Second Thoughts on the Olympics
If the recently-concluded Vancouver/Whistler Olympic Winter Games© were the equivalent of a gigantic reality TV show, then they had an ending so improbable it had to be scripted . . . I mean, come on: it’s the last event of the Games, Team Canada is on the verge of sending millions of delirious Canadians into the streets to celebrate Canada’s record-breaking 14th gold medal when the Americans tie it with 24 seconds to go, sending the entire nation into a state of shock and then we come back to win it off the stick of NHL poster-boy Sydney Crosby eight minutes into overtime, sending millions of delirious (and relieved) Canadians into the streets . . .
If this was a TV movie, we would all be rolling our eyes. Instead, we were high-fiving each other with a giddiness made all the more delicious by the near disaster. Seldom has hockey felt less like a game and more like a shared cultural/religious experience. For those few moments, we could forget that Team Canada was a group of pampered, over-paid athletes who mostly play for American NHL teams, and cheer them on as Canadian boys representing their country for a prize that could, unlike the Stanley Cup, be shared by all Canadians.
That none of the Canadian hockey players bothered showing up at the closing ceremonies removed some of the lustre and reinforced the difference between the professional athletes and their poorer but no-less-worthy amateur cousins (including the gold-medal-winning women’s hockey team). Still, it was a game and outcome for the ages.
Gold medal hockey games aside, there were enough compelling stories over the past few weeks to fill newscast after newscast. Far be it for me to repeat them here. Instead, allow me to share a few closing thoughts and observations on the Games.
The Canadian public (or ordinary Canadians, as politicians are fond of calling us). It was extraordinary, really, to witness the sense of communal pride that the Games ignited across the country. There’s a fine line between patriotism and nationalism, and I think for the most part we stayed on the right side of the line. Even the Olympic organizers were stunned at the level of patriotic fervour that swept the nation.
Seeing speed skater Cindy Klaasen and other athletes shilling for McDonalds is just wrong. As Vancouver Sun columnist Dan Gardiner wrote in an opinion piece, “Governments give public money to the Olympics, in part to encourage healthy lifestyles, and this money helps make the Olympics a brand so powerful that McDonald’s and Coca-Cola pay to associate themselves with it in order to strengthen their own brands and improve sales of junk that contributes to the spiralling rates of obesity and obesity-related diseases which governments are fighting by spending large and growing amounts of money on, among other things, the Olympics.” It’s bad enough that McDonalds, Coke and GM are key sponsors of the world’s largest sporting event, but to have respected athletes plugging their artery-clogging products is truly depressing. And c’mon – Wonder Bread??
The reader comments that were posted on online news coverage of the Olympic Games. Many of them made those vapid “man-on-the-street” interviews that run on TV news stories look like PhD dissertations. Anyone who thinks Canadians are tolerant, well-educated, fair-minded people hasn’t spent much time online. To be sure, the people posting these jingoistic, racist, misspelled rants are not a true cross-section of Canadians, but they’re ugly just the same.
Lips in Synch
Despite the assertion by David Atkins, executive producer of the Vancouver opening ceremonies, that lip-synching is done at virtually all live events, it takes away much of the authenticity as far as I’m concerned. If I want to hear Nelly Furtado and Bryan Adams sing pitch-perfect renditions of their songs I’ll buy their CDs. On second thought, I won’t. At least they didn’t follow the lead of the Chinese in Beijing and have a cuter slam poet lip-synch Shane Koyczan’s moving ode to Canada.
Anyone watching the opening ceremonies would be forgiven for thinking that Canada is a nation of English-speaking, fiddle-playing white people who get along well with the First Nations minority and, oh yeah, have some happy Francophones in their midst as well. There were a fair number of comments following the ceremonies expressing disappointment that our country’s diversity wasn’t better represented. Hopefully, they said, this would be rectified in the closing ceremonies. Silly people. Instead, in a strange attempt at self-deprecating humour, we were treated to a larger-than-life display of every Canadian stereotype in the book, from Mounties (what, no turbans? no tasers?), to hockey players, lumberjacks (where was Monty Python when you needed them?), moose, beavers and canoes. I’m not sure, but I bet the self-referential humour was lost on most out-of-town viewers. The bizarre monologues by Captain Kirk (sorry, William Shatner), Catherine O’Hara and Michael J. Fox did nothing to dispel the oddness of it all. And then the bands were trotted out: Neil Young (no lip-synching there!), Nickelback, Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morissette, Simple Plan and Hedley. Oh, yeah, and that black rapper fellow, what’s his name? K-OS. We’re diverse all right . . . as diverse as a shopping mall in Prince George at Christmas . . .
Snarky comments aside, the Games were exciting, with the athletes’ performances and class outshining all else. We threw the best Winter Games in history. and were near-perfect hosts while doing it. Here’s hoping the benefits are long-lasting and the hangover not too severe.
See you next month!