“don’t call it the Olympics”
The Olympics as I remember it ended in 1980, when the United States hockey team beat Russia in an unprecedented and unexpected win for the gold medal. That’s also the last time I believed in miracles.
Ever since, the Olympics people have slowly but inexorably moved forward (with the times) to capitalize on the audience’s ever-dwindling attention span and ever-cavernous lust for entertainment, controversy and voyeurism, pronto, as well as Americans needing to always win that gold, at all costs, to make up for a decided lack of patriotism (until a Middle Eastern terrorist group decides to bomb another twin towers so that Coca-Cola can make a few bucks off concerned, patriotic citizens buying in bulk so the terrorists won’t “win”) and humility.
Now, some KKK-inclined Americans would label me as an ungrateful gook, but my patriotism knows no bounds, when earned, like, say, the military fighting off the Germans and the Japanese in WWII and the U.S. citizens doing without until the war was over.
But to lobby for basketball as a valid Olympic sport with the NBA line-up as eligible players just so USA can kick Russia’s and China’s cheating butts? Save that sort of patriotism for the one-hit-country wonders down South, beating the post-9/11, rah-rah military drum or else they’ll censor and threaten you out of the country.
Much of my disillusionment stems from the idealistic outlook of my youth, where everything was filled with wonder, beauty, fair and square, the righteous shall inherit the earth and my favorite actors and actresses, movies and records will win awards. I bought “Tiger Beat” and “Teen Beat” for more than the pictures, I bought every party line, hook and sinker. It’d be hard to compare with that idealistic nostalgia.
Shortly before high school, I started digging deeper, seeds of a reporter yet to be. By the time I hit my junior year of high school, I thoroughly disillusioned myself about the celebrities I once blindly adored, an early version of True Hollywood Stories before they ever came out with the so-called news that Three’s Company never got along, David Cassidy liked to do lots of girls down and dirty, and sometimes, those award shows and beauty pageants were fixed.
I didn’t have to do any disillusioning for the Olympics to turn sour, seemingly overnight. The commentators did their part, coloring everything in American party lines, painting competitors as loaded weapons on enemy lines, as seriously as if this were WWIII with shot putts and Speedos. Their in-depth profiles of the athletes read like a corny who’s who from the wrong side of the tracks, Johnny makes good, almost always cursing them to certain oblivion and a missed medal opportunity by simply singling them out in such an exaggerated, melodramatic, soapy way.
No other sport under the Olympics reeked of this heavy-handedness more than Winter’s women’s figure skating and balding commentator butthead Dick Button’s heavy-handed, pre-destined, singling out of every jump, double axle to quad, instead of simply letting the audience enjoy the wonder of the present in its totality, the artistry, interpretation, dance and athleticism. But then, they were all doing it. “Okay, here’s where Olga is going to perform a triple-sow-cow then spring for a release with one hand, it’s never been attempted before ever and she missed twice during practice, okay, okay, here it comes!” Why bother watching, let’s all just sit back, do our laundry or finish the afghan and listen to these bozos on the radio. I’m sure NBC executive would loooove that one.
Then, some Americans got the bright idea of wanting a sure thing in winning even more sports, splitting a handful of events under, say, swimming, into several more for more chances to spread the wealth around to the Americans and the Aussies. Hey, let’s have the butterfly race, 57 times, change the guidelines slightly and then there’ll be 57 times the Americans can medal! And so, they accomplished this dubious goal by lobbying the Olympics board of fartknockers to add tennis, synchronized diving, synchronized karaoke boy bands...
Not only that, for some sports—the ones with more than collegiate affiliation in this country—they successfully lobbied to allow professional players. In the Summer Olympics, the biggest travesty of justice is the stealing of the gold by the often multi-million dollar celebrity NBA players. I remember one time, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and a host of other impossibly perfect basketball pros were hired to whup some foreign butt, and they did, unsurprisingly. It’s not enough that a Michael Jordan won the NBA finals a billion times, he has to horn in on the amateur turf too.
Why don’t they just let Pete Sampras loose with a tennis sport addition? Oh yeah, tennis was made eligible not too long ago. Golf might follow, since Tiger Woods needs another challenge and more trophies to add to his collection.
It’s never fun to watch bullies beat up on kindergarteners, which is what this felt like to me.
This, was as far from the original, historical reasons for the Olympics first held in Greece as to be another animal altogether. Long, long ago, the earth-bound gods in and around Athens decided hold a special series of sporting events for the common man with an everyday, boring job but a weekend hobby of, say, javelin-throwing or running cross-country. From there, it evolved to include the participation of as many countries, large and small, as possible, with their historical roots.
The beauty of the Olympics has always been the fact that at its heart and soul, it was about showcasing the athleticism and sportsmanship of the common man (and later, woman), a carpenter who shot the bow and arrow for fun on the weekends, a firefighter who could out-dive everybody in his block, an aspiring opera singer who rode horses on the side... Not a $50 million-a-year-earning fathead who regularly commands standing-room-only crowds in L.A. amphitheatres for slam-dunking the competition.
Several people, including my husband Eddie, have explained to me the reason for this turning pro. Countries like Russia would pay their athletes to train and win at their chosen sport exclusively; the Olympics was their job, so Russia was, in all essence cheating by submitting their professionals to compete. The USA merely wanted fair play.
The difference, however, in my view at least, is that Russia is different from the USA in that that country is basically an impoverished Third World with no real genuine organized series of sports teams that seasonally get together to win, lose and enjoy parades from such luxurious a use of leisure. Over there, there is no NBA or World Series or USA Open. Some countries are so small, only four people are represented during opening ceremonies.
Another development believed to be an improvement, but, in my world view is merely another reason to avoid watching: They dropped the Winter and Summer Olympics, during the respective seasons, once every four years, and alternated them every two years (so the Winter Olympics would happen, then two years later, the Summer). They did this to avoid putting undue stress on the two separate host countries and to spread the capitalism around. I suspect also, to avoid Olympic burn-out (which, strangely never happened when I grew up watching).
I could be wrong, but this is reminiscent of those unimaginative, sequel-hungry Hollywood suits who can’t leave well enough alone with one, decent box office blockbuster. They have to replicate, copy, plagiarize, and be parasites, sucking the life out of entertainment itself... in this case, the pure pleasure of watching everyday people pursue extraordinary heights in athletic achievement.
It’s not enough, it’s never enough to simply sit patiently (or better yet, have a life) and wait the four years for a double-feature of Olympics heaven. No, we have to have Olympics almost every year. When it’s not the Olympics, it’s the road leading to the Olympics and the trillion local, national and international tampon-sponsored championships leading to the Olympic trials; they so completely saturate the market with Olympics previews and Olympics-related competitions and Olympics commercial tie-ins that by the time the Olympics do come, every two years, I’m sick to death of the factory-made conglomerate of the Olympics.
(Like most people, I never cared much for the summer Olympics, save for gymnastics and track & field. I’ll probably wind up at Whistler in the year 2010 for the Winter version, to hopefully meet up with my online best friend and sneak in some bunny slope skiing, though.)
Using professionals and accelerating the Olympics in short order were bad enough, but, according to my husband Eddie, the worst for most people is in the network-hosted monopoly. Currently NBC holds the power, aka a contract, and has wielded it with an iron-clad exclusivity that no other network can infringe upon. Furthermore, NBC is prone to showing only highlight clips on its main major channel, but the details, the actual games and such on pay-extra cable, also NBC-owned. Eddie’s even heard that NBC was planning on blow-by-blow coverage without the incessant commentator banter on pay-per-view. People hate that, he added, because they feel they’re forced to fork up more money just to watch something that many of them watched for free in the 60s and 70s.
I remember as a seven-year-old rushing home after playing outside, just to catch Olga Korbet in action on the uneven parallel bars, back when they allowed gymnasts to do more than twirl around, but fold their bodies over one pole while swinging from the other.
We thought nothing of cheering for any athlete, regardless of country, just because of outstanding athleticism, we didn’t care if Olga was from the U.S.S.R, USA’s sworn enemy. In those days, the commentators followed suit, they let the sports happen and if they noticed a good player, they applauded him or her without the politics or the fake patriotism. When Russia cheated, which was often, it was Russia’s shame, and Americans simply shrugged, booed and went about their business the next day.
We weren’t even remotely interested in seeking out, manufacturing or exaggerating the Olympics-set dramas for ratings points and sponsorship fees in the next two years. We barely paid attention to the commercials, because I swear it seemed there weren’t any, just wall-to-wall, 24/7 Olympics sports.
But in the millennium, nothing’s about just sports – or just music, or just movies – but everything about making the most money, but disguising it as the same old That’s Entertainment. And in USA’s case, making it look for all intents and purposes as sports, but trying desperately to collect as many gold medals and record breakers as possible, to cash in on next time.
I close with my final complaint, the one that pretty much did me in and set me against the Olympics, or what passes for them nowadays, forever. Before the 1996 Olympics, the board of fartknockers fielded several bids from several countries to not only host but celebrate a centennial of the beginning of the Olympics.
Now, logic and sentiment would naturally turn towards Greece, which turned in its bid. But maybe Greece wasn’t glamorous, sexy, or USA enough, maybe Greece couldn’t afford the highest bidder’s price, but the final nod went to ... Atlanta, Georgia. No offense to Georgians but come on!, the anniversary, any Olympics anniversary, belonged back in the country where it began.
I am not watching the Summer Olympics, finally held back in 96-degree Athens, Greece, right now.
I did catch a few snippets, here and there between channel surfing to E!’s The Curse of the Exorcist, True Hollywood Story (been there, read all about that years ago) and catching a #2/3-rated Hollywood flick, Collateral, starring Jamie Fox, my favorite contemporary actor of all time, Tom Cruise, who is an efficient villain, and Jada Pinkett, the perfect prosecutor-turned-romantic-heroine. Collateral is my choice for the best summer hit and possibly an Oscar contender, the straight-ahead jazz-inspired soundtrack, textured visuals, fuzzy, inexplicable connections ala Michael Mann and the strength of those three actors’ personas alone carried this movie straight into my subconscious... one of those flicks I’ll probably remember on my death bed.
But I was talking about the snippets of this year’s Summer Olympics. Um... hey, two people trying to dive together, completely in sync, something’s wrong with the Blaine guy gymnast and I think the commentators are trying to make a big deal between him and some Japanese former gymnast judge who changed the routine based on a change of rules, the US basketball dream team lost to, Puerto Rico?
Yeah, I know...
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