Since Amazon failed to deliver the Jack Abramoff-penned action catastrophe “Red Scorpion” on Friday, as they had promised, I needed to pass some time before going out. After careful deliberation, I decided I would see if those rapscallions at “Dateline” had entrapped anymore sexual predators, but lo and behold, NBC was not showing its prized newsmagazine that night, or any night for most of February. Instead, we are all treated to hours, days and weeks of competition in sports from skiing to speed skating, none of which is as dramatic as the music that pervades every episode of “SVU.” No matter what season it is, the Olympics have lost most, if not all, of the allure that accompanied them for the better part of the twentieth century. It is unlikely that any movies will be made about the goings-on in Torino, because, even though the ratings suggest there are ten million people somewhere in America that are following every event, there are many reasons why the rest of us just do not care. I’m not here to offer solutions, mind you, because the IOC probably wouldn’t listen; no, I’m just here to complain. And so here are the reasons why the only things many of you know about this year’s Olympics are what I’ve written in this paragraph.
It’s too damn cold
I know that the point of the winter Olympics is to showcase sports that would not be played in the heat of summer. Skiing might have been difficult in Sydney. However, the temperature at the events makes it nearly impossible to tell people apart, and the only reason to cheer anyone on is the country you share with them. This is the essence of blind patriotism, since the favoring of American contestants based on their citizenship is caused by an inability to visually separate them. Perhaps this explains the tens of millions of people who continue to watch the games…
Where have all the villains gone?
Even though we’re currently at war, and have been for almost three years, there is no particular country that is currently serving the purpose of the USSR for so many past competitions. It was miraculous enough for the 1980 USA men’s hockey team to beat their heavily favored opponents game after game, but people would not have been celebrating so fiercely if the Soviets had not been toppled in the semi-finals. The fact that it is the semi-final game, and not the championship, that we remember to this day speaks to the importance of sports villains. If there is no one you really to see beaten, then there is nothing you really want to see.
Torino seems like a wonderful place, but…
Every winter Olympics could have take place in the same location, and no one would notice. Snow-capped mountains and icy rinks lack variety (swimming pools and running tracks have the same issues, mind you), and the events rarely incorporate the host city. I would love to spend a few weeks in Torino, but if I wanted to look at ice and mountains, I could stay in New Jersey. And, contrary to the feeling the Olympics want to foster, that’s just depressing.
Like a hotel bed…
The winter Olympics come in a neat and tidy package that sucks the life out of the events. The time difference means that NBC wouldn’t dare show the events live – this is to be expected. However, the fact that sporting events have been organized to fit into a perfect block of time irks me to no end. Sports have their own rules and boundaries, but what makes them exciting is the uncertainty involved. The fact that the U.S. Men’s basketball team actually has a chance of losing during the summer Olympics makes the games more interesting. The fact that you know exactly how long NBC will allow you to watch an event has the opposite effect. Imagine if, before its broadcast, you had known that Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS was going to last eleven innings. Now, would you have been more, or less, enthralled for the first ten? This is my point.
Since a lot of the events at the winter Olympics concern sports uncommon in America, it is necessary, close to the opening ceremonies, to explain what the hell curling is. But it is slightly less vital to spend so much of the primetime coverage on analysis. Most televised sporting events have pre-game, post-game and mid-game showcases for garrulous analysts. But even when there is no game in sight, NBC allows these luminaries to analyze the events as much as I analyze myself. And that’s way too much. Sports require commentary, to some degree. And as much as I dislike many of the winter events, I would rather watch people compete for medals than analyze for money.
Chairman Dick Ebersol has decided which events we ought to care about, and these occupy the primetime slots on NBC. But if you’re not careful, you could get smacked in the face with ice dancing just after “Project Runway.” Because there are several channels under the NBC/Universal tent that do not have “NBC” in their title, the programmers scatter the less interesting sports into undesirable timeslots and onto cable networks. Of course, this means that, for those of us who watch channels like USA and Bravo, we are treated to hours of events that make one wonder who first classified them as sports. The NBC executives are smart enough to recognize which sports make for terrible television, and apparently cruel enough to inflict these forms of punishment upon us with only the slightest warning. Shame on them.
Channeling DJ Bob
Apart from the ubiquitous trumpet-filled “theme song,” the music that accompanies the Olympics is usually a mix of what some programmer decided was “hip.” But anyone who sincerely uses the word “hip” in 2006 is not, and the result is a grab-bag of awful. The worst moments occur during highlights, when you’re liable to hear any cheesy tune that contains the words “skate,” “ski,” or “ice.” Speaking of Ice, Vanilla must be even happier around this time every four years than he was to perform for us a month ago. Because I’m sure he really enjoyed that.
Everyone wants to make money. Sports serve the dual purpose of entertaining us and generating profits for the organizers. I’m sure Steinbrenner truly does care about winning, but he invests money in his players with the hope that their success will bring him further financial success. The Olympics are no different, but, for the reasons that I have listed here, along with many others, the 17-day competition smells of greed instead of the excitement and hunger so evident in the life stories of the athletes. Sports have long been a business, but this fact is only disturbing when the life, the joy, and the fun have been siphoned out of it. Lest we forget, these are supposed to be games.