Coverage of the Beijing Olympics has a strangely ambivalent feel. On one hand, the media is busy drawing attention to China’s massive pollution problems, human rights violations, and architectural coverups of Beijing’s endearing everyday shabbiness. But the corporations that bring us all these messages, via the corporate-owned news media, are also furiously serving up the Olympic hype 48 hours a day. (NBC is boasting 3600 hours of coverage. To paraphrase Rita Rudner, I don’t even want to do anything that feels good for 3600 hours!)
Yet, all this show isn’t really directed at the networks’ traditional core audience; more like over our heads, at a comfortable global citizenry that many Americans feel less and less that they belong to. It almost feels like being forced to attend the lavish wedding of a bride and groom that you don’t know. (Or worse, the lavish wedding of your ex.)
I don’t remember much sentiment or even hype that the 1980 Lake Placid games would “transform Upstate New York” or even just transform the Adirondacks. Lake Placid had already hosted the Games before, and it was, and would remain, a mountain resort village. But that was before Calgary. I suspect the ’88 Winter Games in that Canadian city did for (or “to”) the winter games what the ’84 Los Angeles games did on the summer side: the Olympics as all-consuming media and pop culture spectacle, to be held only in rich countries. (Certainly, the transformation was complete by 1992 in Albertville.)
Lake Placid might someday co-host the Winter Games again, perhaps in a shared bid with Montreal or some other Canadian city. But that would have to wait for a future where not only would Upstate’s economy be better, but where the Olympic movement had somehow stopped being a “Great Game” or a royal wedding.