By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
The best way to watch the Winter Olympics, I discovered while out for a walk one evening, is through someone else’s living-room window. That way you avoid the inane commentary, and if you time it right you can catch five minutes of action before the floodgates open for commercials. A block from my building I found the perfect Olympic theater: a first-floor apartment with a picture window and a massive, wide-screen TV. On that High Definition console, the speed-skating rink became a shimmering lake of icy blues and synthetic crimsons, across which androgynous Lycra-clad figures powered their way. And when I turned my head toward a second-floor apartment on the other side of the street, I saw wispy aerialists twist and turn in the air like Keith Haring figures transported to a snowy landscape.
It felt right to watch the Olympics like this, at a distance of about 30 feet, with a big pane of glass between me and the TV and the scent of leaves and fresh air in my nostrils. But eventually, I had to move on, fearful of looking like a peeping Tom. Imagine being arrested for watching Bob Costas through someone else’s window. Spying on speed skaters! Ogling ice dancers as they frolicked innocently in a stranger’s living room! Sadly, I trudged back to my apartment and turned on my ordinary old TV.
Costas was seated in front of a fireplace, talking to wrinkled gray eminence Jim McKay. McKay had just delivered himself of an achingly pat “Wise Old Man” speech on the significance of this year’s games, and I felt sorry for him. The speech was probably written by a 22-year-old. “You know, Jim,” Costas said, picking up on a dubious line in McKay’s homily, “they’ve talked about these games as the healing games, but I think you’re right, September 11th has only been a subtext. There hasn’t been anything heavy-handed about it.”Bob big boy
No, I thought to myself, just the bit where they brought the flag from the World Trade Center into the stadium during the opening ceremonies. Or the part where President Bush broke Olympic protocol by opening the games “on behalf of a proud, determined and grateful nation” while seated among athletes from his own country. But I didn’t really care about that. All countries are jingoistic, given the opportunity, and we just happen to be rich in opportunity. What I wanted to know was: Who on Earth was talking about “the healing games”? This was a conversation I’d missed out on.
“Have you been watching the Healing Games?”
“Oh yes, every night.”
“So you feel better now?”
“Much better. And you?”
“Completely recovered. I found the luge particularly soothing.”
“I’m so glad to hear it. It was the moguls that did it for me.”
“Well, goodbye then.”
Bakken and Flowers
Elsewhere, the healing process was taking longer to set in. Over at Fox, the inimitable Bill O’Reilly was still fuming over the pairs figure-skating scandal and calling for the arrest of Marie-Reine le Gougne, the French figure-skating judge alleged to have been pressured into voting for the Russians over the Canadians. (This was before le Gougne claimed it was the Canadiansshe had been pressured to vote for.) “The Salt Lake City cops should put her in cuffs!” O’Reilly barked at sportswriter John Feinstein, who looked startled. “Well, what’s the charge?” Feinstein asked.
Hmmm, I thought to myself, that’s easy: being French, looking sophisticated, and knowing something about ballet. That should get her 20 years right there. My God, she looks like the host of an Arts program. What’s she doing at the Olympics? This is a sporting event, dammit!
A le Gougne look-alike popped up in the audience on David Letterman’s show, and was asked to stand up and take a bow. The strange thing was, from a distance she really did look like le Gougne and had a distinctly snooty air. But she was soon forgotten as Dave got down to the enjoyable business of poking fun at the “commercials-to-content ratio” of NBC’s Olympic coverage. “I know it cost them about a billion dollars, but come on!” Dave moaned. “You need something to get your nose open.”
Whatever that meant. If it’s all too easy to make fun of the Olympics, NBC has only itself to blame. All the network needs to do is showthe damn things — i.e., turn on a camera, point it toward an event, and then broadcast the resulting footage — but Costas & Co. are incapable of anything so straightforward. They don’t like to show things so much as talk about showing them. Everything has to be given a hook, a moral, a “story.” Nothing is allowed to go unmediated. In most countries, you can see the Olympics pretty much as they unfold, but here all you get is highlights, commercials, and crashing bores waxing philosophical beside a fire.
The peak of insanity — for me, anyway — was reached on the night Costas announced they would be showing highlights from the previous night’s footage of the short program in ladies’ figure skating. Ladies’ figure skating is by far the most popular event in the Olympics, but even so, the previous night’s coverage had been minimal (during one half-hour period, they managed to show four minutes of actual skating), and I gawked at the TV in astonishment. “Wait a minute,” I muttered incredulously. “You only showed highlights of the figure skating lastnight. Now you’re going to show highlights of the highlights?” But by this stage in the competition — it was four days before the end — NBC had obviously decided to limit coverage to events in which American athletes were dominant. The rage for gold medals and ratings-bull’s-eye “stories” had reached its apogee.
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