1968 | 2008

China Haze. Provided by the SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE

This is not the first time that Summer Olympics Games are embroiled in environmental and political controversies. In 1968, Mexico City, with its high altitude containing 30% less oxygen than at sea level, proved to be a controversial choice. The lack of air led to terrible results for some, while others were able to achieve world records. Forty years later Beijing is faced with massive air pollution as it completes the preparations for the Olympics. The world renowned Ethiopian runner Haile Gebrselassie has opted out of running in the marathon noting “the pollution in China” as a threat to his health. It remains to be seen how the environmental pollution in China will affect the athletes and the Games’ results.China is also plagued with its outrageous treatment of Tibet, resulting in massive protests around the world. Protest was also seen in Mexico City during the medal ceremonies when the two Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos “performed their Power to the People” salute. Peter Norman, the Australian silver medalist, wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge showing his support for Smith and Carlos.

Another athlete to cancel an Olympic Games participation was Bobby Fischer, one of the greatest chess players of all time, who passed away earlier this year. He had plans to play for the United States at the 1968 Chess Olympiad in Lugano, Switzerland and backed out when he saw the playing hall with its bad lighting.

As athletes were breaking records in 1968, artists were busy reshaping culture. Nancy Spero(Season 4) was working on her War Series (1966-70). Bruce Nauman (Season 1) produced his first video titled Pinch Neck. Romare Bearden, in addition to being involved in founding The Studio Museum in Harlem, also established Cinque Gallery with the help of Norman Lewis and Ernest Crichlow. Cinque provided support for younger minority artists.

1968 marked the passing of Marcel Duchamp and the coinage of “15 minutes of fame” when Andy Warhol stated “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Frank Zappa released his first solo album Lumpy Gravy and performed King Kong with the Mothers of Invention at BBC Studio in London. Chou Wen-chung, who had studied with Edgard Varese, completed Nocturnal (1961-1968), an unfinished piece by Varese.

In his 1968 Nobel Lecture, Yasunari Kawabata explained, “The excitement of beauty calls forth strong fellow feelings, yearnings for companionship, and the word ‘comrade’ can be taken to mean ‘human being.’ The snow, the moon, the blossoms, words expressive of the seasons as they move one into another, include in the Japanese tradition the beauty of mountains and rivers and grasses and trees, of all the myriad manifestations of nature, of human feelings as well.”

How will 2008 be reminisced forty years from now? What will be the low and high points in our cultural and social achievements? Will 2008 be a critical year marking a pivotal change in the way we treat the environment and each other?

China Haze. Credit. Provided by the SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE