Friday, August 8, 2008

Olympics: Opening Apathy

The opening ceremony is on tonight. Actually, it's already been on, having taken place in the morning our time because, for some odd reason, the Chinese decided to schedule it in their evening and not to suit the needs of primetime viewers. It's like they think they're an important country or something.

In any event, I won't be watching.

Not just the opening ceremony which will no doubt be the sort of spectacle that's both mindbendingly odd and mindalteringly boring at the same time - there's only so many ways you can have people running around a stadium in neon colored versions of their native garb while trying to get across the sweep of their history through interpretive dance, after all.

But, no, I mean the whole games. I won't be watching the Olympics this year, don't have the slightest interest in it (Except that it's going to be ground into my head over the next 16 days, I'm sure.).

And it's not that the games have become too corporate. Too focused on advertising and branding with the thin veneer that the games serve some higher purpose for humanity than simply moving sneakers or wheaties boxes having long since worn away. Or that they've gotten too professional. Drifted too far from the original ideals of amateurism and athleticism. They might have meant something back when it was a bunch of enthusiasts standing around in a field in the middle of nowhere out of sheer love of competition and a romantic view of history. But now? In order to even compete there's so much training and coaching and sheer capital investment necessary even if it's done completely legally (And when it's not it's less about hard work with pushing the limits of human endurance and more about getting away with pushing the boundaries of modern chemistry.) that it not just a multi-million dollar making enterprise but also an event that sucks up tons of money into staging it as well. And it has nothing to do with it being in China and how they'll be using these games to polish up their image with the world, mostly by shoving anything objectionable into a corner and shooing anyone who looks too closely away for the next few weeks.

No, it's that the Olympics are less of a sporting event than they are a pageant. A big show. One that's billions of dollars it's all put on for, essentially, bragging rights for the nations involved. One where medal counts and nationalities matter more than the individuals involved. A massive undertaking that's done to gratify the egos of those staging and hosting and paying for the whole enterprise. It's all artificial.

Because, in the end, I don't really care who wins a bunch of sports that I never hear about and don't follow and only learn about once every four years when the Olympics roll around. I'm not interested in seeing who's the fastest swimmer or the best diver or who rows best. I'm not even interested in the major sports like America's latest attempt to send a squabbling bunch of preening professional players to beat up on the rest of the world in basketball or the next best thing to the World Cup in football because I can watch those done better at other times.

Back when the world was larger and the cable channels were fewer, the Olympics were special. A glimpse at other places and events that you just couldn't see elsewhere. But, today? They've lost a lot of their luster precisely because they're no longer special. Sports happens all the time and I have the internet that lets me catch it whenever I want. Highlights, reviews, whatever I want, at my fingertips. I don't need the Olympics to catch up on fencing among so many others and the point is that I've realized I never have.

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