So last Wednesday night, I was sitting in one of the swankier bars in my chosen city of residence, attempting to quietly and unassumingly drown the demons from my work week when lo and behold a cry of Game of Thrones proportions arose from the back of the bar. Like a banshee unleashed from centuries of torturing the souls of mere peasants, the roar swept over the bar, dropping its happy hour petulance into my libation. Amid the ruckus, I wondered what could have created such a commotion, an unbridled expression of joy: a fucking bronze medal in synchronized diving. Male, female, who cares. I repeat: synchronized diving. Far be it from me to dismiss the efforts of these athletes—undoubtedly they could crush my spineless body, but give me a break, you would never get excited about synchronized diving in any other context. Well, maybe if you were tripping, but outside of drug use, no possible way.
This is why I hate the Olympics. Every four years, NBC brings us ponderous and manipulative coverage of the Olympic summer games. Don’t get me started on the winter ones; have you seen the snowboarding competition? Epic, yes, but accurately judged? How the fuck do you judge stoners slinging themselves into the sky on modified frozen surfboards? If I see Sean White’s ginger haired mug one more time I’m going to mentally beat him like the red headed stepchild he surely must be.
What about pride in your country? Yeah, as a native born citizen I had a lot to do with arriving here. I’m just lucky my parents got it on within national borders, especially within the continental US; I mean, look at what Obama gets for his Hawaiian heritage. Whatever my national origins, I personally did very little to get here. Ironically, immigrants seem to be the ones with the real dog in this fight. After all, many of them struggled mightily to get here even as they increasingly garner criticism from other segments of society. Nah, I feel about as much connection to Lola Jones and Ryan Lochte as I do any other random athlete at the Olympics.
Do I need to know that Lochte fancies himself an edgy “shoe designer”(you should see his walk in closet), despite the fact his interviews seem like Ron Burgundy channeling Billy Madison? “What defines me? Ryan Lochte.” Or “What I was really good at was letting things go through one ear and out the other, so to say.” Uh yeah, it’s a damn good thing you’re built like a god, Ryan. Sure, Jones’s story is laudable and inspiring—broken home, driven, smart, beautiful, what’s not to love? Well, she could stop prostituting her virginity around but on the whole a big hurrah for Jones. And yes, undoubtedly, stories like South Africa’s double amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius are inspiring.
But for every Lola Jones or Oscar Pistorius there’s an Magomed Abdulhamidov. Azerbaijan’s most infamous boxer (though it’s not like you can name any others), Abdulhamidov emerged victorious despite being knocked to the canvas five times in one round. The boxer still managed to squeak out a victory by decision, even winning the round in which he spent most of his time on his back. Was this a story of inner fortitude overcoming magnificent odds? No, amid rumors of bribery and influence, the decision was overturned and Abdulhamidov sent home. Heartwarming. Even when Gabby Douglas made history by becoming the first African American to win the all-around event in women’s gymnastics, Twitter trolls drowned out her accomplishment with a bunch of stupidity about her hair. “‘Merica Fuck Yeah!”
Then there’s the schmaltzy NBC coverage punctuated by the eternally boyish Tyrion Lannister-like Bob Costas. How much hair coloring is this motherfucker employing? I had grey hair in my late 20s and this guy looks like a German Head and Shoulder’s commercial from 1985. Seriously, Bob, grey is the new black. Embrace it, you tear jerking prick. NBC provides softcore sports porn, gauzy and sappy, and yes sinisterly effecting. When Bob looks into the camera with those devilish midwestern baby blues, even I’m begging for a story about a three headed athlete born to wolves in outer Mongolia who trained himself (herself, themselves? I don’t know the three headed athlete remains the rare media figure) to pole jump using the discarded spines of oxes. I’m crying now. Instead how about a think piece on Michael Phelps’s choice in bongs or his favorite strain of sativa? I believe Michael has more to say, damnit! I mean let’s be real people. I’m never going to race in the Olympics but I might pull some tubes with old college peeps. This is information that helps my life.
What about the team sports like basketball or soccer? Ok, good point, but how entertained am I supposed to be when Carmelo Anthony torches Nigeria’s national team but can’t get past the first round with the Knicks? Sure, the dogfight with Lithuania kept things interesting but you do realize it’s Lithuania, right? As for soccer, it’s basically an under-23 tournament. No one sends their big guns. Needless to say, there are no Lionel Messis suiting up for the US.
A softer heart might say that the Olympics keeps ancient and timeworn traditions such as archery, pistol whipping, and horse dancing (hi, Ann!) alive in a modern world more concerned with live-tweeting Lebron James’s tax returns. It unites the world’s people in a pageant of old-school nationalism that is so full of can-do spirit, stick-to-it-ive-ness and whatnot that you can even feel good for people from a dump like Belarus. Even while their country is blowing up, the Iraqis can field a soccer team. This quadrennial orgy of mass festooning almost seems to be worth the astronomical costs and useless mega-structures that cities around the world compete desperately to take on. There is something endearing about a bunch of twenty-first century humanoids strutting and sashaying around in the service of pure ideals of athletic achievement, which are at least a hairsbreadth away from the usual market impulses that rule the world.
Yet all this yearning for some kind of anthropological significance doesn’t mean a damn thing when you think about what it’s all for: the sheer suspense of watching a guy weightlift. Apart from waiting for paint to dry, is there anything more boring that seeing a bunch of people swim back and forth, just to find out if one guy is a second faster than the other guy? It’s like NASCAR without cars, or tracks, or crashes, or even the modest pleasure of a circle. It’s sisyphean, and not in the way that makes you stop and think about life. 90% of the events appear to be designed for the back of Trivial Pursuit cards, and not in the Sports & Leisure category where people are actually expected to know who any of the canoe slalomers are. (More likely the “did you know?” variety of weird trivia, like a History question about how future baby-eating despot Nicolae Ceauşescu excelled at the oxymoronic “sport” known as “racewalking” in 1936.) They have equestrian eventing and trampoline, but not baseball.
While we’re at it, why don’t we eliminate anything that might be remotely interesting, like tennis or basketball, and just go all in with the whole theme of perverse boringosity: synchronized paint drying and mixed doubles rock gardening. Solo waiting-in-line-at-the-Post-Office. See you in Rio in 2016.
Clement Lime is a grad school dropout, domestic geographer, and ToM’s senior Cincinnati correspondent.