sexy sexy prose. Mwah.

[4] While they are certainly the most expensive to date, an interesting Washington Post article on inflated numbers and the actual cost of the games can be found here.

[5] I refuse to feed the buzz (c watt eye deed thar?) but “Russia’s Dill Obsession” is beyond the pale of silly. Being both pale and silly, I am sort of an authority on such matters.

Post By Brian Garvey (10 Posts)

A self-aware cloud of gaseous complaints cooking up critical analysis hot 'n' fresh from his think kitchen.


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