You know that feeling when you’re watching “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and you really just want Kim and Kourt to apologize to Khloe, by far the funniest and most verbally abused one in the family, but that little part of you creepily hopes Kim will leave her a scathing voicemail, just to keep the tension soaring? That’s just like watching the 2012 London Olympic Games.
It all started when that Greek triple jumper, Voula Papachristou, posted that racist tweet and was given the boot, apparently without so much as an email from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) before or after an official press release.
The IOC has a bunch of social media rules, but that hasn’t kept the Twitter community at bay. With only five days behind us, there have already been at least two viral hashtag uprisings, two athletes kicked out, a fan arrested and a (wo)mano a (wo)mano feud–not to mention that irate campaign against broadcast monopolist NBC when the streaming went awry–all over Twitter. They’re starting to call it the Social Media Olympics. And just as we waited for the day that scandal would fracture the seemingly impregnable RobSten (pun intended), so too do we await the eruption that is the ticking time bomb of the 2012 Olympics.
This is what makes all the press coverage of the Social Media Olympics so absurd. The Olympics are not just a sporting event; they’re apparently a magical summer solstice by which the hallowed rings of ancient Olympia touch down onto our terra firma, suspending all global alliances, unathleticism, broadband service and, above all, sense of propriety. This is not a sporting event; it’s a spectacle. So if you don’t want to see Kim call Khloe a fat bitch and you think that the Olympic athletes should shut up and just stick the landing, you clearly don’t understand the genre.
Yeah, you might cheer for a gladiator, but you’re really watching to see a lion bite off a torso. Now, in our civilized society, we want social pariahs and public intra-national rivalries. This is what we watch for. We want to see athletes as enemies–Michael Phelps giving Ryan Lochte a loaded, evil grin, or a huge women’s gymnastics upset. We want to see the photo of that sad South Korean fencer fighting because a timer got reset. And we want Usain Bolt to be pissed–even just a little–that he got beat out by none other than his own teammate, Yohan Blake. And if not that, at least for him to stop trying to say they aren’t nemeses in a Professor Xavier/Magneto used-to-play-for-the-same-team-but-are-now-enemies-unless-the-battle-is-against-everyone-else way. And here, “everyone else” should mean the Bolt/Yohan trash talking, victory dancing against all those other measly runners–but instead they’re taking it out on us! The loyal, cable-provider-paying fans who just want to see a good show!
Because, news flash to the athletes, the IOC, NBC, etc.–this is what makes the Olympics happen! Yeah, we watch for sports, but these idolized, sensationalized celebrathletes are what make it an event. It’s what pays the bills, gets an over $14 billion budget for London to lay a track down and blocks programming across NBC for an entire week. So stop complaining and play your characters! If we wanted silent athletes with no mouths and no glory, we would have watched jai alai or competitive backgammon.
Even reaching back to the ancient Greek Olympics, excitement was all in the subtle dramas of the nations. For the Olympic Games, countries would call a truce so that their players could journey to the games without fear of ambush, and the winners were considered heroes in their homelands. These bragging rights are what make all those McDonald’s commercials worthwhile (not the P&G mom one though–that one gets us every time). And the way America managed to make it American to root for both the hegemonic champion (Phelps) and the semi-underdog (Lochte) in just one event is a PR/athletic gold medal right there.
So keep doing what you’re doing, Olympic athletes! Win races, pump iron and get yourself involved in a tweeting scandal or announce your virginity. Or better yet–both.