Posts Tagged ‘olympics’

Cultural Attache

26 February 2010

Dear J-

One of the truly smart things NBC has done with their Olympics coverage (don’t get me wrong; there have been quite a few right things even if the announcers are obnoxiously nationalistic) is adding the culture correspondent, Mary Carillo. While it’s true that the culture of Canada may not be as far removed from the States as was China’s two years ago, there’s still plenty of opportunity to try on new hats (quite literally: one segment this year featured her going through a day of RCMP training). The basic premise is that she gets to go do things unique to that country.

I’m not sure that it would work with anyone else, though; Mary is remarkably game and willing to take on Fear Factor-style assaults on our Western psyche that would have crippled lesser correspondents. What makes her job the best in the world is the random delight found in the simplest task; she manages to show how much fun she’s having, and that’s apparent to us, the viewers.

Perhaps it would be diffierent if, for instance, she had worked in a Chinese factory churning out goods at low wages. It is a remarkably unbalanced look at a foreign land, like getting the gist of a building project by looking through the little portholes cut in plywood. On the other hand, my curiosity wouldn’t be piqued enough for me to research these things later on and learn about other cultures on my own time; instead I’d likely be arguing questionable merits of various products on some internet forum.



Bereft Silence

25 August 2008

Dear J-

Funny, with the Olympics gone we’re suddenly bereft of evening entertainment.  We hardly knew what we were missing until it was blasted down our retinas on nearly a 24-7 basis (with all the channels NBC owns, or cross-branded with Olympics junk) and then suddenly, like addicted monkeys in some odd research study (“Let’s give them live television that’s not truly live!  Do they rebel or beg for more?”), the plug is pulled and we’re left impatiently drumming our fingers on the glass hoping to shake loose some last bits of international rivalries.

Oh sure, there are other events (World Cup 2010!  Vancouver Winter Games!), but none that quite match the compulsive joy of obscure sport as the Summer Olympics.  I admit to having watched handball for the first time and, well, rather liking it.  I’m sure that if I had the opportunity to have watched it, I would have found even the sailing compelling.  Again, though, here’s where I fault NBC on their sports coverage (and any network who’d tie themselves to one team — yes, Notre Dame, but didja watch any of those brutal games last year?) — too much on a few sports (had they limited these Olympics to a select few swimming, track, beach volleyball, and gymnastics events, the hours televised on NBC would hardly shrink), very little human drama (except for the “ask them again how disappointed they feel” interviewers — they’re like sharks, man), and too much of the same old tired Olympic voices and faces, announcer-wise (and c’mon, you couldn’t dredge up Michael Johnson or Carl Lewis to talk about track?).

On the plus side, Mary Carillo clearly deserves a much bigger role — even as a general travel correspondent, her segments were a can’t-miss highlight of the evening.  It’ll be interesting to see how the London 2012 games go, as the inescapable link between Olympics and politics had dark overtones coming from China, and the increasing world connectivity meant flame wars everywhere you went between the supporters, detractors, and sports fans.  Ah, the magic of reaching out and trolling for responses.


My World

22 August 2008

Dear J-

Short entry tonight; I’m sick and a little sorry for myself as I’m going back to work on Sunday.  With any luck I can wangle a day off or two out of it, but it’s hard to see the upside of working four weekends out of five.

When did the US Olympic Committee become such whiners?  As if leading the medal count isn’t enough, they have to go and issue challenges and request disqualifications when the results don’t go our way.  I understand the persecution complex, but isn’t it more impressive to suck it up and let the court of public opinion try the case?


Pheidippides Trash

19 August 2008

Dear J-

I read an article today that was all agog at the trash talk going on between the eventual gold and silver medal winners in women’s pole vault.  Because, you know, people running down a paved track using a flexible pole to fling themselves skyward don’t have emotions.  The whole business of intimidation and gamesmanship is nothing new; I can almost see the conversation coming out of that Battle of Marathon:

Pheidippides:  So (puff) here’s the (puff puff) message.

General:  You didn’t run all the way here, did you, son?

Pheidippides:  (gasps) Yes (hack, cough)

General:  Well, that was pretty impressive, I guess.  But you’re still slow.

P:  (wheeze)

G:  In fact, we’ve got this messenger over here who said he’s going to run back with our response, even faster than you!  You know, because we’re Athenians.

P:  (sinks to ground and dies)

G:  Wuss.

Okay, so it probably didn’t happen that way, but you can see what I mean.  As long as we make something competitive — whether athletic, political, or social — and we assign scores and values, someone will quantifiably be the best, and everyone else won’t be.  We keep chasing moving targets, and along the way, we’ve got to show off doing it.  It just feels like, you know, human nature.

When was the last time you did something unnecessarily, but with style?  Yeah, I thought so too.


P.S.  New celebrity crush:  Елена Гаджиевна Исинбаева Woo!

Last Sunday

9 August 2008

Dear J-

It seems simple — just a few more hours, one more Sunday of work, and yet it’s been looming over my head all week like some sort of sword, delighting in telling me that there’s no way I can enjoy the weekend at this rate.  It’s already over, and all I’ve done is watch more than my fair share of Olympic coverage (handball, beach volleyball — here I confess I’ve never understood how you can separate the athlete from their looks, swimming, fencing, and all those sports that the truly devoted watch in lieu of housework).  Ah well.  All the same; the earth turns, the sun sets, I return to work.  It’s not forever, it’s not more than tomorrow, and all it really comes down to is being able to come home at the end.  I’ll live.  The frustration is not personal, yet the disappointment can’t hide, unfortunately.


China’s Games

8 August 2008

Dear J-

The Olympics start today — it’s now twenty-four years since I started watching the Olympics in earnest, as the Lake Placid games meant little to me besides collecting the Chiquita banana stickers, and the Moscow games later that year were boycotted.  Nope, LA was the first ones I can remember well, particularly the American heroes Mary Lou Retton and Carl Lewis.  Although there’s always a ton of events, our summer viewing always seems to revolve around gymnastics, track, swimming, and diving.

This summer seems to have brought a slightly abbreviated fill-in season of shows:  short runs, smaller build-up; folks know enough to get out of the way of watching the Olympics.  Much has been made of Chinese politics and atmosphere lately, too.  There are those who’ve called for a boycott of the games on the basis of high moral principles, but I believe those views are rooted in perceiving China through 19th century lenses.

Setting the stage, for roughly 100 years, 1840-1949, China descended into ever-growing chaos with the ending of the Qing dynasty and the rise of treaty ports and concessions.  The government was unable to exert any sort of force over the country; industrialization was a farce, and so the modern perception of China as a decadent backwards society was set.  Now, it seems as though the Western societies have promised much (“Look, if you just followed our example, you could be just as modern as us”) and delivered little (“Don’t copy us — and you can’t pollute like we did.”)  Small wonder that there’s frustration over the direction China may take; no one yet considers the momentum — consumer, intellectual, innovation — of a country with over four times the population of the United States.

I’m not going to defend China’s involvement in human rights violatons except to note that they are not the first, they are not the only, and they will not be the last.  We’ve laid down an example of how strong countries act, and we need to accept the consequences of that.  But it’s not to say that they’re blameless for following that precedent.  The Olympics are a chance for China to flex its muscles on the world’s stage and demonstrate that 2042 will be nothing like 1842.  There’s a sort of unintended patronizing tone here:  gee, China, you sure are doing great; at some point all kingdoms rise and fall.