Archive for July, 2012
This is going to be a difficult two weeks for me. By 9:30 AM, two people had already asked me if I’d watched the Olympic opening ceremonies on Friday, and weren’t they amazing? “Oh, I wasn’t home on Friday,” I said, trying to summon up a tone of regret. That’s true, but even if I had been home, I would not have watched them. I don’t care how many Mary Poppinses fought a giant Voldemort.
This is a hard thing to confess. It’s like coming out and announcing that you hate chocolate ice cream or the Beatles or Santa Claus or adorable puppies or the Founding Fathers. It just isn’t done. This is the time when we’re all supposed to pull together as a country and root for our wonderful athletes, who have spent their lives preparing for this moment. Well, nuts. If you want to spend your best years training for the modern pentathlon or synchronized diving or some other sport nobody will give two figs about by mid-August, be my guest.
If I feel like I’m in a safe space, and not some superficial social situation, I will be glad to vent about the Olympics and my hatred of them. This qualifies as a safe space, right? I mean, if you want Olympic cheerleading, God knows there are plenty of places where you can hang out. This one is for my fellow grinches.
How do I hate them? Let me count the ways:
They’re about money, not sports. At some point in time, the Olympics may have been about the amateur athletic ideal. Well, that time passed long ago. Now, it’s all about the Benjamins — or pounds, as the case may be. There’s been a well-reported shortage of security guards to protect the Games, but 300 “branding police” are patrolling the venues to make sure no one sneaks in an unauthorized product. On the Media reported that “Olympic Guard Police were told to empty their snacks into clear plastic bags so they wouldn’t inadvertently advertise competing brands.” And if you want to buy a Coke from a vending machine at the Games, you’d better have a Visa card, because cash itself is apparently a “competitor” of the Olympics’ official credit card.
They’re a waste of infrastructure. “But the sponsors are necessary because the Games are so expensive!” Well yes, but the Games could be a lot cheaper if they were held in the same place every four years. Instead, host cities build elaborate new stadiums, villages and roads that are used for two weeks and then, in many cases, abandoned (here are several examples).
They may hurt local businesses more than they help them. Come on — does London really need any more exposure? It’s always seemed pretty popular with tourists when I’ve visited. When I mentioned to people earlier this year that I would be in London this summer, several folks asked if I’d be there for the Games. I’m sure the cute hotel room that cost us $140 a night two months ago is probably three or four times that now. Anyway, while hotels may be cashing in, local pubs and restaurants can’t take advantage of the goodwill, thanks to the branding police. London organizers gave businesses a list of key words to avoid, including “Games” and “2012.” Penalties for violating the prohibition max out at £20,000. From the On the Media story: “You can’t say, ‘We’re supporting the 2012 Games here at the Dog and Duck in Hackney’ because that has two words from that list.” That’s rubbish, as the Brits say.
The television coverage is atrocious. You know how the U.S. has to spend zillions of dollars on defense because we’re the world police and all the bad guys want to kill us, while countries like Finland get to do fun things with their tax money like offer subsidized college tuition and health care? Well, with the Olympics, NBC is basically subsidizing the IOC to the tune of billions for the rights — money the network has to earn back by airing the games and ceremonies on a tape delay, broken up by thousands upon thousands of commercials — so the rest of the world can kick back and enjoy them ad-free. If you’re in Sweden, you can enjoy the Games on TV 1 and 2 (the equivalent of public TV). A handful of tech-savvy fans are managing to watch streams from other countries to circumvent NBC’s coverage. Yes, the network is offering online streaming, but only if you’re a cable TV subscriber, and tons of people on my Twitter feed have complained about the poor quality of the stream. Still, why should NBC care if a few malcontents are dissing them on social media? (Pssst: better not dis ‘em too much, or you might lose your Twitter account.) The ratings are sky-high, and money talks.
In two and a half weeks, you won’t care about any of these “sports.” I know people who love figure skating — really love it, and watch it all the time, not just every four years during the Winter Games. Those people are the exception. Most viewers get sucked into the Olympic “drama,” thanks to the incessant human interest stories. You’ll sit there riveted to the gymnastics competition and then you’ll completely forget the sport even exists until 2016. I just prefer not to care about it now, and then I’ll continue not caring about it by the time mid-August rolls around.
The U.S. doesn’t really support its athletes. The Michael Phelpses of the world, with their megabucks endorsement deals, are the exception. Most athletes are struggling financially; take runner Nick Symmonds, who told the radio show Marketplace, “If you have $6 billion exchanging hands, it just kind of blows my mind that you’ve got 10,000 athletes who have devoted at least four years of their life to becoming part of the show, and everybody is making money, but then they look at the athletes and say: ‘Oh, you guys should do your job for free.’ I kind of don’t understand that… I would like to see a guaranteed salary for everyone who makes the Olympic team. If you were to take some of the TV rights — I think it was $1.7 billion in TV rights — and divide that up amongst the athletes, you know what I’m saying? I mean, we’ve got Olympians, Olympic medalists even, that live below the poverty line, and that’s not right.” Most countries subsidize its athletes; the U.S. does not, so you have weightlifter Sarah Robles patronizing food banks to make ends meet. If we love the Olympics soooo much, why aren’t we willing to throw some bucks at Team U.S.A.?
On the other hand, I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for those athletes. If you spend your life training to be an Olympic athlete in a deeply unpopular sport like weightlifting or water polo, knowing all along that there’s no money in it and will never be any money in it, I sort of put you in a class with poets, art history majors, actors, and other people who “do what they love.” Maybe those second-tier sports should be reserved for the likes of Ann Romney, who at least can afford to keep her equine athlete Rafalca in oats and carrots.
So, enjoy the Olympics, everybody. I’ll be watching “Louie” on DVD and waiting for the closing ceremonies on Aug. 12 — I won’t be watching them, of course, but after that, at least I won’t have to worry about making small talk about the Games.
I’m guest blogging again at Dead Guy. Since I didn’t get any comments on my post last week, I thought I’d tackle one of the literary world’s most controversial and contentious topics for this one. But so far, I haven’t received any comments. Maybe everyone agrees with me because I’m so darned sensible.
Joe is back at I Have No Endings with a few entries about the marriage factory.
“Guest blogging” is when you write an entry, but then post it on somebody else’s blog, thus (theoretically, anyway) exposing your writing to a whole new audience. I was invited to fill in for a vacationing member of the long-running group blog, “Hey, There’s A Dead Guy In the Living Room.” The blogger-in-chief, Jeff Cohen, is one of my clients, and I also created the photo-illustration that you see at the top of “Dead Guy.” You can read my contribution here.
Joe doesn’t have his own blog, but he recently wrote this for our friend Janet A.’s “I Have No Endings.” Joe & Janet are both deputy marriage commissioners, and Janet writes a lively and funny (and, on occasion, heartbreaking) blog every week about the folks who come through Oakland’s Hall of Records to tie the knot. I complained to Joe that he never shares any good stories about the couples he marries, while Janet manages to come up with great recollections on a regular basis, so he finally decided to take some notes.
To say that Dave Eggers is a great guy seems like a super-sized case of stating the obvious. After all, this is the man who, at 21, raised his 8-year-old brother after their parents died; who co-founded 826 Valencia, which has turned into a national organization that helps kids learn to read and write; who writes books on topics he cares about, without any commercial considerations; and whose latest charity, ScholarMatch, makes me wish I had a million dollars to donate to them because it’s such a heartwarmingly good cause. (I have attended a bunch of 826 fundraisers, so I guess I’ve helped a tiny bit.) Basically, reading Eggers’ bio will make pretty much anyone feel like a slacker by comparison.
However, before Eggers was the philanthropic/publishing powerhouse he is today, he drew a weekly cartoon called “Smarter Feller” for the SF Weekly alternative newspaper. (They’re not currently online, but thanks to archive.org, you can enter the Wayback Machine and read a bunch of the strips here.) He had an obsession with the ads for the Gold Club (a local gentleman’s club whose pitchman was a surprisingly avuncular-looking bald man), iced oatmeal cookies, and putting non sequiturs into the mouth of a grinning handbag called Steve. Before I moved to the Bay Area, Joe used to clip the strips out every week and mail them to me in Baltimore.
Back in December 1996, Eggers’ strip (here it is!) announced that he was going to start selling Smarter Feller T-shirts. I have no idea how many were sold, but Joe bought two of them and gave me one for Christmas that year. Joe has worn his regularly over the years, and it still looks pretty good; I kept mine mint in box, as a collector’s item, along with my “Frankie Say War! Hide Yourself” shirt. (Yeah, you can buy those now from CafePress, but mine is an original!) Anyway, when San Francisco Chronicle blogger and reporter Peter Hartlaub announced a “favorite T-shirt” contest, I wrote up a little blurb about the Smarter Feller shirt and sent it in. Hartlaub e-mailed me back, asking for a photo, so when Joe came home from work, I had him put the shirt on and took a quick snapshot with my phone. I didn’t know the photo was going to wind up in the actual newspaper, or I would probably have paid a bit more attention to the lighting and composition.
There were nearly 100 entries and we did not win the contest (this lady did), but Hartlaub sent me another e-mail asking me for my home address. I figured I’d won something — as an ex-journalist, I know that there’s usually all sorts of weird promotional swag sitting around newspaper offices — but I definitely was not expecting what turned up in the mail on Tuesday. It was a Priority Mail box with a McSweeney’s return address, and contained a Dave Eggers shower curtain and a personalized drawing. Seriously, how awesome is this?!? I figured since the photo and story ran in the paper and not just online, there was a pretty good chance he would see it, since he does live in San Francisco, but I never expected this. It was a very, very sweet and meaningful gesture and I am delighted that Eggers apparently got a kick out of my contest entry.
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