I see that the Olympics beat American Idol in viewership the other night: tinyurl.com/yfd4ufn Why? Because three Americans won gold in that broadcast. I am as ready to root as the next guy — last night to my surprise I found my heart pounding during the final of the men’s figure skating tinyurl.com/y853wz2 Though I found Lysacek’s skate full of effort, thought, skill — and nothing close to artistry. He had carefully studied what was required to win — congratulations, that is what a competition is — but there was no thrill in watching him, other than the medal count. In fact the only performance that was an artistic statement — that transcended the need to pile up points to actually tell a story, to narrate a set of emotions, was Johnny’s Weir’s — which did not impress the judges
Why am I going on this tangent about figure skating? Every broadcast begins and ends, and returns to Medal Count — How Many Medals Does the US Have? It is all a big contest to rack up metal — just like the men in the figure skating final, who calculated when to make their jumps to get maximum point value. It is as if we were back in the Cold War — where the Olympics was some kind of statement about the Free World versus the Communist Enemy. Clearly the TV audience likes that — and, as I said, I can get caught up in that same nationalist fever. But that is the exact opposite of the Olympics.
Why should every broadcast be about Americans — or even winners? What about selecting the most beautiful run of each day? The most interesting — not the most interesting back story about someone at home or their dog and family — but treating the event as a showcase of the Best in the World — treating viewers to excellence from wherever, by whomever — a chance to see all of the skill, and training, and daring, and artistry of all of the peoples of the world? That’s the Olympics — a testament to what human beings can do. I realize that kind of broadcast would not be as popular, and TV needs to pay its bills. But I also feel battered by the nationalist drum breat and wish for just a brief while we could watch the world, appreciate the world, and forget about ourselves. Isn’t that the model we want to present to kids — being wide eyed and curious world citizens? The Olympics should be a window, not a mirror.