Home > Article > Capital A > Faking it at the Beijing Olympics

Faking it at the Beijing Olympics


Olympic fireworks
I wasn’t surprised to hear that some of the fireworks seen during the
broadcast of the opening of the Beijing Olympics were CGI, though it
was still somewhat shocking. Modern image creation and alteration
technologies are making it more and more difficult to tell if something
is "real," "enhanced" or completely fake. We’ve been moving towards a
William Gibson version of the world for some time now, to the point
where William Gibson doesn’t even need to write about the future. He
now writes about the immediate past.

Quoth Mandarax:

of the things our
grandchildren will find quaintest about us is that we distinguish
the digital from the real, the virtual from the real. In the
future, that will become literally impossible." -William Gibson

am completely uninterested in the sportsmanship aspect of the Olympics
but I’m fascinated by the official (and even more by the unofficial)
visual aspect of them. It seems like every other day there is a new
story about how orchestrated (cf. fake) the games really are.

came the news of the CGI fireworks. NBC apparently knew about the
and the hosts tried (but not especially hard) to make
sure we were alerted of them as well. Matt Lauer said of the fireworks:
"You’re looking at a cinematic device employed by Zhang Yimou here.
This is actually almost animation." Technically, CGI is literally animation,
not "actually almost" animation. However, we are so used to hyperbole
thateverybody thought Lauer had improvised a clunker of an
expression, and most people didn’t get it until it became a controversy
for NBC (who is also accused of proclaiming to broadcast events
Live despite a tape delay
and for fighting tooth and nail to shut down
all online videos of the opening ceremony
before they had a chance to
broadcast it).
Beijing Opening Ceremony

What confuses me the most
and incidentally I find most interesting is that I’m not really sure it
"matters" that the fireworks were enhanced, or that some of the events
are only live-to-tape or that a fair amount of the audience is planted
and trained to look excited
or that little girls can’t use their own voice if they aren’t pretty enough. Does it somehow diminish the point of the

And what is the point, by the
way? I have a hard time believing that the point is the performance of
physical achievements in highly constructed scenarios and sports that
most people don’t give a rat’s ass about. When was the last time you
thought about women’s discus throwing? So if the point of this gigantic
production is propaganda (and the actions of the Communist Party
Politburo make that pretty obvious) does it matter that it’s all
"enhanced" for "theatrical effect"?
(Ironically, during the opening ceremonies, I kept thinking of this old commercial.)
All photos taken from here

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

5 Responses

  1. tobrienwriter

    I just heard about 600 hundred Uyghur women (the Muslim ethnic minority in western china) who peacefully protested for basic human rights a few months ago – and disappeared right afterwards. All of them. Nothing ever heard from them again. Forget about about Tibet, and thousands of ethnically Han Chinese activists…
    The flood of positive rainbow colored images in the opening ceremonies, especially of smiling children from around the world, I just couldn’t take it. The whole thing was nauseating. I couldn’t watch it straight through – I kept changing the channel for a breather. All that inhuman synchrony – I couldn’t see the difference from those North Korean stadium affairs, except that the production values were so much more sophisticated. I think a lot of people are a little freaked out that a country so repressive and brutal to any form of dissent is clearly set to become the dominant power on earth. Not that the US is doing such a great job…
    I guess I should write my own blog about this; too much to rant about.

  2. malevich

    The opening was truly spine chilling – as if it was time to celebrate the New Men – who willingly makes enormous sacrifices to enable the empire. This message was soaked in historical paraphernalia and justification. “Coming out party” – 4 billion people heard that phrase or equivalent on 8/8/08. Such a subliminal phrase, it meant: This is officially a bipolar world.

    – Except Russia came out the same day as well.

    What a lucky day, huh?. 08 08 08

Leave a Reply

Funding generously provided by: