Olympics Bring Out Our Own Brand Of Weird 'Jingoism'

“I am unable to watch the Olympics due to the blustering jingoism that drenches the event. Has England ever been quite so foul with patriotism?” The outraged quotation sounds as if it came from some 19th-century British dandy, but it was actually written by Morrissey, the Smiths singer and lyricist, who posted it last week to his Web page wall.

Although I wanted to tell Morrissey to shut up, (more on him later) he’s not the only critic mouthing off about the 2012 games. Before the event even started, some of the more disastrous predictions included: NBC will lose hundreds of millions of dollars on the games. No one will watch because of the tape delays. Bong-smoking Michael Phelps’ swimming career is over.

In light of the better-than-the-Super-Bowl audience numbers achieved in the first week, the #NBCFAIL hashtag could become the digital equivalent of “Dewey Beats Truman” as a quaint but erroneous historical nugget for future generations to savor.

And the dreaded time-shifting debate became a no-issue pretty quickly. Indeed, this was the year that the term “spoiler alert” became almost moot, the way the concept of “selling out” did in the ‘90s. Turns out that knowing the outcome in advance can actually add to the romance (and calm) of seeing the event play out later. Fans can then watch with a more knowing, insider-y eye for the action, like seeing new details while watching a good movie for the second time, or rewinding the tape to watch backwards.

Michael Phelps, meanwhile, went on to win his 18th career gold medal and his 22nd medal overall, to become the most decorated Olympian of all time.

So all or most of the prophecies were wrong. Still, the Olympic games were full of contradictions, and hijacked in ways that no one could have predicted.

Interesting that Morrissey brought up the idea about jingoism and patriotism. Perhaps he was referring to the bizarre, Danny Boyle-created opening ceremony? I’m not sure that a bunch of historical scenes, including one filled with hundreds of nurses tending to patients who jumped around on white metal beds  (a plug for National Health Care) qualifies as “blustering jingoism.” It seemed more like the stage salute to the “stool capital of the world” in “Waiting for Guffman.”

I hated it, until it occurred to me that what seemed so embarrassing, messy, and chaotic was just the British way of being wacky and self-effacing. They’d be embarrassed to sell anything aggressively. So it was like a parody of self-promotion. That’s a huge contrast to the cold, robotic perfection and precision of the Beijing opener. But at least this over-the-top spectacle was attempting to be multicultural and have a sense of humor.

One reason for the great ratings (aside from the bad economy, which fosters staying at home and watching TV) is that Olympic sporting events present a rare opportunity for parents and children to watch together -- and get an unparalleled lesson in discipline, the value of hard work, and the beauty of the human form. 

Gymnast Gabby Douglas is a case in point. Dubbed “the flying squirrel,” she’s the beautiful 16-year-old American who won two gold medals, and was the first African-American to take home the women's all-around gold medal. She’s a quintessential American success story, a role model who left home at 14 to go live with a white family in Iowa so that she could train intensively with her coach, who is Chinese.

Douglas is Wheaties-box great. (And her face will grace a cereal box -- in this case, Kellogg's Corn Flakes.) But rather than bathing her in praise for her incredible tenacity and performance, and the sacrifice she made by dedicating herself to an athlete's life, the Twittersphere lit up with complaints about her hair. The added wrinkle was that most of the commenters worried about her messy bun were African-American women. Watching Douglas in action presents a welcome alternative to the shallow cookie-cutter standards of female attractiveness that permeate pop culture (and still, by any measure, Gabby is gorgeous!) Would it make her critics happier if she announced, “No jumps today -- I need my hair to stay down”?

Then the teenager was taken to task on Fox News for wearing a pink leotard, as if that meant she had “pinko” tendencies -- a term used during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union still existed.

An African-American man, a member of the Tea Party, said that sans the “stars and stripes,” Douglas' “hot pink” look conveyed a “soft Anti-American feeling. Americans can’t show their exceptionalism.”

Yup, at the moment of her heart-stopping win, Gabby Douglas was wearing, as Stephen Colbert put it, “the Devil’s Magenta.” “You know who else wore purple?” he asked. “Hitler!” (They then showed Der Fuhrer in a glittery purple leotard.)

Calling Douglas out on her fab pink outfit was a particularly egregious moment in the “can’t win for winning” department. Whereas Serena Williams getting criticized for executing a couple of seconds of a “Crip dance” after she won her gold medal was more of a case of old-fashioned racism. White male sports commentators were worried that Williams would desecrate Wimbledon's holy center court with her straight-out-of-Compton moment. It was spontaneous and cute -– but Wimbledon rumbled. The criticism wasn't exactly “blustering jingoism” but it was a cultural clash, shining a light on how closed-off the tennis community really is -- very much like a gang.

So much for, as Morrissey said, any "foul" British patriotism in the opening ceremonies. Our own American prejudices can be pretty foul themselves.

Tags: olympics, tv
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8 comments about "Olympics Bring Out Our Own Brand Of Weird 'Jingoism'".
  1. Marc Edwards from BET Networks , August 8, 2012 at 1:56 p.m.
    You don't have to be white and/or racist to hate on Serena Williams' jig. The Crip dance has a sordid history in African-American communities where gang members would C-walk over a fresh kill. I'm a black man and I didn't like it either.
  2. LeRoy Grubbs from ssserv.com , August 8, 2012 at 2:21 p.m.
    I was unable to watch the olympics because I live in the USA and don't subscribe to TV (that's right I'm a cable cutter). So I'm boycotting the whole mess! I can catch up on the events that I'm interested in via the news, later! Is anything really live and real time anyway?, once it is broadcast around the world? I do wish that Interactive TV would get a grip here. There are some hints of it in GB and Canada. If NBC new how to use the internet they could have tripled the revenue from this event from online ads. The stock owners are being under served.
  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , August 8, 2012 at 2:49 p.m.
    Barbara, you have kept the dream alive: too many people don't have enough to do....especially the twits - birds tweet; people are twits and they prove it every second. There are always public loos that need scrubbing.
  4. Cece Forrester from tbd , August 8, 2012 at 3:42 p.m.
    Interesting angles. To offer up a few fact checks: 1) There are actually two Flying Squirrels., Douglas is one; the other is a wrestler. 2) For some reason she's on the Corn Flakes box, not Wheaties. 3) Nobody is supposed to say there are African-American Tea Partiers. 4) Whatever happened to soccer ("football") as a focus for national pride? And is that supposed to be a good thing or a bad thing? I forget.
  5. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , August 8, 2012 at 4:11 p.m.
    Cece-- You are right! Sorry about that error. She is in a Kellogg's Corn Flakes box. I checked "Wheaties" in Google and just followed an erroneous columnist. So, I guess I am guilty of my own form of wheaties-jingoism. It's complicated!
  6. George Parker from Parker Consultants , August 8, 2012 at 5:54 p.m.
    Barbara... Actually, everyone in Britain thought Serena was just doing a dance of joy for winning the Gold. The only Crip we know over there, was Sir Stafford Cripps, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was universally hated for doubling the tax on a pint of beer! Mean old bugger. Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker
  7. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC , August 8, 2012 at 8:03 p.m.
    Well done, Ms. Lippert. There is nothing "mad" in your blog. Unfortunately, I fear the jingoism to which you refer goes beyond the "weird" and leads all the way to the tragic. You have reminded me of Neil Postman's book "Amusing Ourselves to Death." The public discourse that swirls around The Games demonstrates no wisdom in the noisy, ignorant crowd -- or critic. If public discourse cannot do better than we have with respect to the Olympics, then how will public discourse address the bigotry, the corruption, and the painful inequities that leave us poor and sick in body and soul. An occasion for reflection on what it means to be and to do our best has been hijacked by the blithering blabbermouths that prefer to handicap horseraces than build a better tomorrow. Like the Olympians, we'd be better off trying to do our best. Citius, Altius, Fortius. Enjoy what is left the Games.
  8. Sean Grace from CoupSmart , August 9, 2012 at 9:05 a.m.
    Well said. Great write up.