I barely remember who won gold in hockey at the Sochi Olympics and I’ve pretty much forgotten all the other results. The thing I actually remember about the winter Games? #SochiProblems.
Live wires in the showers, trashed hotels, poorly-designed bathrooms, lots of roaming dogs, and infamous “dangerous face water.” These are just a few of the unfortunate realities that became the joke of the internet for those two weeks.
It’s hard to blame the journalists and hashtaggers who shined the light on these issues. Photographs of yellow liquid coming out of facuets and two toilets in the same stall are just begging to be blogged. And there’s something funny about it… kind of.
But Russia’s embarrassment became our laughter. We neglected the fact that the Games were happening in a conflict zone. (And, come to think of it, has anyone heard anything about the war between Putin’s security forces and the Islamists in the Caucasus since the Games ended? How quickly we forget.)
Some of the third-world conditions in Sochi became highlights on internet platforms and late night TV. And now that the Games are over, we’ve gone back to forgetting about poverty, oppression, and dirty water in Sochi.
And do you know what the sad thing is? The same thing is going to happen in less than two weeks.
It will be on a different stage – the World Cup – and in a different country – Brazil – but once again the industrialized West will be exposed to the developing world. And I’m worried we will scoff, mock, misunderstand, and then forget.
I can see the hashtags now. #RioProblems, #ManausProblems, #BrazilProblems! It seems inevitable.
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Perhaps it’s fortunate that Americans generally like Brazil more than Russia (or, really, they just don’t know enough about Brazil to have an opinion one way or the other). This might mean our athletes and reporters won’t be so quick to post humiliating photos on Facebook and Instagram. But if and when they do, we need to ask again, “Who should be ashamed?”
Violence is already mounting in Brazil. There is widespread corruption. Workers and impoverished Brazilians are protesting and rioting. It’s hard to know how visible this will be at the World Cup, but if Western media make it more visible, let it be for the right reasons. Not to complain, but to raise awareness. Not to mock, but to aid.
Economically, Brazil may be on the rise, but it still lacks a lot of first-world infrastructure. Some of the host cities are in the middle of the freaking Amazon. What do we expect?
What we probably shouldn’t expect is perfectly-paved roads, five-star hotels, and luxurious stadiums. Hey, there may actually be poor people in Brazil. Foreigners might actually see them. Might actually encounter animals, dirt, germs.
When all of this happens – and it will – our first reaction shouldn’t be to snap photos and tweet #BrazilProblems. We’d only be embarrassing ourselves, revealing our own ignorance and arrogance. We’d only be neglecting what life is really like for so many: poor water, low-tech, spare living conditions.
We should be pumped about the World Cup. It’s going to be great soccer in great soccer country. But no stadium is in a vacuum. As much as the Brazilian government may want to keep the World Cup in a bubble of whitewashed walls, security guards, and yellow-and-green vuvuzelas, problems of poverty, corruption, and economic and racial tension have a way of making themselves known.
Like what happened in Sochi, some of this may turn into social media hashtags. But memes don’t make something funny, and converting Brazil’s problems into 140-character zingers doesn’t make cold reality any less real.