Monthly Archive for July, 2012

Fuck the Olympics

Hooray for money!

Sadly, Olympic fever has once again gripped an otherwise reasonable city and turned it upside down. This time, the cheapened whore is London. Now, some of you may point out that I’ve never had much love for London, and that’s true. While I adore England, I’ve always found her capital to be a gray, grotty, sloppy amalgam of a city. It’s like there is no British vision whatsoever in the city. Which probably explains the massive influx of foreigners to “Londonistan” over the last three decades.

So sure, no love lost between me and London. But that doesn’t mean I would wish something as baleful and crass as the Olympics on her. I don’t particularly like Wichita Kansas but I would never express joy should a tornado rip the city apart. I’m an aesthete, not an animal.

London 2012 logo or Lisa Simpson sucking a dick? You decide!

Don’t get me wrong: I love the concept of the Olympics. I love the idea that young athletes can excel in their chosen sport and prove themselves to be world-class on a global stage. Hell, it makes me well up just thinking about it.

So why the anti-Olympic rancor? Because the Games and the process have been hijacked by politicians and corporations. And because this hijack is unnecessary.

Let’s start with the most odious of the processes: the city selection by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This once-proud organization has degenerated into a cynical, corrupt panel of craven scumbags. The Salt Lake City and Beijing selection processes were so corrupt that journalists worldwide had a heyday documenting all the subterfuge and bribery.

Not only is the selection process tainted, but the very idea of world cities vying and bullying their way to Olympic glory is, in my mind, an idiotic process that should be abolished.

It’s sickening to watch. I have a better idea:

Since the Greek economy is about to go down the toilet and potentially take all of Europe with it, let’s bring the Games back home. Let’s make the Olympic Center in Athens permanent. After all, they invented the goddamn Games. Every four years, the Greek economy will get a massive boost with only a fraction of the capital expenditures that are wasted when a city builds an Olympic village from scratch.

The Winter Olympics can then be set up in the Alps. We can let Cortina D’Ampezzo and Chamonix host every other Winter Olympics. Done deal.

Now, some people will get all weepy because we aren’t “spreading the Olympics” all over the world. But like most weepy bullshit, this is just weepy bullshit. It’s the COMPETITORS that matter, not the location. The Olympics will be as international as ever. Young people from every corner of the globe will still have an opportunity to show the world how great they can be. It will be totally awesome and it will become something of a pilgrimage for people who love sport.

Athens will become a new Mecca. Young kids will dream of Athens. The legacy of the original games will connect these young people with a Democratic history going back thousands of years. It will be meaningful and wonderful.

Bring it on home, people!

So anyway, once the corrupt and evil IOC city selection process is finally ended, we can solve the next evil and corrupt problem associated with the Olympics: wasteful civic construction.

When a city hosts the Olympics, it has to build massive stadiums, massive villages, massive transportation solutions and massive security details. All for five weeks of Games. Five. Weeks. People are displaced, homes are destroyed, neighborhoods are altered and massive debt is incurred.

After that, the host city is stuck with massive walls of worthless bullshit. What do they do? They can’t fill them. They can’t lease them. The tear it all down. Yes, the Olympic Stadium in Los Angeles has held up for generations. But that arena is the exception that proves the rule: Olympic construction is a boon for contractors and temp employees and a total waste for taxpayers. The trail of disused, overgrown, wasted Olympic construction sites is endless. And sad.

Look, honey! It’s a cheap plastic piece of shit designed specifically to rip money from our pockets and into the greedy maw of a giant corporation!

Additionally, if we can site the Olympics permanently at Athens, we won’t need all that capital from all those scummy corporations. I wouldn’t dream of banning all corporate sponsorship; athletes need infrastructure for training and guidance. But the Games themselves do not need to be festooned with Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical and BP Oil advertisements every 8 yards. If a company wants to support Olympic athletes, it should do so and feature advertisements that tout what nice fucking guys they are. But that’s where it should end. The Olympic site itself should be free of logoism and the dreary drumbeat of corporate cheerleading. After all, it’s supposed to be about the Games, right? About the young people? Remember them?

Which brings me to my last bitch about the Olympics:

Bringing you the Olympics we think you should see, you common scum!

NBC has the world’s shittiest Olympics coverage, bar none. I’d rather watch full Olympic coverage from Serbia or Laos even though I can’t understand their languages. I can understand a country wanting to highlight its own successful athletes. But NBC has warped its broadcasts as badly as North Korea. It’s all-USA, all the time. It’s pathetic. They think we’re too lazy, stupid and single-minded to enjoy the opening ceremony or something as “foreign” as fencing. That’s why I don’t bother watching the Olympics on NBC. I’m lucky enough to have Canadian broadcasts dribble into my TV. CBC does a MUCH better job than NBC.

I think NBC needs to let go. The Olympic Games should be broadcast by PBS. After all, they are our “national” broadcaster. I’m sure PBS would do a fine job highlighting America’s best competitors without turning it into a circle-jerk rah-rah session.

In sum, fuck the Olympics. We can do better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upstairs Downstairs

Bo-r-r-r-ring!

Back in the 1970’s, my mother regularly watched this British television program. It drove me nuts because it was so godawful boring. I mean, if we’re going to watch British TV, why the hell isn’t it Monty Python? I guess Upstairs Downstairs served its purpose: it entertained my mother and scared me off to do more productive childhood activities.

Now that I have assumed the mantle of middle age, I decided to give it a try. After all, it’s kind of like an outdated Downton Abbey shot on cheap video tape, right? And everyone loves Downton Abbey.

Downton Abbey is so shiny and new!

All five seasons of Upstairs Downstairs are available on Netflix now, so I dug in. The first few episodes left me flat. Production quality was very poor (the BBC was suffering a crew strike at the time; some episodes were shot in B&W to save money). But I was beginning to understand what the writers were trying to do.

It was actually quite bold. They were framing a drama against the backdrop of much larger national questions and paradoxes of identity. The more I watched (and the more historical research it led me to), the more brilliant it became. By the end of the second season I was enthralled.

I wasn’t alone. Forty years ago, Upstairs Downstairs garnered seven Emmy awards and a Golden Globe. It has been viewed in 70 countries by over a billion people. How the hell did a tame, calm, very formal serial drama about Edwardian life in a London manor house capture the world’s imagination?

You really shouldn’t bang the help.

They did it with brilliant writing, lots of love stories and the inexorable march of history building tension about which the on-screen cast remains chillingly oblivious. I mean, why not hop aboard the Titanic? The bloody thing’s unsinkable, what?

Of course, the primary premise of the program was the strong distinction between the servant class (Downstairs) and the landed aristocracy (Upstairs).

The servant class was a peculiar rank in the British class system. While paid less than the working class, life among the sweeping stairways and colonnaded halls of the bourgeoisie placed the servants above the factory workers. It wasn’t money that determined class; it was placement.

Working as a servant has its privileges.

But perhaps the most resounding class theme in the program is the glass ceiling that kept the landed aristocracy eternally safe from the grubby mitts of the middle class. When a housemaid finds fame as an actress, no quarter is given. In the midst of childbirth, she is swept under the carpet as King Edward himself was dining at the house that night. Can’t have all that “creating new subjects” piffle interrupt a single puff of His Majesty’s cigar, can we?

The merchant class fares no better. They exist only to serve the house with goods and services. Even the ultra-wealthy Armenian magnate who has an eye for the daughter stands no ground. He is, after all, low born. End of discussion.

What’s most astounding is the inability of anyone to shift. It’s not about the money. What the hell is an uneducated servant girl going to do with a sudden windfall? Join the middle class? Is a successful merchant going to welcome an ex-parlourmaid to the family? Not bloody likely.

This may make you feel great antipathy toward the rich Bellamy family, but they are portrayed very carefully. The patriarch is tempered and wise and seems to have everyone’s best interests at heart. The matriarch is calm and elegant and handles the staff with sympathy. When they do show flashes of snobbery they are forgiven in our hearts.

Yet the nagging reality remains: how can they pay their loyal staff a goddamn pittance while living in such luxury? Now you are starting to see some parallels with modern society…

“Good luck, son! Don’t get blown up, what?”

Finally, as World War 1 closes in on the Bellamy family and all of Britain, a parallel series of breakthroughs occur. Young James comes back from the war a changed man. The sparkling playboy has seen enough. Even he – a conservative Tory  – found the war to be stupid, useless and unnecessary. He forsakes all veteran accolades. He is sick of all the bullshit and has finally discovered that life (and death) are not games.

On a macro scale, the shattering of the European monarchical powers opened the floodgates of populist socialism. Revolution consumed Russia while electoral pressure ousted conservative governments. The family patriarch finds himself elevated to Viscount and hurriedly shuffled off to obscurity and powerlessness in the House of Lords.

The servants below, however, will have none of the worker’s rights and strikes. There should be some balance, they reason. There is tradition to uphold. And the masters upstairs have been so kind these many years. No, none of this socialist revolution for them. After all, this is a battle for the working class, and they aren’t the working class!

Two friends say goodbye.

Of course, the program’s real strength isn’t its subtext but its dramatic appeal. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better troupe of actors or more tightly woven scripts. Despite the stifling nature of Victorian mores, the program (and real life) is full of irrepressible joys and tearful losses. The house has its share of surprising deaths whose stark aftermath is handled in the Victorian fashion only by the Scottish butler, a true stoic. The rest of the family and staff soften their upper lips often enough to break your heart.

That’s the driving force here: the humanity. While great affairs swirl around the world, their impact is made visceral only when distilled in the context of family and community.

Master and servant, happy as clams.

And here is where I make my final point: in Upstairs Downstairs, the events that befall the classes are ultimately shared among the classes because they are largely thrown together despite the glass ceilings. In modern America, the classes are utterly isolated from each other. The moneyed class no longer sends its sons to war; that agony is left solely to the lower classes. When recession grips the nation, the moneyed class maintains its wealth with ease while the rest of us suffer. When the shit comes down, we don’t console each other or look out for each other. We turn on the TV and fume.

It isn’t Victorian morals that we’ve lost. It’s the technological isolation of our communities that has driven these wedges. We are more likely than the cast of Upstairs Downstairs to suffer in Victorian silence. They had each other, even when the stock market crashed and everything fell apart. One would think that in “class-free” America that we’d be more integrated socially. But we’re not.

At least we still have Leslie Anne Down!

Yes, we still have Leslie Anne Down. For that we should be eternally grateful.