With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics now less than a year away, the trickle—soon to progress into a torrent as the date draws closer—of maudlin articles presaging its arrival has just begun. Critical analysis of the competition and its attendant feeding trough upon which will gorge—to the detriment of their host cities and even the athletes being cheered on—the elites of the International Olympic Commission, top global retailers, and sporting goods manufacturers, to say nothing of local and international politicians will be effectively unseen in the mainstream media.
No mention, for example, will be made of the postnational era that Japan is on the cusp of. As tends to occur with those in their twilight years, the country is slowly vanishing into the mists of nostalgia; living in the waking recall of a time when everything appeared fresh and young, the world held potential, and when the Japanese state could actually exercise more than merely token “sovereignty.” Though the Abe Shinzō administration is straining mightily to convince the world otherwise, it is hard to shake off the impression that the next Olympiad, rather than reprising the entrance of a rising economic power (or arrival of a nation within a hair’s breadth of a becoming a superpower), will be a brightly-lit farewell more whimper than bang; a lavish funeral service complete with the icy wonder of 21st century tech gadgetry.
Instead, readers will be treated to the kind of saccharine “inspirational” stories which congest the arteries of contemporary journalistic discourse. Artfully glamourising troublesome factual details (when they are not being airbrushed altogether), this sort of writing has become the common currency of a society that traffics in lies, resolutely insistent that one should beam a Soylent-encrusted grin even as the veneer of its dogmatically enforced “reality” begins to crack and fall apart over one’s head.
Case in point: This delightful Reuters article about a Vietnamese sweatshop complex manufacturing athletic gear for Team USA.
“They were making jackets and shoes and even missile covers for the Vietnamese military. By the time I arrived in 1991, the factory had already converted to making garments for export,” said Australian businessman Jef Stokes, who was among the first wave of foreign investors to place orders at X40 after Vietnam opened up Stokes bought the factory in 2006 and transformed it into Maxport Limited, a sportswear manufacturer that now boasts as clients Nike (NKE.N), Asics (7936.T) and a handful of Olympic teams.
“We outfit quite a few big countries,” Stokes said. “A lot of sports stars: Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal ... these are all under the Nike umbrella that we produce for.”
Surrounded by a sea of concrete, few trees had existed at the factory complex, except for a large banyan tree which, according to a much-repeated legend among the factory workers, was planted by Vietnam’s founding president, Ho Chi Minh. Stokes planted more than 6,000 trees to form a thick jungle that which engulfed the buildings in rich foliage to create an atmosphere that feels more like a Silicon Valley startup than a Communist-era factory.
One wonders whether it had also occurred to Mr. Stokes (or his multi-billion dollar clients) that paying his Vietnamese laborers Silicon Valley salaries and benefits would do even more to enhance that “atmosphere.” Then again, there are probably enough work-starved people in Silicon Valley today who would leap at the chance to work for equitable pay at a blue collar job. After all, where better than Silicon Valley to foster a “Silicon Valley atmosphere?” Perhaps Team USA, Nike, and Serena Williams merely forgot to ask him about those details. Certainly it did not cross the mind of the Reuters reporter to ask him. And who could blame them?
Team USA’s great deed in keeping Vietnamese workers busy for pennies on the dollar will surely be remembered in decades to come, even once automation makes Southeast Asian workers redundant, as yet another resplendent chapter in the continuing saga of Anglo-American benevolence.