Thank God, the Super Bowl and the Olympics Are Over

Let’s face it, the Olympics have been racing downhill for a while (do you see what I did there?), ruined by greed, consumerism and treacly sentimentality.

Thank God, the Super Bowl and the Olympics Are Over
Photo by Todd Trapani on Unsplash

1. Be Sure to Vote!

Early voting has begun for the March 1 GOP and Democratic primaries. Be sure and take time to vote – it is your country (and state, and county, and city, and school district) after all.

2. Following Up on the Super Bowl

I confess, I watched the Super Bowl on Sunday, in spite of my churlish distaste for everything it is and represents. It was the first Super Bowl I sat all the way through in at least a decade. It helped that I was in a safe space, surrounded by friends, libations and good food.

The game was actually pretty good, and was not decided until its last couple minutes. That is the way it should be – two very good, evenly-matched teams vying for the world championship.

The rest of the Super Bowl – the commercials and the halftime show – was the celebration of America in Decline it was intended to be. The halftime show was very entertaining, although some folks in The Land of the Free and The Home of the Brave were troubled by the fact that the performers were overwhelmingly B-L-A-C-K. Two things struck me about the commercials, which cost between $6.5 and $7 million to air and probably again as much to produce:

  1. Each commercial seemed jam-packed with “celebrities” – not one or two, but six, eight, ten. Half the fun (for those to whom this is fun) was identifying who they were and why we should know (“Oh, he was in one of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies”). I did have to interrupt the flow of the evening to have someone explain to me what a “Jonas” is. Or was.
  2. Lots of the commercials advertised what might be cutting-edge technologies or trends, like electric vehicles, cryptocurrency and sports betting. Maybe this is one of the ways new ideas gain cache with the Great American Masses. Think of Apple’s “1984” commercial or the one for Microsoft’s adaptive game controller; they introduced a product, yes, but also new ideas about what was possible. That may be a good bang for the approximately $10 million a pop it costs to produce and air them.

3. Bye Bye, Beijing

Later today, the 2022 Winter Olympics will end in a long, boring and tawdry closing ceremony. The ceremony was originally slated to include a tribute to the forced labor camps in Xinjiang province, culminating in a metal dust explosion that would immolate all the participants. However, NBC nixed this because it would make the ceremonies run too long.

Long, Boring and Tawdry has been the trifecta for TV and print coverage of the Olympics for at least a generation. Traditionally I do my best to ignore the Olympics. This year, many of my fellow humans are in the same boat; the Opening Ceremonies two weeks ago averaged 16 million viewers worldwide across all the platforms, a record low.

The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg summed up the dilemma of the Olympics in a podcast a couple weeks ago: “It’s just a spectacle that never made a ton of sense and now is not working anymore because the … ‘we are the world, we are the children’ mumbo jumbo is so patently nonsense.”

The problem is worsened by the fact that these Olympics are hosted by China, whose record of free speech suppression, human rights abuses and ethnic cleansing would make Saddam Hussein blush.

But let’s face it, the Olympics have been racing downhill for a while (do you see what I did there?), ruined by greed, consumerism and treacly sentimentality.

For one thing, there’s too many events. This year, there were 109 medal events in 15 sports. If you asked 1,000 people what five sports should be included in every Winter Olympics, you would get very few “curlings.” (Answers might vary if you included Canadians in your sample, since curling is pretty much their national sport.)

The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics – which, oddly enough, were held in 2021 – handed out 340 gold medals in 33 sports. That’s also too many sports, including, for example, badminton and skateboarding, which, I’m obliged to say, are not the national sports in any countries.

This glut of medal events crammed into a two-week period produces a dizzying sensory overload. It’s too much, and who really cares? A week from today, no one will remember who won the silver medal in any event. A month from today, no one will remember who won the gold in any event. In fact, with just a few exceptions, the only lasting glory an Olympian can hope for is their face on a Wheaties box for a few months or an endorsement deal from Nike.

To penetrate this miasma and keep our eyeballs glued to the TV coverage – because TV coverage is the real reason the modern Olympics exist – the networks have perfected the dark art of the “human interest story.” We start with a young athlete – preferably female and pretty – who gets up at zero dark thirty every day to practice, practice, practice, with the only hope of reward being an Olympic medal. Then we see the backstory: a parent lost to tragedy, a brother or sister lost to addiction, QAnon, or worse. Finally, we get The Interview, in which the interviewer gazes on sympathetically while our hero’s eyes glisten with tears, her hopes and dreams laid bare for all the world to see. Of course, we must tune in tomorrow night to see if she will win a medal!

The undisputed master of this form is Bob Costas, who turns 103 next year. He has been covering the Olympics ever since he stole Dick Clark’s bottle of Dorian Gray's Magical Anti-Aging Elixir™ in the mid-80s. He’s so good because he seems to actually believe his shtick. For my money, I preferred Howard Cosell, who always had a twinkle in his eye letting us in on the joke.

Greed, corruption, and self-dealing are the registered trademarks of the International Olympic Committee.

a)   The IOC itself is opaque and unaccountable. Its members are self-selected, and the countries they purport to represent have no say in their selection. Consider the two Americans on the IOC: Anita L. DeFrantz and David Haggerty. No elected official appointed them; they faced no confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate or, for that matter, the Modesto, California, city council. (A third American, James L. Easton, is an Honorary Member, perhaps because he is the CEO of a sporting goods manufacturing company. And last and certainly least, former Secretary of State and alleged war criminal Henry Kissinger is the sole Honour Member of the IOC, whatever that is supposed to mean.)

b)   The lack of transparency and accountability breeds corruption.

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Hae-Jung Kim is a journeyman classical pianist. She’s been working her craft for over 30 years now – a few albums, some concerts, a tour or two – but never broke through to the top tier of concert pianists.

For a brief period in the 1990s, though, she did very well. She soloed with world-famous orchestras in Nagano, Atlanta, Berlin, Melbourne, Salt Lake City, and New York. If these places have a familiar ring to them, it’s because they were all bidding to host Olympic Games during that time, and it turns out her father was then the vice chair of the International Olympic Committee. “I think she probably tinkles in the C division, rather than the A, but certainly she's a competent pianist,” noted one Melbourne bid official. “Her father would appreciate the extent to which Melbourne liked the cultural work of his daughter.”

In the long, sordid history of IOC corruption, this was relatively benign. Bribery and self-dealing have always been part of the Olympic bid process. The boil was lanced in 1999, when it was revealed that the good burghers of Salt Lake City had outright bribed several members of the IOC in their attempt to get SLC chosen for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Ten IOC members were expelled and another ten were sanctioned, and various reforms were instituted.

As with many reforms, though, nothing really changed in the end. Last year’s Tokyo Olympics were marred by corruption allegations still wending their way through the justice system.

c)    The costs of hosting the Olympics are borne by the host city/country while the IOC keeps all the profits. There is so much to say about this, and abundant evidence, but I’ll let the pictures tell the story.