February 16, 2002

All That Glitters...

My spin (hah!) on the figure skating fiasco:

What was that all about?

I watched the pairs competition live on Monday evening.
I thought that the Canadian pair should have won because - and only because - their performance was clean.
I am willing to grant superior artistry to the Russians, as much as something as subjective as artistry can be judged; but the Olympics are an athletic competition, not an ice show, and a program skated to the level of perfection that the Canadians achieved should not have been ranked below one with stumbles and wobbles.

I know that the Russians (in one incarnation or another) have won every pairs figure skating gold medal since 1964; I know that the judging in figure skating has always been suspect; I know that this time there may be actual evidence to that effect.


None of the above explains to my satisfaction the uproar over the past five days.

Something else is going on here.

It amazes me how the U.S. media have attached themselves to the issue. This has been the top story not only of the sports news, but ALL news, all week.
Including, on CNN, Wolf Blitzer's "War Room".
The fuss couldn't be greater if it had concerned an American pair; in fact, the absence of American involvement makes the fascination with this story all the more obscure to me.

Where is this coming from?

The Cold War is long gone. It's not a Commie-Capitalist thing.
I doubt it's a "stand up for your neighbour" thing.
It's not an issue of consequence with regard to world peace or the lack thereof.
It doesn't affect the economy, the environment, or our daily lives in any way.

In fact, I suspect this momentous issue isn't nearly as important to the average American (or even the average Canadian) as the media would have us believe.

Important as a matter of principle, yes; but a lead story of international consequence? No.

The news organizations jumped all over this story for a reason (or several reasons) having, I suspect, little to do with overwhelming public interest.

For one thing, it allows networks other than the ones officially carrying the games to cash in on the impact.

The Canadian pair couldn't be more ideal if they had come from a casting company; wholesome good looks, articulate, and a couple in real life.
Not to mention his cute French accent.
No wonder they've been herded onto as many talk shows and news conferences as humanly possible.
Programmers know a good opportunity when they see one.

But it goes deeper than that.

WHY is this such a good opportunity?

It's an all-American, fairy tale story except for the fact that none of the principals are American but that's a mere technicality.
It's a pleasant diversion from ALL WAR ALL THE TIME.
It's a manageable issue. The bad guys are caught. The good guys triumph. Nobody actually loses and everyone lives happily ever after.
It's a feel good story. If people feel good watching your network, they'll come back for more.

I don't think this story would have evolved this way a year ago.
People are still very shaken.
Personally, if I see a skyscraper on TV, even in a commercial or old movie, I instinctively brace for the impact. Even people, like me, who had no personal connection with events of 9/11, have been traumatized by the concept alone.

A story of this sort, with a hero and heroine who triumph in a matter of days over the evils of corruption (as it's perceived) is soothing to our collective psyche.
The fact that it's an old nemesis, the Russians, who are vanquished (but not really) doesn't hurt.
There is no violence and there are no losers except the corrupt officials.

The media know how this will play and are taking full advantage of the public hunger for some order in the world.

Unfortunately, while we aren't looking, history continues to unfold. Violence occurs daily in the Middle East; reporter Daniel Pearl remains missing in Pakistan; plans for war escalate on several fronts; stories of civilian destruction by American forces in Afghanistan begin to emerge.

Et cetera.

I believe we need distraction in any form that works, including sports.
I believe these Olympics couldn't have come at a better time and are a great help in healing for those who are distracted and entertained by them.
I don't think there's anything wrong with getting wrapped up in a drama of this sort for a few days, provided we keep it in perspective and remain vigilant, not only to outside forces but also to those acting in our name.

It is all right to listen to Nero fiddling - as long as we don't ignore the fire alarm.

Linques Du Jour:
Official Website of the Olympic Movement

Official Website of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games

Lots, lots and LOTS of stuff.

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