February 23 2014 03:05PM
**Warning: Canada just won gold in hockey! Our nation leaves Sochi triumphant once more! Now, I bum you out.
this joy in my heart that trumps all reason? How powerful is this drug that I
don’t have to smoke, snort or inject it to feel untapped reserves of euphoria
pump forth from my heart and into my skyward-raised fists as I leap off the
couch to celebrate? All I need is a lit screen, an imagination and a misplaced
sense of nationalism. Damn you, Olympic Games, damn you straight to rose-coloured
It’s a terrible event by almost every sane measure: A quadrennial tornado that touches ground in cities all over the world that have clamoured for its arrival like 7th Day Adventists welcoming the Rapture. In this regularly scheduled regional apocalypse, the IOC, in conjunction with civic, state and federal leaders will bankrupt your town , leave behind enormous structures of dubious purpose , endorse corporate malfeasance , shuffle your homeless population about like so many peas in a shell game , bung up your infrastructure , devastate your ecology , turn your culture into near-racist caricatures , provide a media-saturated staging ground for colourful acts of terror (or rebellion depending on your political stripes) by your enemies and equally lively acts of protest by your frustrated citizenry , indulge in bribery , fraud , greed and corruption while spewing sanctimony at dopers, juicers and cheaters who had the temerity to show their ambition in a public competition instead of behind closed doors . Gross. Also… gross. I need a full soul and body chemical peel just thinking about it.
I live in a former Olympic host city. The list above is not mere conjecture, it’s a financial and environmental albatross that hangs over Vancouver every day but since we won so many medals and sold so many mittens and warmed so many hearts with our lovable corporate spokescreatures that no one but the most McDucken of misers would look back on our Winter Olympics as a bad idea. “Take that monocle off of your cranky Scottish beak, old man! Iginla to Crosby! Rember that?! Didn’t it light the whole country aglow in Gatorade orange? Alexandre Bilodeau and his inspirational brother? Are you a robot, McDuck?! A heartless, anthropomorphic duck robot? Join in the prolonged slow-clap or get out of the Coca-Cola sponsored way, ya curmudgeon.”
I get it! I am it. There’s no one without Engels on their bookshelf that isn’t going to roll their eyes at you when you complain about the Olympics but it’s so completely horrible that the justifications for it are a kind of mass delusion that only Beer Hall Putschers or Toronto Maple Leaf fans could love. Maybe, though, I’ve got this dilemma turned inside out.
What do we actually like about the Olympics?
What else has survived from Ancient Greece that unites us so in common purpose and inspiration? I mean, what else aside from Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Sophocles, Homer, democracy, wheelbarrows and baklava?
Skeleton? Biathalon? 2-man Luge? Slope Style? What the hell? These are all like games you made up in your backyard when you were 9, using discarded liquor boxes to build your equipment and obstacles. There were more lightsabers involved in the games you invented but these are fun too. The inclusion of X-Games events has delivered a whole new level of abandon and astonishment to the Winter Olympics and this is the Olympics with Curling in it, so we were pretty maxed out on “Wow Factor” already! The best part of watching these events (that you only pay attention to once every four years unless you’re sick on the couch in the middle of Alpine season) is how great the colour commentators are at providing the minute details of how the event is being judged. Three skiers down the hill and now you’re an expert on Moguls! “Of course Bilodeau won gold! Did you see how well he was carving?!”
The awe inspired by pure physical magnificence is undeniable. There’s rarely a conscious deconstruction of our thoughts while in the moment of witnessing superb feats of acrobatics, strength or speed but I would suppose it goes something like this:
“Holy smokes, there is a level of commitment, determination, focus, grace and power that I only ever skirted while playing soccer just for the fun of it when I was 11 before puberty-driven indifference kicked in telling me sports are for meathead jocks and I’m sensitive, man, but just like watching a virtuoso musician or reading great poetry this is such a beautiful testament to the capacity of the human animal that I just need a minute to fully absorb this instant into my brain and imagine being inside that perfectly crafted biological vessel, feeling the wave of endorphins kicking in at the golden moment, knowing that a lifetime of training and passion is being reward in this shimmering, fleeting tenth of a second! Lifegasm.”
We don’t agree on much in this country. It’s a Canadian pastime to mock and scold the American left-right divisions yet, here at home, our megalomaniacal, fiscal-fascist, science-denying leader is driving everything left of Preston Manning into the salinized waters of soon-to-be former Arctic Canada. Everyone I know thinks he’s a lunatic but clearly I don’t get out much because lots of people voted for him. Repeatedly. I mention it because politics are surprisingly easily put aside while cheering on an athlete draped in the maple leaf. Bible-quoting farmers in Airdrie, Alberta high-five over the besequined blur of a Quad with the same enthusiasm that they normally reserve for comparing Thomas Mulcair to Trotsky. Likewise, a communal-living pacifist will cheer a crushing body check in a gold medal hockey game even though they’d never be caught dead supporting the meat-grinder capitalistic pursuits of the NHL.
I’ve witnessed this first-hand. During the 2010 Vancouver games, my gay, sportsproof room-mate of several years was suddenly unrecognizable from any beer-swigging “hete-bro” on Wing Night in the nearby sports bar, caught up as he was in the drama of the pursuit of Olympic gold. Okay, he may have commented more on the speed skaters’ unitards more than said bro in sports bar, but who among us is immune to such glorious thighs?
It seems like the only time Canadians acquiesce to the notion of true national unity is in sports. No distinct society, no prairie isolationism, no accusation of Toronto or Vancouver elitism is ever uttered, just a sea of red united in celebration of personal achievement that we graft onto our own lives. Maybe it’s our unconscious wish for such a simple, elegant bond in the other facets of our existence – our endlessly complicated, no medals at the end of our hard work, existence.
So What’s Your Problem, McDuck?
We’re binge-drinking sentimentality. Look, I’ve just detailed all the lovely things we can say about the Olympics and you can point to the rarity of these communal moments in our lives being akin to the kindness and generosity we reserve for Christmas or a resort vacation in Cabo as a reprieve from Canadian Februaries but merely acknowledging it’s a pocket of fantasy can’t be enough. That’s like the person who prefaces a repugnant statement with “I’m such a jerk but…” as if it gives them a free pass for being an jerk. We need to learn how to muster communal joy in ways that improve our everyday lives.
I’m not naïve enough to make a claim like “If there’s money to put on a winter games then there’s money for low-income housing” because while it is true, that money doesn’t spring forth from a well of largess. City councils and corporations can pedal all the pride they want but if making affordable housing came along with the same kind of self-glorifying media campaign that showed traction with 18-35 year-olds with disposable income, maybe we’d be buying up mittens where proceeds go to single parent families or inclusive health/play charities for kids instead of to The Bay’s chosen recipients: “ high performance sport and athletes”. Sony could be the face of clean drinking water. GE, the official partner of a living wage, McDonald’s: “Universal Healthcare. You’re Lovin’ It!”
Canada has had a terrific games capped off with another sensational men’s hockey gold. It’s made my week! I really do believe the Olympics can bring out the best in us but we don’t know how to sustain that best. We remain the passive audience and never the active citizen. We delight in seeing the impossible realized but only when it truly matters the least: when it props up a fiction. Even within that fiction, we set aside the scandals, the injuries, the failures and the heartbreak to focus on the magic that grows the medal count. Who’s the best of the best? What country reigns supreme? I would love if the Canada that’s reflected in Olympic sponsorships were anything like the Canada I actually live in. When somebody hands out medals for social change, I’ll be waving that flag so hard you’ll think I’m trying to make the rhythmic gymnastics team. I’m going to try this year to remember the pride I felt during each victory or display of sportsmanship at Sochi and see if I can’t use it as motivation to start training for a letter-writing campaign to my MP. There’s bound to be a new omnibus bill to fight. No word yet on if the Prime Minister will attempt a Triple Lutz while passing it. I’m sure it will be flawless.