Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Olympic Extravaganza

The extravaganza has officially jumped the shark.

My wife sat through the opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics on Friday night. I watched about half of it. About all I could take was a couple of minutes before I went to check email, the refrigerator, or to see if Jodie, my long time house ghost was OK.

How low we’ve sunk. This extravaganza thing has been growing like the 2006 bubbled up housing market for the last few years and it’s finally popped. I’m so tired of contrived choreography and costumes whose continuing attempts to be shocking are only satires of themselves.

My wife wanted to watch the athletes march around the field. She’s from Denmark and wanted to see the Danish team, for one thing. I remember when I was a kid, totally enraptured by the Olympic Games, watching the athletes enter the stadium. Somehow they showed both humility and pride at the same time. These people have worked incredibly hard to get to these games.

For many of them, this is the absolute pinnacle of achievement in their sports as there’s not much potential to compete professionally in canoe sprinting (as far as I know). This event is about those athletes and about nations coming together and putting aside the politics and competing peacefully.

We were watching a rerun, essentially, as London is eight hours ahead of us. In order to make it work for TV, including maximizing the audience and making the fireworks and light shows work, the actual event took place from about 9pm to 1am, London time. The extravaganza came first, of course, leaving the athletes entrance march until after 11pm. Many of the athletes didn’t want to stay up so late because they had competitions early the next morning. The result was that we saw some fraction of each team in the parade.

This robbed both the athletes and their fans of a big moment. In fact, many of the fans in the stadium got up and left before the event was over. All this for one of the most boring, self-indulgent shows I’ve ever seen. People in silly costumes just danced around and waved their arms endlessly. They were telling the story of the evolution of England – apparently in real-time. It had nothing to do with sports or the Olympics themselves.

But this has become the norm. Everywhere I look, these days, there’s another extravaganza. So many that it’s just plain boring. The English spent $85 million on this turkey – money that could have gone a long way toward alleviating the “worst quality of life in Europe,” as has been said of England.

I say the day of the extravaganza is seeing its sunset. The level of hype for events can’t really get any higher. The hype is so extreme that it’s lost its meaning. You’d think that drinking a can of cola or light beer is going to bring about the world’s biggest party and the Rolling Stones are going to play there. Words like “amazing” have no meaning whatsoever, anymore, because EVERYTHING and EVERYONE is amazing. I’ve heard that word at least five hundred times in the past year.

I’m tired of hype. I’m tired of commercial exaggeration. I’m tired of the extravaganza. I know when something’s great. I know when I’m anticipating something. I don’t need to be told how to feel. Can we move on? I’m ready for the next thing.

By the way, I’ve drunk thousands (maybe millions?) of beers in my life and half of them were actually really good (some people are wine snobs, I’m a beer snob. Sue me). But I’m still waiting on Mick Jagger. Maybe I still haven’t drunk the right brand.

-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.


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9 thoughts on “Olympic Extravaganza

  1. Mark Shapiro on said:

    As a reader living in London thank you for this post, it’s 2 weeks we can live without. Great clip of the Queen, she came across as pathetic as she usually does. Well done!!

    And having Dow as a sponsor is sickening!

    It’s ‘business as usual’ for the United States as they move on from one tragic war to another. But we must not forget the terrible tragedy of the American War in Vietnam and the Victims who through four generations continue to suffer through no fault of their own as companies like Dow Chemical look to hide the facts and bury the truth in search of more profit as their Victims continue to suffer

    And let”s not forget Napalm, another Dow product and one of the most quoted passages of a U.S.Army source:

    ‘We sure are pleased with those backroom boys at Dow. The original product wasn’t so hot – if the gooks were quick they could scrape it off. So the boys started adding polystyrene – now it sticks like shit to a blanket. But if the gooks jumped under water it stopped burning, so they started adding Willie Peter (white phosphorous ) so’s to make it burn better. And just one drop is enough, it’ll keep on burning right down to the bone so they die anyway from phosphorus poisoning.’

    “The Vietnam war memorial in Washington is 492 feet long. If a similar war memorial had been made for the Vietnamese who died, with the same density of names, it would be nine miles long.

    • Thanks for your comment and compliments, Mark. This sponsorship thing (of which you pointed out probably the most disgusting example) is widespread as a PR tool. A couple of years ago, another Vietnam war criminal corporation, Monsanto (agent orange, anyone?), suddenly appeared as a sponsor of the PBS news hour. I (and no doubt many other people) wrote to PBS to express my extreme objection. Monsanto was gone as a sponsor within a month.

      Please write letters to the editors of your local papers on this topic. People need to remember the crimes of the past… and those that continue.


  2. I sincerely hope that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will after the present Olympics review the whole event for the next one. The opening ceremony though brilliant in parts was far too long for both the atheletes and the audience.

    For me it lacked the meaning of the Olympics: a coming together of athletes from many countries in friendship and understanding. The IOC lost the meaning of the spirit of the olympics when it gave way to big business handing out sponsorships to some of the most evil companies. You just have to see the name Coca Cola, Rio Tinto, McDonalds and Dow Chemical to look at the history of them and wonder why the IOC agreed to them becoming sponsors. Money was the key not the spirit of the Olympics.

    On Augsut 10th I will be in Hanoi commemorating the 51st anniversary of the use of Agent Orange and Napalm by US forces on Vietnam, will also meet with a number of Vietnam still suffering from the effects of these vile weapons, and who was one of the companies that madse Agent Orange and Napalm: Dow Chemical.

  3. Mark Shapiro on said:

    For those of you unfamiliar with Len Aldis, Len is a decades long Peace Campaigner and the Secretary of the Britain – Vietnam Friendship Society. Len is 82 years old with the energy,enthusiasm and commitment of a man half his age. You may wish to visit Len’s website at http://www.lenaldis.co.uk/

  4. Thanks, Len and Mark, for your comments. I think the meaning of the Olympics has been half lost. Young kids watching still probably get some of the point, but a mixed message comes from all the commercialism. This is, of course, not really new – it’s become more and more obvious in the past few decades and many actually feel it peaked in Atlanta.

    Marketing is interesting in the Olympics. There are lots of commercials here in the U.S. with imagery of inspirational people and actions. But it all leads up to, “Buy our stuff.”

    Here’s my proposal: In order to buy advertising space during the Olympics, a company has to have actually supported athlete’s expenses for training. At least then the illusion would have some truth in it.

    I would also really like it if the makers of chemical weapons were actually admonished by our society. But that would require a complete re-working of our values, evidently.


  5. Mark Shapiro on said:

    Off topic but wouldn’t George Carlin make a great host for the Games. Be sure to watch the ** video, it says a lot about the society we live in which is very (starts with an F) up…


    ** note video contains ‘mature’ content

  6. Mark Shapiro on said:

    Readers with an interest in the reality on the ground here in London are encouraged to read the latest piece by David Cohen in the ‘”Evening Standard’, a long established once for sale now free pm (very conservative I should add) newspaper.

    The Olympic stadium has the world’s largest McDonald’s, 1500 seats, half as long as a US football field over 2 floors, 400+ (low paid?) staff and the jewel in the crown of (hey we all know the great quality food they sell) the world’s heavyweight crap fast food merchants. 200 yards away live a community slowly being destroyed by the Olympics. Seems kind of, well, wrong doesn’t it.

    Greed before, during and after the Games all have a familiar ring. This article is a micro-case study in how the ‘other half’ lives in the shadow of (K)apitalism at it’s worst.

    When the quick buck artists are long gone the people of East London will continue to suffer. All sounds like something Dow Chemical should be sponsoring doesn’t it!


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