Do the Olympics Need to Get Their Groove Back?

Hello, Indie Unchained! This is my first post for this lovely blog, and I’m happy to join in with my own observations as a young TV/filmmaker navigating the world. As the weeks go on you may notice a few thing: I love hyphenates, parentheticals, and M-dashes; my run-on sentences border on stream of consciousness (sorry, every English teacher I’ve ever had); and I tend towards Devil’s advocacy. But mostly I hope you pick up on my passion for storytelling, no matter the format. Movies, books, TV, they’ve all profoundly moved me. And I want to create those experiences for others. And with that, let’s dive in.

Olympic Rings

I’ve always wondered where the Olympic logo came from.

Oh, Olympics. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways: (1) Triumph of the human spirit/tearjerker – call the stories what you will, but watching the heroics and heartbreak as people give something their all gets to me. It’s one of the reasons the Olympics are such a flashpoint of interest across the world. (2) The theme of global-unity. Yes, technically the nations are pitted against each other in a race for the most gold that some could say is just a precursor to The Hunger Games (and in the case of allegations that China trains their gymnasts like career Tributes, Panem may be closer than we think). But I look at moments, like during the men’s 400 m semifinal when current world champion Kirani James of Grenada trading name bibs with double-amputee and lightning-rod of controversy Oscar Pistorius of South Africa, or the world-wide sing-along to “Hey Jude” during the Opening Ceremony, and see the bonds that unite us all. (3) The nearly-naked men. Their bodies are fiiiiiiine.

But there’s something that’s been bugging me about the Olympics — and it’s not just the much-maligned handling of the broadcast coverage by NBC. It’s been hard for me to put my finger on, but I finally realized it. That the slightly bad taste in I get in my mouth when I see helicopter footage of the giant stadiums is the same one I had walking the over-crowded aisles of San Diego Comic-Con, or when I go online to check the buzz from Sundance and the top story is the celebrity photographs or after-parties.

I say “slightly” because it’s not all bad. You can never take away the joy of watching competitors from different nations hug, or seeing how much effort fans put into making detailed costumes, or knowing the filmmaker who struggled years to get his or her film produced deserves ever second of their standing ovation. But there’s a commercialization, a feeling that the spectacle of the Event (with a capital E) is taking away from the true meaning behind the gathering.

Big Shark, Tiny Fish

The Event is swallowing up the games and athletes.

Much can be —and has been — written about the exponential increase in size of Comic-Con, how huge studio ventures that really have nothing to do with comics have taken it over, and whether it’s bad (diluting the meaning of the event) or good (bringing sci-fi/fantasy work to a wider audience). Ditto for Sundance and the increasing presence of big known names possibly overshadowing the new talent (though there’s plenty still great about it, as has Christina pointed out). Getting into all that would make for a much longer, and probably more boring, post. But they bear mentioning because of the similar way the Olympics has almost lost its way.

For example, in a city as large as London, why were so many new buildings needed? I understand existing structures have been used, and love the fact that the new constructions have reportedly been built to better environmental standards. But isn’t it much more practical for the IOC to specifically pick host cities that have the necessary infrastructure already in place? And when exactly did every single aspect of the games get commercialized — from who makes the team outfits to what food it provided in the commissary to which corporations are airing their special Olympics-themed commercials during high cost prime time spots?

Celebrating Swimmer

Isn’t this what the Olympics should be all about?

I feel like the starkly honest little Indie script telling of hardships and the occasional deserved triumphs has been optioned by a giant studio, noted within an inch of its life, and turned into some overly saccharine cliché sports movie. But, is there anything that can be done about that at this point? Beyond refusing to tune in, I don’t think there’s much that us Joe Schmoe’s sitting at home can do to change the commoditization and commercialization of this seminal sports even, or the world at large. And I don’t want to stop watching. These athletes deserve to have their accomplishments seen and celebrated.

What we can do in these last few days before the Closing Ceremony is take a tip from the Opening. The jumbled, frantic and dull at turns opus that was the Opening Ceremony as directed by Indie filmmaking success-story Danny Boyle was the complete opposite of the Beijing kickoff. That terrifying display of power and synergy embodied all that is distasteful in the hugeness that has become the Olympics. Boyle answered that by making London’s start focused purely on wonder and pride. There were ups and downs, and by the end most viewers were probably yelling at their TVs to get to the games, already. Which is exactly what we should be feeling. His smaller-scale production, while it can be criticized for its choppiness, felt like a blessing to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Or rather, “Keep Calm and Enjoy the Games.” So while we may not (at the moment) be able to change how the Olympics is presented to us, we can choose to focus on the Indie vibe at the heart of  the games.

Now, if you excuse me, I’ve got a decathlon to watch.

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