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Saturday
Aug092008

If Olympics Lovin' Were People, I'd Be China

I have this exquisite relationship with the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics, in the sense that it's totally my favorite biannual worldwide news event, but only as long as the organizers stick to the torch and the flags and other things that make me cry, and avoid artsy crap like the infamous 2006 Head Condoms of Turin.

I always cringe when some aggressively creative, goblet-holding European nation like France or Italy is awarded a Games, because this inevitably guarantees incomprehensible Opening and Closing Ceremonies.  My very favorite Olympics still stand as the 1988 Calgary Games, and you know why?  They threw some snow on the ground, they handed everybody a cowboy hat, they symbolized absolutely nothing, and a good time was had by all.  Same deal with Sydney, my favorite Summer games:  You understood what was going down as the sponsors gathered 'round the stadium cauldron.  I assumed that a seemingly reliable place like Atlanta wouldn't manage to screw this up, and yet:  This.

My eager consumption of this elaborate pageantry-- pageantry is my crack--is a bit discomforting, given that the root of them is not Greece, but Nazi Germany.  The first world leader to organize a torch relay?  Hitler.  I'm pretty sure John Williams wasn't sucking on that as he sat down to set those first five drumbeats to the staff.  Even as a history minor, I tend to regard symbolism as it applies to current culture; otherwise, we wouldn't enjoy much of anything in America.  Besides, I'm fairly certain that Adolph, while mapping out his little torch run, never envisioned that the whole shebang would grow into 15,000 people draped in blue raincoats meant to represent China's naval history.

8:11 PM:  I will say this for the Chinese government:  Those SOB's sure know how to raise a flag.  Genocide, rampant oppression, sure.  But you shoulda seen the way one of the state soldiers fa-LUNG the corner of the Chinese flag out as it was hauled to the sky during the opening ceremony.  The undraping, fluttery-falling action was most impressive, even when the far corner plonked down on the hat of a soldier standing within the Undrape Zone.

8:20 PM:  An incredibly cool LED screen designed to look like a lighted book unfurls on the stadium floor, and dancers writhe over the surface.  It's the cue for the anchors to begin my absolute favorite Olympic sport:  Commentating on impressionistic art and delicate matters of cultural history in a hearty, sports-appropriate style.  "That instrument is sometimes called 'the father of Chinese music,' or even 'the instrument of the sages.'" "That's right, Bob, and it's important to recognize that in Chinese culture, the image and the artist are one.  You know, the Chinese invented paper and printing."  "This symbol for harmony evokes a profound Confucian philosophy... there it is again.... harmony making its third appearance there!"

8:22:  "The Opening Ceremonies from Beijing, already unlike any other,"  says Bob Costas in a bumper voiceover.  In the sense that it doesn't, you know, suck beyond all comprehension.

8:28:  On the floor of the stadium is an amazing pianist who looks like Beethoven, if Beethoven were Chinese and had a mullet and wore performance clothes designed by Cher.

8:35:  The dancers all wear light-up clothing, and it's the most awesomely take-home Disneytastic thing I have ever seen on a television screen.  They link arms and stand on one another's shoulders to depict the very stadium they're in, and I've never smoked weed, but dude, I'd pay just about anything for some high-quality bud right about now.

The effect is immediately ruined by anchor announcing, "Well, any Chinese wouldn't need a calendar to know what time frame we're in now--it's the great opening, when people were able to bring color in their lives and live exactly as they chose."  Man, that was so awesome, choosing to practice Christianity in secret for fear of reprisal from the state.

8:59:  Over two thousand tai chi masters practice their art as a group of schoolchildren sit in a faux classroom in the middle of the stadium.  I am under the mistaken impression that the point of the proceeding was to look kind of cool, but I am summarily informed that the "harmony as depicted by the tai chi master is the only hope for sustainable development of China and the way in which the world faces the challenges of global warming, including the conflicts of man and nature and the importance of environmentalism." I am further informed do not fully grasp the symbolism of this because I am not Chinese.  Oh.

9:08:  Chinese astronauts are represented by an enormous sphere coated in changing lights; dancers run along the surface.  ("Well, the hardest part, of course, is for the performers along the equator."  "Sure !"  B*&#, please, like you've ever run along the surface of an enormous lightball.)  It is absolutely the world's most energy-inefficient science project.  BTW, kids, China wants a man on the moon by 2028.  Somebody dig up LBJ to pound a table and yell "I for one do not plan to go to sleep by the light of a COMMUNIST MOON!"

9:19:  We have achieved Athlete Status.  A+ on the costuming of the ladies carrying the name placards...  they're wearing gorgeous red dresses.  I for one do not miss the far and away winner of the Worst Placard Lady Dress Ever:  Albertville, '92, which trussed everybody up as human snowglobes in a bubble of clear plastic and Styrofoam peanuts.

9:22:  The President of (insert unspellable name here), we are told, approved the costuming on their athletes.  The President of (insert unspellable name here) needs to keep his day job, as apparently his idea of lookin' good is to drape oneself in shades of deep bile.

9:31:  Things are starting to fall apart here.  Whoever was in charge of the music accompanying the athletes simply loaded "Ambient Songs of EPCOT" into the sound system and pressed "play," which gives us such spectacles as Bulgarian athletes trotting along to bagpipes, the Ukraine team marching to African drums, and Czech citizens waving flags as mariachi violins played.

9:32:  The athlete filling the coveted flag-bearing duties for the nation of Vanuatu is an entrant in the table tennis competition.  Was the captain of the water polo under the weather?

9:33:  Ew.  Israel's athletes look dressed for some sort of fraternity boat ride.  I'm sure Calvin Klein and Issac Mizrahi are just absolutely loving this.

9:44 Mauritania enters.  Commentator:  "There was a military coup there this week!"  Well, there's your conversation starter should you meet one of these folks wandering the Olympic Village in the next couple of days.

9:47:  Paraguay's athletes dress for the occasion in high-quality straw hats provided by Dollar Tree.

9:50:  Commercial featuring one of America's female gymnasts announcing, "The Olympics are the most major competition."  I'm... not holding out incredibly huge hopes for a Mary Lou Retton kind of year.

9:52:  Shot of President Bush rocking out to the drum music.  "A little binocular action goin' on there," says the commentator as the binoculars lay totally unused in the President's hand.  The curve, you be bendin' so far ahead of it...

9:54:  I am very worried about these little POS nations who send only one athlete.  Who claps for him?  Who's his roommate at the Olympic Village?  Does he have to pay the entire minibar bill?  I'm so upset about this.

9:55:  Nominee for Awesomest Quote of the Night:  "You don't get to say 'boom-boom' all that often."

10:04:  HilAAAAAAAARious story newsflash!  Apparently, the president of the European nation of Lichtenstein?  Saw the flag of Haiti in the Olympics in the 1930's?  And thought they were too similar?  And so he had a CROWN added to the Lichtestein flag!  HAHAHAHAHA!

...I don't get it.

10:05:  Some etiquette expert put Iran right next to Iraq in the Parade of Nations.  I give the commentators thirty seconds to a "nuclear power."

10:05.22:  "Nuclear power."

10:07:  Because when you think Hungary, you think... HOUSECOAT! Props to the '40's stylin', but It looks like somebody swallowed a red velvet cake and then threw up on your grandparents' closet.

10:14:  Well!  Finland went shopping for its female athletes from the clearance rack of T.J. Maxx!

10:15:  Croatia dresses its women like whores selling games of strip checker; its men, as a mini parade of cash register operators at Chick-Fil-A.

10:35:  USA!  USA!  US-

WHY are you wearing fey little paperboy hats? WHHHYYYYY?!  One athlete has immediately pimpitized it, setting it sideways on his head.  It is still unbearably fug.

President Bush and the First Lady stand and wave as the very best of 1910 parades on by.  Both look suitably humiliated.

10:50:  Estonia sees America's Salute To Newsies and raises us many coats in neon orange, yellow, and green, shades not seen since my closet circa 1986.  I cannot find any news photos of the team, probably because the searing colors ricocheted right off any and all camera lenses, out into space, and right back into the light box, destroying it and rendering any digital processing forever impossible.

10:56:  Slovakia.  We're going on two hour's worth of athletes here, and this is with some subtle network cutting; we're seeing the downsized version of this.  I'm thinking that if you're in the stands, you're just settling in for a serious texting marathon and calling every single person on your contact list:  "Guess where I am?.... No, that' s just Fiji going by."

10:58:  Cameroon, a nation in West Africa.  Personal Olympics History Update:  The last time I watched the Opening Ceremonies of the Summer Olympics, I had to do so on delay, since I was, during the broadcast, somewhat preoccupied with curling in a tiny ball in my Orlando bathtub, weathering my first hurricane.  I also very clearly remember freaking out at the concept that when the next Olympics rolled around, I'd be over 30.  Jim The Small Child Nephew was yet a Baby Nephew, and meeting Josh The Pilot for the first time was still three months away.  Now I am married and safely 31 and in Virginia, and I recognize Cameroon as one of the many places he and his missionary family have called home.

Eh, it's about as relevant as what the commentators are throwing at us.  "The principle export of Malaysia is palm oil!"

11:10:  Can some of these athletes give the iPods a rest for FIVE SECONDS?  It's the OPENING CEREMONIES of the OLYMPIC GAMES.  For 99.99% of them, this is the closest they'll get to any semblance of the pomp of the medal stand.  What would they deem an appropriate non-mp3 occasion?  A state funeral?  Their own arraignment?

11:14:  Mexico snares the prettiest skirt award.  I am deeply saddened that these are skirts the Americans just won't wear.

11:22:  China.  Yao Ming carries the flag.  I saw him play basketball in Orlando, at the only professional basketball game I have ever attended.  Normally I cannot abide basketball--far too squeaky-- and went at the behest of my then-boyfriend, who said, "We really need to go to the Magic game tonight," and I said, "Why?" and he said, "Because Yao Ming is playing," and I said, "So?" and he said, "We'll get to see a seven and a half foot tall Chinese man in person," and I said, "When's tipoff?"

He is accompanied by a tragically adorable nine-year-old, Lin Hao, who survived Sichuan's recent earthquake.  He saved two of his little school friends, but twenty of his classmates died.  His consolation prize is marching alongside Ming's lower calf, although I imagine he'd be better served by lifelong, daily therapy.

11:38:  More marching on only the illest order.  There needs to be a Olympic event in Military Flag Handling.

11:45:  Phrase You'll Never Hear In Spoken In the United States Without Irony Award:  "The enormously popular sport of badminton."

11:55:  Phrase I Never Want To Hear Outside of Swimming, Or Possibly Tennis.  Golf, Even:  "Stroke for stroke showdown."

Well, that was a right nice Opening Ceremony, right up there with the Aussies.  And yet I'm sure I'm not as big a fan of it as is a certain Master of the News Dump Timing, John Edwards.

1880 words on 08/08/08 at:  mbe@drinktothelasses.com

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Reader Comments (19)

Thanks for the commentary. I had to go back to work tonight so I totally missed all the festivities. I think that you pretty much hit all the highlights and I loved the links to the pictures. So glad I didn't have to watch it live.

August 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKell Belle

I can't believe you left out the lighting of the torch! I have to say, that was the awesomest torch-lighting I have EVER seen!

August 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterElisabeth

And did you almost pass out with laughter as Bob Costas first glanced at those lovely Hungarian dresses? Something along the lines of "Well, look at that!"

Priceless!

August 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Bell

I have to admit the artistic portion of the show didn't hold my attention for more than a few minutes at a time. I appreciate your recap of what I missed.

My favorite part is watching the athletes and their costumes.

When I saw Hungary, I thought 'looks like blood stains all over their clothes'. Then in the close up I saw they were actually flowers.

I was disappointed with the USA team outfits --very old fashioned and outdated. They were by some major designer, weren't they?

Did you catch the shot of the President and First Lady both looking at their watch? Oops.

I also liked the red dresses of the ladies carrying the name placards. I bet their arms were tired after holding that position for so long!

Great fireworks!

August 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCJ

Excellent reporting. I saw a lot of it without sound (yup, the outdoor cafe where we had dinner had it on) but I did not miss that flag business and LOL when you mentioned how he FA-LUNG it here in your entry.

August 9, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteroh

I enjoyed watching the Ceremony. I thought some of the things they did were quite amazing.

Funny post! ;)

@ CJ: The outfits were designed by Ralph Lauren, which is still no excuse.

@Elisabeth: Oh, I sure like that torch lighting... but by that time... 1880 words, you know...

August 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMB

I found a photo of the Estonia athletes on the MEDIAFAX foto website. Wow! If I look at their coats for about 30 seconds and then look at a white wall, I can see the image!

August 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWiserlemming

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August 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterIf Olympics Lovin’ Were

Are you kidding? The snowglobe costumes at Albertville were **awesome.** But I don't remember them as the placard women because they had to have their arms inside, tossing up the snow. Am I remembering it incorrectly?

August 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

Well, to each his own snowball. If I remember correctly, the placards were attached to the tops of their heads. I wouldn't kid you on this, Leslie!

August 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMB

I wasn't able to watch the entre coverage of the ceremony, but surely the two things that impressed me the most was:

*that kick-ass humongous OLED flexible screen (how much do you think that sucker cost? US$5 million?)

*How much the Chinese love Mariachi music!Honestly, my whole family was impressed on how much time those lovely Mariachi girl played. I must confess I felt quite proud of that ;-)

The other thing I liked the most: that everyhting went out as planeed, without any regrettable incidents.

August 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

Is it wrong for a purebred American German from Ohio to dig Mariachi music? Because I totally do.

August 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMB

Is it wrong for a purebred American German from Ohio to dig Mariachi music? Because I totally do.

LOL Of course not! :-)

August 12, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

>>9:31: Things are starting to fall apart here. Whoever was in charge of the music accompanying the athletes simply loaded “Ambient Songs of EPCOT” into the sound system and pressed “play,” which gives us such spectacles as Bulgarian athletes trotting along to bagpipes, the Ukraine team marching to African drums, and Czech citizens waving flags as mariachi violins played.<<

Yes!!! I thought I was losing it there. We're Scottish and when we heard them playing Scotland The Brave, we automatically looked for the Scottish atheletes. If there were any, we couldn't see them. Then by the 3rd playing of it, we figured the music selection committee was just smokin' crack or something. Very bizarre!

What about those hyperactive Chinese dancing girls? They looked like asian Stepford wives or something. Highly annoying.

The Bulgarian outfits - I think I had them pegged right when I dubbed them 101 Dalmation coats with blood instead of spots. Wonder who's brilliant idea that was? I'll bet they've been fired since then...

But like you, I am fascinated and repelled by the spectacle that is the Olympics and I haven't hardly budged from in front of my TIvo since last Friday night - whew!

PS: Did I mention that I was a former Olympic Mascot in 2002? It's really true. There's a picture of me in costume on my blog. Am I a true Olympic fan or what?

August 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAdrian

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September 4, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercolor symbolism culture

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September 8, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlighted palm tree
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