Why the Olympics Suck...
A semi-important (to the media, anyway) eruption has recently occurred with regards to the qudrennial "competition" we all know and love; no one seems to be watching. American Idol is kicking the crap out of NBC's (over-) televised (often tape delayed) coverage. NBC wants to know: what the hell is wrong with us, and why we won't watch a bunch of trust-fund athletes ski, skate and halfpipe their way to trumped-up "glory" on television.
Well, the answer is very simple, and comes in multiple parts:
a) There is no Cold War. The Olympics were fun when it was "Us versus Them". Say what you will about the moribund, dead-end Soviet Union; they knew how to take a nothing gold medalist in luge and turn him/her into a propaganda victory that thumbed the West in it's collective eye.
The main accelerant in that sort of thing was the ideological divide between West and the Soviet Empire, and let's face it, we miss it.
Sans any great ideological struggle with the threat of nuclear annhilition looming over it, we just don't care anymore. Communism is no longer the all-comsuming bugbear in American minds it once was. Now the all-consuming deadly force is Islam, and unfortunately (for NBC) there is no Pakistani hockey team, no Saudi figure skaters or Iranian bobsledders wrapping themselves in the flag of Islam, shouting "Death to the Great Satan and all the little Satan-ettes" in the games.
Those people are in the streets of Baghdad and Tehran, not in Turin. Which, if you ask me, is for the better.
b) Other than a few sports (figure skating and hockey) there is no public demand for most of the sports being shown. Curling might come in a distant third as far as "popular" events in the Winter Olympics. Other than those three, the "sports" have no history or worth to Americans, as a whole. While the history of biathlon (herding reindeer and defending them from predators in Scandanavia) are interesting, they don't necessarily dictate into an interesting viewing experience. Some of the other sports (halfpipe, snowboarding, free-style skiing, for examples) are attractive only to those under the age of 20 or so, and to the occasional rubber-necker at an automobile accidennt (they're simply waiting for someone to mangle themselves on television). It is not compelling viewing.
c) There are alternate media available for people to inform themselves about the progress of the games, assuming they DO care, without resort to NBC and it's affiliates; particularly the internet. Most people, upon seeing online that the US Hockey team, for example, tied Latvia 3-3, are not likely to watch the tape-delayed broadcast six hours later. The assumption is that there couldn't have been a good game in the offing if the Americans merely tied such a lackluster team. We live in the age of immediacy, and NBC cannot provide it in this case.
d) The commercialism. We're in an age where everything is for sale. Skiiers run down the mountain with "VISA" stamped all over them. Every five seconds we're reminded that the "Games are brought you by...". We've sold the games as a vehicle for merchandizing, not comepetition. Any Olympic broadcast, within a few minutes, devolves into a very long commercial for whatever sponsor paid for that event.
e) There are no athletes, per se. There are media creations. Like Bode Miller. The only controversy revolves around selfish personalities, like Michele Kwan demanding a spot on the "Team" because of who she is, not because she competed for it, and despite the fact that she was injured. The only compelling moment that could come from that sort of situation is if Emily Hughes (Kwan's replacement) somehow managed to medal despite being a passed-over-last-minute replacement. This Johhny Weir guy is the poster child for everything you hate about the gay community but are afraid to yell about: the flamboyance, the nasty, catty attitude, the in-your-face-I'm-a-fucking-diva self-indulgence. The only "you go, girl" moment in the games has come when an American skiier hit the slopes two days after an accident that would have killed a normal person, and managed to place 8th with a close-to-broken hip. Otherwise, no compelling programming.
The remainder of the "athletes" at this game run the gamut from the trust-fund crowd (only a very rich kid can indulge his passion for skiing, bobsledding and figure skating to the point where they can become "world-famous" without holding down a real job), to the Generation Y morons who indulge in sports that no one under 20 wants to or anyone in his right mind would want to.
Snowboarding was only included as an "Olympic sport" because ESPN somehow found an audience for the X Games. When it comes to the Olympics, that X Games crowd is in bed by 8 pm on a school night.
f) Then there's Bryant Gumbel, who, taking note of the lack of...ahem....black faces at the games, somehow calls America racist. Well, Bryant, I guess all that money and fame you get for being an idiot has blinded you to a few realities of Winter sport: you won't wind much ice in Harlem or Watts, there aren't legions of black Norweigian skiiers, and Zimbabwe didn't bother to field an Olympic Mogul team this time around. The simple reason why there aren't more blacks in the Winter Olympics is simple: black people do not engage in those kinds of activities in any numbers or with the same enthusiasm, nor with the same passion to launch them upon a career path to take them to Turin. If you want to change that, fine. Go fund a downhill skiing course in inner-city Chicago. However, I'm sure if there was a Drive-by Biathlon, you'd find plenty of inner-city blacks to sign up for it.