- Crafting Patriotism for Global Dominance
Mark Dyreson is a faculty member in kinesiology and history at Pennsylvania State University and is also a past president of the North American Society for Sport History. From a title that is catchy, edgy, and full of discussion points to a succession of wonderfully constructed chapters, this is a sports history textbook that is all about grand storytelling. A major thesis of Crafting Patriotism for Global Dominance is the landscape of the modern Olympics as both a stage and a platform to shape national identity, create shared memories, and, literally, make a template of the interweave of myth and patriotism.
There is little doubt that China’s embrace of the 2008 Olympic games was a most successful foray, by an Oriental country, to establish itself as a reconfigured world player in the global marketplace. As one looks forward to the next Olympics—London 2012—one wonders how the capital of that old Victorian British Empire will present, and will position itself, in a world of economic disarray where Olympic success assumes massive political importance.
In essay after essay, Mark Dyreson demonstrates that sports history, done his way, reads as well as good fiction. His chapter titles will, hopefully, steer a generation of students to seize on historical writing of this quality as living, breathing, exciting analyses on issues and topics that are intriguing, fascinating, controversial, and made for the cut and thrust of seminar debate.
In his first chapter Dyreson delves into the mysterious origins of an American myth. That is, the stars and stripes “dips for No Earthly King.” Dyreson clearly shows that the celebrated refusal of the American Olympic teams to dip their flags in the opening ceremonies at the 1936 German Olympics “became established as a collective national memory” (p. 22). However, Dyreson, in his role as sleuth and historian, shows clearly that a series of earlier flag-dipping incidents “fused together into a myth that the U.S. had never lowered the Stars and Stripes at the Olympics” (p. 22).
In subsequent chapters Dyreson explores a myriad of storylines that illustrate how the Olympics have served to highlight, not so much extraordinary athleticism, but a superior social and political system. He also makes convincing arguments that American Olympians have been effectively harnessed to promote American nationalism.
His essay on the legendary swimmer Jonny Weissmuller highlights Dyreson’s gift of tying together iconic figures with a piercing examination of America, commerce, capitalism, and the selling, if you will, of the American Dream. He argues that Herbert Hoover’s clerks in the Department of Commerce “made Johnny Weissmuller and the Olympic games rather than Babe Ruth and the national pastime the centerpiece of schemes to expand American global influence” (p. 143).
One of the many delights in reading Crafting Patriotism for Global Dominance is the manner in which this historian is able to be modern, contemporary, and run with the symbols, characters, and images of the electronic age and an internet generation. Thus it is [End Page 319] no surprise to see Dyreson, in his “Epilogue,” discussing the X-Games sensation, the California “Flying Tomato” (the skate boarding genius Shaun White). Dyreson tosses around the notion of “Olympic Californication” and maintains that Shaun White “represents continuity with American traditions rather than as many have read him, a radical break with the past” (p. 175).
Crafting Patriotism for Global Dominance is full of surprises and twists and turns. It sparkles, and the enthusiasm and intellectual swashbuckling tenor of the writing makes it difficult to put down. This engaging volume is very good sport history.