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.