A Sochilist Agenda

McDuck

**Warning: Canada just won gold in hockey! Our nation leaves Sochi triumphant once more! Now, I bum you out.

What is
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
Hell.

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?

Tradition

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?

Novelty

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?!”

Excellence

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.”

National Pride

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.

  • Fair point, X, there’s a number of cities for whom the Olympics provided some useful infrastructure – new train line in Vancouver, for example – but the true value of those projects is often debatable. Critics in Vancouver cited other areas of service that might have benefitted from a cash injection over the narrow corridor of service provided by the Canada Line. The speed skating oval in Calgary is world-class but the ski-jump facility is abandoned. The facilities in Whistler are all supported by heavy taxpayer subsidies and Whistler never even got to be part of an influential Vancouver-only plebiscite that helped assure the 2010 bid.

    The issue for me around cost/impact is that few citizens will ever see or know the true numbers. It’s in the government’s best interest to massage the numbers to report a successful games but someone eventually digs up contrasting numbers and I suppose all you can do is make your own decision about whether it was money well-spent. That prideful “feel-good” feeling makes a lot of us even ignore the state of our personal finances. “I love this jacket, even if I only wear a couple times a year, it was worth the Visa payments…”

    Scott – I can’t wait to see what those Sochi facilities look like in a year. I’m thinking something along the lines of a place Snake Pliskin would have to escape from.

    Thanks, as always, for contributing, guys!

    • There is no disputing that every games is a waste in some way when measured against the ideal. Crazy left-wing deficit spenders like me are happy to see something come along that generates some political will for spending on the parts that are worthwhile! Its like, “Throw me a fricken bone over here!” these days, ya know.

      Snake Pilskin! One of my most cherished memories is playing squash in a facility used for the 1998 Commonwealth games and seeing a young fella with sleep in his drowsy eyes emerge from the media/video room at the top of the stands as I was about to serve. The courts and the bleachers were filthy, but the coupe-de-grace was the fact that the courts were now under the watchful eye of a dorm room for a local student or two. At least they got something out of it!

  • 2004Z06

    “Everyone I know thinks he’s a lunatic but clearly I don’t get out much because lots of people voted for him.”

    Yeah, like 1-in-3, so totally a majority! 🙂

    Joking aside I think you need to take a longer view if you want to talk about the “burden” borne by an Olympic host city. Were the Olympics bad for Calgary? I would suggest that they were largely inconsequential. In places like Sochi where the infrastructure spending is ridiculous of course some of this spending is a useless waste, but the places stupid enough to spend this kind of money on *those* white elephants was likely going to spend it on some other stupidity instead.

    Thankfully Winnipeg can’t host the Winter Olympics, we will never need to worry about such foolishness.

  • 2004Z06

    After spending an almost incomprehensible amount that rivals the yearly Gross Domestic Product of all the third world countries combined, Vlad the Enabler, the consummate megalomaniac, is going to wake up tomorrow with a world class case of buyer’s remorse. Vlad, you could have bought a continent for that kind of coin AND gotten change back.

    But wasn’t that a party! I always wondered what a $56,000,000,000 hangover would look like. That won’t be milk in his corn flakes tomorrow, so if you have the misfortune of working for Mr. Putin, best be calling in sick. You’ll need to sleep this one off comrade, Rip Van Winkle style.