It’s finally time to write about the Olympics

Maybe it’s the just the overwhelming presence of sporting events on people’s minds and in the media, but even arts folk seem to be writing and talking a lot about the Olympics.

First of all, we knew that Michael Phelps was going to be more important than Obama or McCain during these weeks. But it’s been interesting (although not terribly surprising I suppose) to see just how much the situation in Georgia is being pushed to the side. Bob Collins understands the situation far better than I do:

“Back in the day, this is the kind of thing that kept us up nights. We’re up late at night this week, but only because we’re watching the Olympics. The war, and the U.S. role in it, is playing second fiddle to Michael Phelps. The problem here is it’s 2008 and the world is more of a juggling act than ever before.”

Read what he has to say.

I really have to be careful not to hate on the Olympics, because I’ve probably been sucked in just as much as most people. NBC knows what they’re doing–and they’re good at making you care about stuff you normally wouldn’t.

I can’t help but get drawn into into gymnastics and swimming (which are clearly the most important Olympic sports judging by their constant prime time placement) but I still wonder what really is so wrong with less than perfect teeth, or how 12 year old girls got passports to say they’re 16, or why Matt Lauer and Bob Costas just played along when fake fireworks were used during the opening ceremonies. But isn’t that part of the appeal anyway? Deep down we kind of want to see someone mess up and prove their humanity.

Well, China seems to be determined to do whatever it takes to clean up their image. countercritic dives into the issue here and here.

“When I really started to think about the Chinese government and their endemic policy of manipulating everything and anything in order to achieve certain appearances, the more I began to see that China–as a government, as a culture–is engaged in a game of eroticism with its national identity.”


Amanda Ameer makes a point that the media is missing a good story comparing Chinese sports prodigies to Chinese music prodigies. Although we were mostly distracted by the overpowering orchestral music and bright green light-up costumes, Lang Lang’s presence at the opening ceremony was significant. You can listen to Lang Lang talk to Fred Child about the experience. I’d quote what he said about the director’s intention to have playing the piano represent the future of china. And there’s a lot of truth to that as the number of children who play the piano continues to grow (imagine that, in China of all places).

Molly Sheridan’s Mind the Gap pointed me to Randy Nordschow’s musings at NewMusicBox. He writes:

“Of course contemporary classical music isn’t exactly akin to the Olympic swimming competition (but watch out Michael Phelps-loving America, Dudamel is coming). No, new music is more like skeet shooting, canoeing, archery, handball, and the 50 kilometers walk—not as sexy, but still part of the games”

Reading this made me think of something else I had meant to share on here. Turns out it was an earlier Mind the Gap post.

“There was an anecdote I heard once, I think it was at the Lincoln Center Festival’s Merce Cunningham retrospective six years ago, that put Merce and Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg all together in a vehicle crisscrossing the nation. John Cage was driving. This was back in the early days of their careers, when few people were paying attention and even fewer were actually paying serious cash to see their work. Anyway, ever since then I’ve wondered: Did they end up recognized as great creative minds because they were all friends and moved in the same circles? Or were they friends because they were some of the great creative minds of their time?” Read it all.

This certainly can’t be a new concept to arts organizations trying to promote the scary world of thins like new music, but when it takes money to produce art how can you not get trapped in the mindset of “the more people who see it the better”.

Hm. I really thought this post was going to be a lot more coherent than it is when I started.


~ by ohactually on August 15, 2008.

One Response to “It’s finally time to write about the Olympics”

  1. “Deep down we kind of want to see someone mess up and prove their humanity.” – Actually, don’t we, deep down, want to see someone overcome the odds and reach something great? Because if they can do it, then it’s possible for us to do it too. I watched the end of the men’s triathalon today while I washed porch windows – it’s the only thing I’ve watched…and that’s what I felt. I felt bad for the person who was expected to win but didn’t even place; I felt awed and excited by the German man who was the “second” for his own country…but who stepped it up and won the GOLD, and I grinned at the genuine grin of the silver medalist who admired the last sprint of the German.

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