The Olympic Torch was Conceived and Born as a Nazi Symbol

Tibetan activists march through Dharmsala with their protest torchA handful of incisive words by Mary Beard in the Times:

Hardly any commentator stops to mention that this silly torch ceremony has nothing to do with the ancient Greeks, and was really invented to be a magnificent shot in Leni Riefenstahl’s movie (choreographed by Carl Diem). This is one of Hitler’s most pervasive legacies.

Yes, that’s right.  The Olympic Torch has nothing to do with Ancient Greece.

The Olympic Torch was conceived and born as a Nazi symbol, in accord with the Nazi Party’s habit of holding torchlight parades.

Now one must wonder, if any of the Western ‘public relations’ consultants in Beijing –by which I mean, those who were closely involved with the public relations of the Torch – ah, did any of those Western “public relations” consultants in Beijing, hesitate even for a moment to consider, or to research, the history of the Olympic Torch and its conception and birth as a Nazi propaganda tool?

What makes this even more astonishing, is that the torch was designed by – and is being promoted by the public relations agents of – the Lenovo corporation, which is the successor corporation of IBM – which, as we have blogged about recently, was instrumental in the technology of the gas chambers of the Nazi Holocaust.

It is publicly available information, that the “public relations” agency which received the contract for the “public relations” of Lenovo’s (aka IBM’s) Olympic Torch, is Ketchum in Beijing.

Will any Western “public relations” consultant of Ketchum in Beijing, have the courage to step forward and identify himself as the (foreign, Western) Vice President of Ketchum in Beijing? And will he acknowledge ANY personal responsibility for the escalating avalanche of public relations disasters of the Olympic Torch?  At least, PERHAPS, insofar as to admit his relationship (however tenuous) to this disaster, on his own blog?

Does such a man exist, anywhere out there?  (Perhaps in the China blogosphere?) If so, then why does he remain silent about his – or at least his employers’ – role (even if tangential) in all of this?

As all good, honourable activists who promote HIV/AIDS education say, “Silence equals Death.”  But HIV/AIDS is not the only blight in China for which – at least among Western citizens of free countries – personal silence equals personal responsibility for evil.

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16 Responses to The Olympic Torch was Conceived and Born as a Nazi Symbol

  1. C.A. Yeung says:

    The grhomeboy.wordpress.com blog contains a very good article about the history of the torch relay. There are a few points in this article I’d like to highlight due to its relevance and/or similarity to the upcoming Beijing Games:

    1. The first torch relay was the innovation of Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda. In fact the whole Berlin Games were cut to measure for the Nazi propaganda machine.

    2. The torch used in the Berlin Games was designed and manufactured by two corporate sponsors: Krupp and Zeiss. These two companies both openly supported the Nazi movement. They supplied ammunition, armaments and optical equipment to the Nazi throughout WWII. Their involvement made it possible for Hitler to launch assaults in Europe.

    3. As Greek historian Ioannis Loukas notes: “This whole relay… of the ‘holy flame’ had tremendous significance for German propaganda that had presented the Olympics as a ‘war confrontation’ … The Olympic Flame swept through Germany in national-socialist popular frenzy, suitably organised by Goebbel’s Reichsportsfuhrer Tschammer und Osten, youth organisations, sports clubs and the SS.”

    4. None of this information about the infamous origin of the torch relay can be found in the very Spatan description at the IOC website. The IOC is now attributing the innovation to a German academic Dr Carl Diem in an attempt to hide the Nazi connections of the torch relay.

    I totally agree with Mary Beard when she says, “If ever there was an ‘invented tradition’ well worth stamping out, it is this ridiculous, Fascist-inspired waste of money …”

  2. C.A. Yeung says:

    Ned,

    I’m just writing to let you know that a serious round of internet mob violence is unfolding at the anti-CNN Forum: the anti-CNN mob is making death threats against foreign correspondents of major western media in China. The mob has also taken over the commentary section of the Time China Blog and is showing their colour of ignorance in the most hideous ways.

    It is interesting how these ignorant Chinese netizens are blaming western media for silencing their voices. But they are quite happy to see millions of Chinese netizens sitting behind the Great Firewall and had their blogs, comments and sites thoroughly scrutinized by the Chinese censors.

    Please look into it if you have a chance.

  3. Adriana says:

    Well, spectacular parades were one of the things that the Nazis were good at. That and totally cool uniforms – which make the delight of the SM crowd.

    So, of course, the Olympic torch is totally cool, man.

  4. Ned Kelly says:

    Adriana, thanks for that reminder that the Nazi Party leadership was full of homosexuals, sadists and assorted sexual perverts, whose common denominator was a worship of raw power for its own sake. The multifarious symbolism of carrying a torch is so crudely phallic that it’s almost beneath satire.

  5. MAJ says:

    I plan to respond to the earlier article about religion in the coming week or two. For now though, let me say here that for once I agree TOTALLY with you two – Ned and Catherine – the Olympic Torch relay is indeed inherently fascist, both historically, and in the way that it fetishises and reifies the Olympic “spirit” as if the world’s athletes – those of all nations – are somehow competing on an equal footing, and in the “spirit” of universal harmony and world peace, etc.

  6. Ned Kelly says:

    MAJ,

    You’re welcome here even (and sometimes especially) when you disagree with us, but you deserve a beer for that incisive and both intellectually and morally clear comment. Whenever you can spare the time we’d be perhaps especially interested in your further thoughts on the “commodification” of the Olympics which metastasised in Germany in 1936. Popular culture in Nazi Germany was suffused with “kitsch”, very much like pop culture in China today. Was it Kundera who suggested, “Kitsch is the mask of death”?

  7. MAJ says:

    Ned – I don’t have the time to engage in a lengthy and detailed conversation this weekend (another week before my vacation begins) but very briefly, for now: yes, kitsch is essentially a commodity aesthetic, which is why kitsch is the modern face of China. But surely the same can be said about the United States, and Australia too for that matter. Kitsch thrives in both Australia and the United States, where it is even celebrated. Here down under, we (as in the nation in general) love our Big Banana, our Big Pineapple, our Big Mosquito, our Big Potato and our Big Sheep, just as we love our Gold Coast theme parks: Warner Bros. Movie World, Sea World, Dreamworld, etc. Many people here collect kitsch, and enjoy decorating their homes with such junk.

    Nazi Germany’s fusion of kitsch with high art (the Olympic Torch meets Richard Wagner) was pretentious, designed to reach the working classes, to appeal to them in a way that could elevate their national pride by giving them a sense of racial superiority. In China, during Mao’s reign, kitsch was fused with socialist realist art as a way of helping to bolster the legitimacy of the CCP’s rule, and of Mao’s leadersip in particular. Think of today’s products: those watches with Mao’s face on it, similar to those Mickey Mouse watches, or the plethora of cheaply made Mao statues, Mao cigarette lighters, etc.- such kitsch today continues to be reproduced, but for entirely different purposes: for some, such reproductions are bought as items of nostalgia, for others, their value lies in their embodiment of parody (in the irony of commercialising socialist, and in particular, Maoist art). The retro appeal of Maoist socialist realist art is today often even fused with a plethora of other styles, its use-value and its sign-value now part of the postmodern.

    The Olympic Torch relay continues to serve an ideological purpose though, in the way that it fetishises the “human spirit’ and in the way that it reifies the relationship between sporting nations. For today’s China, hosting the Games provides an opportunity to promote itself as being a part of this global human spirit, as being a cherished and valued member of the global community, and as being an equal to all. The Torch then, is an ideological signifier, in the way that it masks the reality of the Olympics, which is of course as today an inherently commerical and political event, staged to sell commodities and to promote nation states as brands in themselves. The Torch relay tries to disguises this reality by shrouding the Games in a kind of religious aura – the imagination sees something ancient, mythical, and universal in the ceremony of lighting the Torch.

    Best regards for now,
    MAJ

  8. MAJ says:

    Sorry for the typing errors in my comment above, which should read:

    The Torch then, is an ideological signifier, in the way that it masks the reality of the Olympics, which is of course today very much an inherently commerical and political event, staged to sell commodities and to promote nation states as brands in themselves. The Torch relay tries to disguise this reality by shrouding the Games in a kind of religious aura – the imagination sees something ancient, mythical, and universal in the ceremony of lighting the Torch.

    Regards again,
    MAJ

  9. Ned Kelly says:

    MAJ,
    Hey man, when are you going to take some typing lessons? ;-)

    A few responses:

    “yes, kitsch is essentially a commodity aesthetic, which is why kitsch is the modern face of China.”

    I think it also correlates with populism and nationalism, thus it’s all the more in accord with today’s nationalist China, whose ruling party IS a populist one, even if not invariably beloved by “the people.” But the truth is that the CCP does have popular support – a support which it reinforces through populist-nationalist propaganda. In this sense, alas, there is some truth in the CCP’s claim to be a KIND of democracy. But so was Nazi Germany.

    “Kitsch thrives in both Australia and the United States, where it is even celebrated.”

    Reminds me of this joke song, “Elvis is Everywhere“:

    “Nazi Germany’s fusion of kitsch with high art (the Olympic Torch meets Richard Wagner) was pretentious, designed to reach the working classes etc)”

    Yes and there was more to it than that. The Nazis hijacked and contorted to their own ends many authentically traditional symbols such as those of Christianity, and the nobler aspects of German history, and adapted them in a way to imply that the Nazi Party was a continuation of such traditions, when in fact it was hostile to Christianity and old German/European civilisation. One of the most ghastly – yet ingenious – scenes in “Triumph of the Will” is when the SS march past a medieval church dedicated to St Mary; the SS who despised compassion were re-presented as “defenders” of a Church dedicated to Christianity’s “goddess” of compassion. (Mary is like Christianity’s Guan Yin.) Then there’s the scene where Hitler ceremonially touches all new Nazi flags with the original “sacramental”, “Blood Banner”, a Nazi flag stained with blood from the 1920s. That was a very deliberate adaptation (and abuse) of the Christian symbol of the “Blood of Christ” in holy Communion.

    But then there’s another similiarity between the Nazi and CCP ways of concocting ERSATZ “traditional” symbols which have nothing to do with any authentic tradition. In another scene in “Triumph of the Will”, some rural people parade in their so-called “folk costumes” of their provinces. There was a germ of truth in those “folk costumes”, but not much; from the Middle Ages well into the Modern Age, most German peasants just wore whatever simple clothes they could afford, and the “folk costume” idea was a concoction of post-1800. The same thing happened in Scotland; the idea of each Scottish “clan” having its own “traditional” plaid tartan, was an invention of the 1800s, largely to attract tourists. Walter Scott invented many of those myths. Fact is, that until well into the 1800s, the Scottish lowlanders (the majority of Scots) held the Gaelic-speaking Highlanders in contempt – often calling them “Irish” (and there’s NOTHING worse than THAT! ;-),
    and dressed just like Englishmen. And there was no “clan” system outside the Highlands. But thanks to Walter Scott’s invention of Scottish Kitsch, and its value to the tourist trade, today legions of North Americans with Scottish surnames visit Scotland and buy kitschy crap which they THINK represents their ancestral traditions (“clan tartans”, etc), when in fact most of their ancestors neither knew nor cared about “clan tartans”, and most Scots never wore kilts, ever.

    I see many parallels between these things and the way the CCP (eg, CCTV gala events) re-present China’s “national minorities” wearing “traditional costumes”, when the truth is that most of them have always been lucky just to have any clothes at all.

    “In China, during Mao’s reign, kitsch was fused with socialist realist art as a way of helping to bolster the legitimacy of the CCP’s rule, and of Mao’s leadersip in particular. Think of today’s products: those watches with Mao’s face on it, similar to those Mickey Mouse watches”

    Hehe! I bought a Mao watch in Beijing. His arm moved back and forth as the second-hand-ticker. Maybe the next big thing will be a Zhang Ziyi watch, and her two legs will be the hour hand and the minute hand.

    “for some, such reproductions are bought as items of nostalgia, for others, their value lies in their embodiment of parody”

    Seriously, before I finally left China I bought a few Mao-kitsch items from the Cultural Revolution, for their historical value. But among them is a little dish with Mao’s face on it which I use as a ashtray, just as a relative of mine who fought in World War II used a dish with a Swastika in it as an ashtray (he found it in a bombed out hotel in Berlin) – symbolic contempt, you see. But not as contempt for the nation (my relative was fond of Germans, as I am of the Chinese), but for Mao and the Nazi Party.

    “The Olympic Torch relay continues to serve an ideological purpose though, in the way that it fetishises the “human spirit’ and in the way that it reifies the relationship between sporting nations.”

    THAT, sir, is an incisive truth, stated with diamond-cut clarity.

    “For today’s China, hosting the Games provides an opportunity to promote itself as being a part of this global human spirit”

    …a “global human spirit” which, as you know, does not exist. Or rather (as I do believe in the essentialy unity of the Human Race and of civilisation), it does not exist in any way which the Olympic torch can truthfully represent, BECAUSE, as you go on to say,

    “it masks the reality of the Olympics, which is of course as today an inherently commerical and political event, staged to sell commodities and to promote nation states as brands in themselves.”

    BINGO!

    “The Torch relay tries to disguises this reality by shrouding the Games in a kind of religious aura – the imagination sees something ancient, mythical, and universal in the ceremony of lighting the Torch.”

    While the truth is (see all the above) that there is nothing “ancient” about it, and what it represents is antipathetic and hostile to all traditional cultures and religions (both great and small).

  10. Pingback: Further discussion regarding the Kitsch of the Olympic Torch « Under the Jacaranda Tree

  11. MAJ says:

    Ned – I appreciate your detailed response, and I take your point about the way that China represents its ethnic minorities, although in many parts of China, particularly in some parts of Yunnan province, many individuals do indeed regularly wear ethnic costume – if “costume” is the right word?

    Those ethnic theme parks (there is one in Shenzhen that I visited a few times, and one I visited in Kunming too) do indeed serve an ideological, as well as an obvious commercial purpose, and can best be described as theme parks, as lands of kitsch. Fake villages, populated sometimes even with fake “ethnics” – and all simulating what? A fake past? An imagined “harmony”?

    Such hyperreality, of course, always comes at a price – usually printed on the entrance ticket.

  12. Ned Kelly says:

    MAJ, I think you’re partly correct about SOME Chinese minorities wearing “ethnic” garments. But those who do, tend to be very remote (such as in Yunnan.) And you’re right to question whether “costume” is a mot juste for any AUTHENTICALLY traditional garments – because a “costume” means an alternative persona.

    A few years ago, when I was in Beijing, I discussed this with an Australian civil servant who was briefly visiting China. I asked her, “Can you imagine any kind of erstatz, kitschy “traditional” costume for Australians? What would it be?” She suggested, “someone in a bathing suit, riding on a papier-mache Kangaroo.”

    But I disagree with your use of the word, “hyperreality” in this context. I would call it, “HYPOreality”, because it is not an excess, but a deficit of reality.

    Warm personal regards from me to you, MAJ.

  13. MAJ says:

    Interesting points you raise here Ned, about the use of language. By hyperreality, I mean “beyond” reality – so my useage of the word is derived from Baudrillard’s, who describes Disneyland, for example, as a hyperreality. Umberto Eco also uses the word hyperreality in this way (see his book, Travels in Hyperreality, for example).

    Perhaps though, the word hyporeality also could be used, because to say that something is beyond reality, (that it is presented as being something more real than real) is essentially the same as saying that it is lacking in authenticity – that it is, as you say, something that is therefore lacking in reality, something that is hyporeal, as opposed to real.

  14. Ned Kelly says:

    Hm. I’ll stick with hypo as my preferred prefix, but when it comes to the Olympic Torch I think the most approprate term is:

    “flaming bullshit.”

    That reminds me of another cartoon…wait for it…

  15. Those ethnic theme parks (there is one in Shenzhen that I visited a few times, and one I visited in Kunming too)

    do the NPC and CPPCC meetings in Beijing qualify as ethnic theme parks with all of the minority representatives on display for all to see in their we-really-do-love-our-minorities harmonious traditional clothes/costumes.

  16. Pingback: Beijing’s neo-pagans, please learn your Runelore « Under the Jacaranda Tree

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