Watching the Olympics

I’m getting cynical in my old age.

On the one hand, I always watch the Olympics: summer, winter, always catch some of them. Usually get enamored from the opening ceremony on … and I love seeing the joy on the athletes’ faces.  The stories of Olympians who have overcome obstacles to get there, who come from small impoverished countries, those I love.

But … then there is the feeling it’s all a con game. A corporate spectacle put on for the world to be sold a dream that doesn’t exist. The biggest circus of all the bread and circuses … meant to distract us from what is really going on.  After all, if we see all the corporate logos on the Olympics, it means they cannot possibly be destructive to our fundamental societies: only the very biggest corporations can afford to be Olympic sponsors, and have their ads all over the Olympics — the very corporations who are stealing from the world even as they pretend to have a sense of corporate citizenship.  The bad acts of the corporate sponsors sour the Olympics: and this was really clear through the controversy over the Ralph Lauren USA uniforms …. made in China.  It just never occurred to them that would be an issue, that outsourcing the manufacture of the USA Olympian uniforms would cause any controversy.  This is where they show true insensitivity to every American who has lost a job, particularly in textile manufacturing … how can we feel proud of our Olympians if the Olympic movement can’t be bothered to care about the workers in our country: the fans? We’re just supposed to root unquestioningly — no thought as to what happens behind the scenes. It was a crack in the charade of the Olympian ideal: not USA for USA, but China for USA … really?  My cynicism is only increased as I watch a financial services company’s Olympic ad: are we supposed to forget that these are the folks who drove the world into poverty? Who gambled our livelihoods away? Who walked away with millions, while thousands lost their homes and the shirts off their backs? Is this really the Olympic ideal? Predatory lending?

Then there are all those incredibly young athletes, people who have been training since they were toddlers.  Missy Franklin first went in a pool at 5 months? Am I supposed to feel amazed, in awe, and proud of the fact that she has literally been training for the Olympics her entire life?  The gymnasts are the worst, but some of the others are scary as well.  Maybe I don’t understand that kind of drive and dedication, but it seems a bit creepy too me.  The Chinese seem like they’ve perfected the manufacture of athletes: its shocking when their athlete show any real human emotions.  Other countries aren’t far behind: which is why the goofy athletes are often the most endearing — the ones who have no real chance of making it but are there anyway through sheer perseverance.

But the coverage is also annoying: NBC does such a poor job. They do long segments on athletes that are too young to be any where near interesting — a fault not limited to NBC. I heard a spot on an Olympic swimmer on NPR a month ago that was just vapid: there was no there there.  At some point, I just don’t care.  And the male athletes get more prominent positioning than the women: others have pointed out how the female athletes are sexuallized to a degree the men are not subject to — again, in the background, they travel coach to the men’s business-class – even when the women’s teams are the more successful.  How are we supposed to rea

One sign of hope for the Olympic movement, however: all the teams sent female athletes this year. And the first medalist for the Americans was a Muslim woman wearing her headscarf under her fencing costume.  Those pictures make your heart sing. Oh, and I’m still rooting for Michael Phelps.

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