One arctic Sunday afternoon over a quarter century ago, while covering a combative football game in Green Bay for USA TODAY, I overheard the TV commentators in the press box invoking the banality: ‘It’s a war out there!’
And since I had recently returned from detailing West Africa where I saw and smelled and heard and tasted the ravishes of brutal tribal warfare I leaned over to the polished-teeth, well-coiffed ‘talking heads’ and asked: ‘Where’s the blood? The dismembered bodies? The raped women and abandoned children?’
Less than a month later such triteness was removed from TV’s sports lexicon. It ain’t no war, it’s merely a game, another piece of entertainment over-hyped to merely sell us stuff.
To put it a tad more poignantly: Anybody who’s seen war never stops seeing it.
Which brings me to the Winter Olympics near Russia’s Sochi, the $52 billion city that Putin built – perhaps trying to emulate Peter the Great’s St. Petersburg.
And let me make get this grand confession out of the way up front: I love the pomp and pageantry of the Olympics. Always have. Always will. Even if they aren’t for amateurs any more. Even if it is overpriced and overly fraught with jingoism. I covered their grandeur at Lake Placid, the site of Eric ‘The Gold’ Heiden, the Olympics most decorated Olympic speed skater, and ice hockey’s Miracle on Ice.
What I don’t like is the drama of the non-competitors. That is, the TV hosts who become personalities – aka being famous for simply being on TV — and becoming part of the story while overtly plugging and over dramatizing everything to draw in the viewers. Whatever they spew sounds like a man with his pants on fire.
personality is not the same as having a personality. And just because your voice reaches around the world doesn’t mean you are any wiser than when it only reached to the end of the bar.
Admittedly I am a former print journalist. And veteran print editors and reporters at places like the ‘Times’ and ‘The New Yorker’, as well as a plethora of other noble journalistic enterprises, manage to feed and clothe their families without costing their companies a million-or-two bucks a month. Furthermore, they produce a great deal more valuable reporting and analysis than do the heftily overpaid network news stars who depend almost entirely on their hustling producers.
And where do the producers get most – if not all – of their story ideas? From the remarkable and industrious enterprising toil of the print and internet reporters and writers. Once again the farmer scratches a living while the middlemen get en-riched.
Tai Babilonia and her partner Randy Gardner. They were favored to win Olympic gold over the reigning Olympic Russian champions.
However, Randy pulled a groin muscle and the American couple had to withdraw – disappointing TV because there wasn’t going to be any great showdown over-promoted between us and the former U.S.S.R.
But then ‘somehow’ a buz unexpectedly started abounding. Some judges were ‘suddenly’ concerned about whether it was officially legal where the Russian skater placed his hand in lifting his female partner, who happened to be his wife.
It was a made for TV hyperbole.
So I wrote a column to put an end to this TV manufactured ice-scapade. I simply asked: Excuse me if I happen to be wrong, but since when does it rightly matter where a husband puts his hands on his wife?
As with everything there are certain matters that should remain hands off. And I just didn’t want TV and its hosts putting his or her heavy hands on the Olympic party. After all, it’s just a game. The true stars are not the people who may be best at what they do; they are merely the people who want it most.
And that’s entertainment.
And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…