Archive for the ‘Olympics’ Category

The Day After

March 1, 2010

What if last night’s Canada/US hockey game were in some way faked or simulated? What if, for instance, the last minute goal that sent the game into overtime were artfully allowed to happen and Sidney Crosby’s game-winning play was actually somehow orchestrated by a kind of secret Olympic Star Chamber? I’m not suggesting that I actually believe this to be the case, I’m just posing a thought-experiment to discern what, if any, difference there would be in people’s experience and reactions to the event if they were to find out that Canada’s sensational win had been somehow managed. Would it make a substantive difference to peoples’ memories of the event if this were uncovered to be the case in the next week, the next ten years, or somewhere down the twisted path of time? What if everyone knew ahead of time that the game was rigged, as in popular wrestling?

Today in a cafe the couple sitting next to me were engaged in an exchange that went something like this:

Her: “It would have been lame if the Canadians had just smoked the US, don’t you think?”
Him: “Uh, yeah. It’s better when they face adversity. That’s why it was good that we lost the second game.”

Of course, this conversation would have been significantly different if Canada had lost the final match, but I think it brings to light an interesting point about the nature of spectacular sport: it doesn’t really matter if these evets were “natural” or scripted. In fact, these media events are all the more satisfying when they unfold in a manner that suggests an idealized script.

What this couple was lauding about the Olympic hockey event was that it unfolded in a narrative manner as if it had been intentionally scripted. Perhaps the belief that the win was not in any way managed adds to the sense of wonder over the event’s ability to generate the maximum amount of drama, tension and glory for the Canadian champions, but admiration for the physcial abilities of the Canadian team seems to be mixed, in the overheard conversation, with admiration for the player’s ability to create a good “sports experience”, which includes a certain amount of dramatic tension and last-minute reversals of fortune. In short, the Canadian/American hockey playoff is to be remembered, not because the players were so good at what they did, but because they managed to put on such an entertaining spectacle.

The Olympic event produced an experience that could galvanize the artificial construction we call nation, uniting, for a moment its diverse races and classes into at least the illusion of a focused social body. Would such an experience be worth orchestrating for the various governmental and corporate investors in the Olympic culture industry? If it were advantageous to manage or “fix” it, would it even be possible to do so? The idea that Canada’s overtime win happened spontaneously adds a certain credence to the always precarious claims of nationhood, as if the universe itself were conspiring to affirm the Canadian experience, but is there any reason to think that learning the event had been faked would undermine our faith in the Olympic experience? Perhaps we would simply extend our admiration to the clever organizers, media outlets and politicians as people who should share in the glory over the players’ accomplishment.

A cohort mentioned today how, after the game was over, there was a deluge on the streets, not just of revelers, horn-honkers and flag wavers, but of people taking their dogs out for a much needed pee. Amidst the flurry of nationalistic sentiment and celebration, it seems that a more everyday collective force was at work, with Canadians across the nation simultaneously producing their pets to fertilize the earth in a great torrent of suppressed fluids. This unintentional synchronization of activity illustrates the point that it doesn’t matter whether the event was scripted or not, the net effect is the same: like thousands of dog owners orchestrated by a chance factor, the Olympic spectacle calibrates diverse people with the entity we call Canada, and with the larger geo-political construction of global politics. And this seems to be a feat that governments and other entities whose existence depends on upholding a certain network of global power relations would be willing to invest quite a bit of resources in producing.


Mission Accomplished

February 28, 2010

At the risk of sounding like the ultimate kill-joy, I was extremely happy when my friend announced, just now, that the Olypmics were officially over and done. Now the urban poor can move back into Vancouver, and the less poor can start to talk about how the city is going to pay off the huge debt incurred from the whole operation. Happily, I made it through the entire two weeks seeing nary a snippet of the actual games. The trumpeting announcements on CBC radio every half hour were bad enough! I did, however, buy the official doughnut.

Please Do Not Adjust Your Shopping Carts

February 28, 2010

The grocery store was transformed today by the broadcasting of the Canada/America Olympic Hockey game over the supermarket’s PA system. It was extremely difficult to make out any of the details of what the announcer was actually saying do to the poor acoustics and speakers. One was left with a War of the Worlds effect in which the essence of hockey excitement was distilled from any actual game content. It was a strange soundtrack to accompany grocery shopping, the live media feed linking the florescent-lit aisles of provisions with the illusion of live action from an ice rink in Vancouver. Not that I disbelieve that the hockey game was actually occuring, but had the announcer being talking about alien spacecraft tromping through the cities of North America on telescoping metal legs, I doubt that the sense of tension and unreality in the store would have been any less pronounced.

At the check-out counters, all the staff had little temporary Olympic tattoos on their cheeks, and the cashier who was ringing through my goods commented on how tense she felt just at that moment. The game had just gone into overtime, though I’m not sure how anyone could have told from the announcers account, unintelligible as it was from distortion of the sound system.

When we arrived back home with our groceries, there was flag waving and horn honking on the street, and I marveled at the manner in which the sense of impersonal community is formed through sports rituals such as Olympic hockey. Happily, it is a largely innocuous form of collective celebration, and offers no threat of actually awakening people to a sense of their solidarity and power to change the world for the better.

Bourdieu on the Olympics

February 28, 2010

A parallel can be seen [between] artistic production [and the Olympics]. The individual artist’s directly visible actions obscure the activity of the other actors—critics gallery owners, museum curators, and so on—who, in and through their competition, collaborate to produce the meaning and the value of both the artwork and the artist. Even more important, they produce the very belief in the value of art and artist that is the basis of the whole art game. Likewise, in sports, the champion runner or javelin thrower is only the obvious subject of a spectacle that in some sense is produced twice. The first production is the actual event in the stadium, which is put together by a whole array of actors, including athletes, trainers, doctors, organizers, judges, goalkeepers, and masters of the ceremonies. The second show reproduces the first in images and commentary. Usually labouring under enormous pressure, those who produce on the second show are caught up in the whole network of objective relationships that weighs heavily on each of them. (Bourdieu, On Television 81)

Bourdieu goes on to call for an investigation into the processes of production behind the Olympics, so that we might collectively take control of the event and return it to the humanistic, universalist values at the heart of the project. How could this investigation be accomplished? It might be interesting to make a documentary about the media industry that produces the Olympic spectacle, but would that simply be adding another level of media encoding to the original event? It seems that a good way to capitalize on the spectacular apparatus is to make the culture industry itself the star of its own ancillary spectacle. In this way, the revenues generated by the Olympics could be extended just that much further, even after the Original event is over.

Human Currency

February 21, 2010

I find this commercial interesting for the manner in which it objectifies Olympic athletes by equating them with the mechanized process by which money is created. Most astounding is the absolute lack of shame with which this commercial depicts people as equivalent to cash in the Olympic context. While ostensibly attempting to express how much Canadians value their athletes, the ad’s visual message serves to objectify and dehumanize the Olympians, unintentionally offering a critique of the manner in which the Olympic culture industry transforms athletes into human capital.