I am researching how the Mexico City media represented and contextualized John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s protest at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. I have been readings newspapers from October 1968 on microfilm at the Hemeroteca Nacional (a newspaper archive) in Mexico City. I am looking for a few things:
If the media outlets drew any connections between Carlos and Smith’s protest and subsequent expulsion and the massacre of hundreds of protesting students at Tlatelolco Square 10 days before the Olympics began;
how the spotlight of the protest occurring at the quintessential international event shaped the coverage and meanings ascribed to the protest;
and, the sources, cultural scripts, and stereotypes media outlets drew on to report the protest.
All of which is to say I am asking if and how the most widely circulated media in a hub of the Global South connected the movements and politics of 1968 through the particular access point of Carlos and Smith’s protest at the 1968 Olympics.
Unfortunately, the Hemeroteca closed for three weeks of summer vacation five days after I arrived in Mexico. I will have to wait to seriously dig in. But the three days of scrolling through microfilm of newspapers from October 1968 made it obvious that Smith and Carlos’s expulsion was a much bigger deal than the initial protest. In every article I read about Smith and Carlos’s protest from the day after the action, it is mentioned in the final paragraphs, as a footnote to Smith’s record-setting time in the 200 meter.
Their expulsion was huge, front-page news.
What is also unmistakable going through the archives of newspapers from October 1968 is how much the world appeared to be falling apart. Systems were on the bring; collapsing all around. In one day’s newspaper, there may be articles about The Tet Offensive, May 1968, MLK’s assignation, RFK’s assignation, George Wallace’s presidential campaign (eerily reminiscent of something ongoing), The Prague Spring, and The Mexican Student movement/Tlatelolco massacre.
As I read the news today, it feels like a history without a past. I think of Baldwin: “the past is all that makes the present coherent.” But the question remains how the past will be read and what futures it will make; how we may be alive in the past to stand in new ways in a present that seems totally insane, totally fucked, totally incomprehensible. How will we carry the battles of the past with us for the battles yet to come/already happening? Smith and Carlos’s battles may haunt the coming months more than others, as the Brazilian police/army carry out a “pacification” campaign against favelas and the violence/coercion/misery that holds America together explodes into/through the mainstream liberal conscious.