Sunday, September 04, 2016

[Rant] The Olympics

Since 2016 is the undeniably the most obnoxious year in recorded history, it's not strange that the Olympics were outright weird. It started with the run up during which we got persistent descriptions of the post-apocalyptic horror that is Rio de Janeiro -- roving cops, both real and fake, greeting tourists at the airport with "Welcome to Hell" signs then robbing them on the street. Water so polluted that sailors and rowers were advised to keep their mouths closed and rinse with anti-bacterial mouthwash between events. And, of course, Zika virus fears loomed large.

The scandals were, for the most part highly comical. The pool water turning green played into the pollution fears, even thought it was just algae. Are these pools not chlorinated, or was it bleach-resistant Brazilian super-algae? There were a couple of moments in wrestling that were stunningly stupid. One wrestler bit another one. And the coaches for Mongolia proceeded to strip to their underwear and throw their clothes at the judges over a controversial ruling. (Is that a cultural thing in Mongolia?) Honestly, you would have expected Hulk Hogan to rush in and attack someone with a chair.

The there was Ryan Lochte and some of his cohorts behaving like Zoolander come to life. He has assured himself eternal fame as the guy whose picture is next to "dumbass" in the dictionary. Just a gold-medal display of idiocy. It makes me so grateful that there were no camera trained on me when I was his age. I can pretend to be above it. It's going to be interesting to see how all this plays out for him. He can pretty much kiss any endorsements good-bye and his presence on the US Swim team in the future is going to have to be downplayed for the same reason. His youth suggests he still has another Olympics in him -- what will his situation be in four years? His image rehab plan apparently includes Dancing with the Stars. On the other hand, they say there is no such thing as bad publicity.

The games themselves were fun. The marquee athletes, for the most part, are genetic freaks but their youthful joy and awe at just being there makes them relatable. NBCs coverage was as parochial and retrograde as possible. The U.S. swimmers and women's gymnasts were the focus naturally, then there was some push on the U.S./Jamaica rivalry in sprinting, which should be more equitable in the future now that Usain Bolt has retired. There was little time for anything else what with all the commercials they had to wedge in every five minutes or so. Viewership was down, especially among the Millennials which was portrayed as another of their character flaws, but Millennials simply are not conditioned to tolerate endless commercial breaks and tape delays like us older folks. NBC's coverage was a disaster. It's as if in their mind folks were going to sit in front of the TV every evening with Swanson TV dinner and call their friends on their rotary phones to discuss what was going on.

Those of us with thousands of cable channels had it a bit better -- there were a couple of other options where you could get a broader look at the games, but you know what? They weren't that interesting. I caught a bit of ping-pong, and a bit of water polo, and after the curiosity wore off I changed the channel. I did watch the cycling when it came on because I follow cycling, but that's about it.

I'm conflicted about the Olympics. On the one hand, I think it's terrific that once every four years these folks who mostly compete in obscurity get some recognition and glory. But even that is for the marquee names. For most of the medallists, glory consists of a photo and an article in your hometown paper and maybe a visit to the local elementary school to tell the kids to stay in school. I suspect most of the audience is like me: I admire their skills and appreciate all the work they put in, but I've developed nothing like passion or fandom for them. Meanwhile, every cloying cliche in popular culture is leveraged to the hilt in up-close-and-personal segments and shallow op-eds and in-depth "investigations", while the host country spends itself into near bankruptcy for the sake of the corrupt few contractors who will benefit. If there were a ballot initiative to bring the Olympics to Michigan, that is probably one thing that might make me get involved in something political just to oppose it. It's nice to look at from afar, but not in my backyard.

And yet, my first thought when the games were over was that it might be a nice trip to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. I've always wanted to visit Japan, and you can be assured everything will be precise, clean, and efficient unlike the Rio shit-show. I'll be staring 60 in the teeth at that point so it could be a bucket list thing. For better or worse, the Olympics mark the years as much as the Super Bowl or the Tour de France. No point in fighting it.