Monday, March 1, 2010

Go! Canada (...already)

It’s time for my Olympic wrap-up.

As previously mentioned, I speak not as an athlete (pro or am) myself, although I did execute an astounding flying klutz down the stairs, last year, while juggling a laundry basket and cordless telephone. My husband gave me a 9.5, but he's biased.

I didn’t watch everything, although it was hard to escape the constant coverage on at least five hundred channels, but here are my observations:

Bob ‘Sleigh’
What the hell is this? What happened to sleds? When did they change it and why? Everyone knows a sleigh has eight tiny reindeer and a lot of jingle bells. In Russia, a sleigh has three horses and sable lap robes. I can’t bring myself to watch these events, where people without socks cram themselves into tin cans and hurl themselves down icy tracks. They were surprised that someone got killed? Who are they kidding? Is there a mother out there whose hair doesn’t stand on end when she thinks her child might try this? Same goes for skels and luges and anything starting with ‘cross’.
What difference does it make which way your head is pointing?
You are just an accident waiting to happen at a hundred miles an hour.

I was introduced to this sport at an early age. A summer camp friend spent her winter months in small town Quebec where life was far from interesting, according to her frequent letters. Children were not even permitted to go to movies since there had been a tragic fire in one, long ago, and so rather than install some fire exits, it was felt that the best prevention of a repeat performance was to keep the kiddies home at all times. I felt for her, especially on Saturday afternoons when my friends and I went to the Nortown on Eglinton Avenue to see such enlightening fare as “The Girl Can’t Help It” and “April Love”.
What has this to do with curling? Well, every one of her letters ended with the announcement that her mother had just gone ‘curling’. I was at a total loss as to the meaning of this activity. I supposed she meant she was going to the beauty parlour to get her hair done. What else could it be?

Years later, when I began dating my husband-to-be, I was shocked to hear that his father also ‘curled’ on a weekly basis. It was then that I learned that this was a kind of shuffleboard on ice that people played in bulky sweaters. His broom leaned against the wall in the front hall and a fine straw broom it was, unlike the sponge mops and ‘swiffers’ that are used today. There seemed to be some required celebratory drinking at the end of the match, which was also alluded to in Vancouver.

I have come to appreciate this sport a little late in life. It has a lot going for it: it’s slow enough to see what’s happening, it gets pretty exciting, but not too much, and most of all, no one can get killed.

You are looking at an old hockey fan. Just so you know, my cousin had a pair of end blues for decades and I once got to sit in them at The Gardens. Other families had jewels and fancy cars. Ours had a pair of end blues. If you don’t know what this means, I feel for you. We were a very observant family. It was not uncommon for us to leave the Passover Seder table to rush to the television during the Stanley Cup playoffs. When I was fourteen or so, I climbed up the cenotaph in front of the Old City Hall to catch a glimpse of ‘The Big M’ as the Leaf’s motorcade crawled up Bay Street in a victory parade. (I foolishly thought this was a harbinger of Stanley Cups to come). My girlfriend, Franny, had a picture of Frank as ‘rookie of the year’ taped to the inside of her bedroom cupboard door. He was cute. I knew the entire Leaf lineup and all the plays and can still hear Murray Westgate’s gruff, yet gentle voice urging me to service my car at ESSO with confidence. I do. I can’t even bring myself to think of Foster Hewitt without sighing for the good old days.

So, of course, I watched a bit of hockey. Of course, the boys won. Didn't doubt it for a minute.
I especially enjoyed watching the women’s hockey. Nicely done, girls. Too bad the rest of the world can’t cope.

I guess I haven’t been paying attention. This ‘sport’ seems to have gone completely around the bend since the last time I took an interest. First of all, I miss the judges holding up little squares of white cardboard, with marks like 7.5 or 9.0 on them. It was more personal. You could pick out the Russian judges right away and just know that their marks would be the lowest for everyone but their own athletes. It gave you sense of the order of the universe. I suppose it’s a side effect of the whole gender equity initiative thing that everyone on the ice must now look and skate like a girl. The costumes are not always flattering or attractive. I’m being kind. I remember good old Peggy Fleming once criticizing a skater for wearing something that didn’t flow properly, distracting from the line and elegance of the performance, and I thought she was being bitchy, but now I see what she meant. Boy, I see.

My 'artistic impression' this year, can be summed up in one word. Overwrought.
Arms flailing around, distracting thrusts and heaves. Exhausting. You could definitely see the work in most of the performances. None of that exquisite effortlessness of Katerina Witt.
And what’s the deal with this grabbing the blade of your skate and holding up behind you? When did that start? Can it be stopped? Please?
This was the first year I really noticed how similar the choreography was from skater to skater, except for that Russian guy who spun his arms and legs around like a windmill. A.D.D. on ice. (Apologies to hypersensitive hyper-actives, of course).

TV Coverage
The biggest competitive event of the games, the one fielding the most ‘players’, is what is affectionately called (by themselves) ‘colour commentary’. I switched around a bit, less to see what fresh perspectives could be gained, than to escape terminally boring, clichéd and often downright negative remarks coming at me at record speeds. We are all conditioned to the American perspective by now, but I was often surprised at the more balanced and enthusiastic remarks in their efforts, this year. All I can say about the Canadian coverage on CT-V is that it is a good thing I don’t own a gun. The constant pointing out of shortcomings, falls and mistakes, especially during the figure skating, had me reaching repeatedly for the ‘mute’ button. I won’t mention any names, but it wasn’t anyone who could actually skate making me crazy.

Anyone who has watched the Olympics for a lifetime, knows that the best thing that can happen to an athlete, and the Olympics, itself, is the worst thing that can happen, and so, this year, the media was pleased to present two major disasters to choose from, to harp on and wring every bit of ‘story’ out of, beyond the bounds of good taste and common sense. It was difficult to choose between the disastrous death of the Georgian luger or the unfortunate passing of Joannie’s mother. Yes, it’s pretty hard to fill two weeks of TV chatter with worthwhile commentary, so the broadcaster’s gratitude must be extended to these sacrificial lambs. Time will tell if they will last in our Olympic memories like the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan dust up, or the stress on Mary Lou Retton’s knee and the rest of us, during her gymnastics events. Remember ‘Little Olga Korbut’? Can you forget? Even if you try?

I had a hard time hearing, over and over again, how these events were the WORST things to have happened to any athletes EVER in Olympic history! I thought it was incredible that not once, was the massacre of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics thought to be significant enough for a passing comment.

Speaking of hypocrisy, what was all that nonsense about politically correct costumes? Let me see, it’s not ok to wear stereotypical costumes of native peoples but it’s just fine to stereotype everyone else? This became especially blatant during a skating performance by an eleven year old Vancouver lad of Asian descent, who, dressed as Urkle, gestured and mugged like Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, thereby offending me and two cultural groups a la meme fois! The very same commentators who gasped with indignation over the Russian Aboriginal costumes, which they somehow felt hurt the feelings of indigenous tribes from the Apache to the Urapaho, thought this get-up was as cute as all get out! Nobody mentioned the offense to our men in uniform during the closing fiasco, either, where we were treated to chorines with cleavage, stripping off their Mounties outfits to “The Maple Leaf, Forever”? (And whatever happened to ‘The Thistle, Shamrock, Rose, Entwined?).

Closing Ceremonies
As for the closing ceremonies, I was kind of embarrassed. (After two weeks of PC, all bets were off).
First of all, the choice of comedy as a theme for a spectacle is probably not wise to begin with. There were never any big guffaws when the Christians were thrown to the lions, I’ll bet. Comedy is an immediate and intimate thing….sight gags, clever asides, funny faces, none of which can even be detected in a huge venue. Poor old Shatner, trying to hold the playing field while the cameras show athletes huddling round their cell phones, checking out their pictures. True, there are some funny Canadians, mostly living in Los Angeles, but it appears that none of them were consulted for this circus, which resembled nothing so much as a 1950’s CBC Variety show. Did anyone else notice a complete absence of the mention of Toronto as part of Canada in any of the big numbers? You know, the engine that drives the Canadian economy? If you don’t believe the rest of the country hates Ontariariario, especially the west-coasters, you might ponder why there was no rendition of “The Black Fly” in the widely representative program? And now that Gord Lightfoot has been resurrected, couldn’t he have been invited to give us a few verses of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” or the “Railway Trilogy”? Just asking.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I have come upon stereotypical non-Canadians, the ones who don’t know us for the well-rounded individuals we are, (ie. Americans) they usually wonder if we aren’t just a bunch of Eskimos living in Igloos in the frozen north where all their cold weather comes from. With all due respect, this was the only cultural stereotype completely left out of the final mishmash of self-deprecating clichés.

Hypocrisy and revisionism. Two solitudes, indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tobs: You're on the mark yet again. I too was embarrassed by the closing cheesy forced-humour(less) production; maybe you should have done some writing of the script, or even performed your 9.0 double klutz! Re: the vacuous yet highly focused commentary, perhaps someone should have pointed out to the commentators that, yes, other nations are involved, other athletes are worth informing us about, and yes, there even have been other olympic games. Perhaps "own the podium" got a bit carried away. And if your wondering about the only cultural stereotype left out, you forget political correctness: we don't want anyone to feel slighted in seeing themselves mocked as being gullible. Still, the hockey games were golden.