Thursday, January 9, 2014

Consuming the Olympics

In yesterday's Washington Post, a peculiar article sat on the bottom of the front page.  It was an article about the upcoming winter Olympics, and the difficult news that one of the more promising Alpine skiers was not going to be able to compete due to an injury.

It's a terrible thing for that person, as I'm sure her whole life has been devoted to this pursuit.  What was peculiar, though, was the "spin" of the story.  It wasn't about her loss.  It was about the deep concern on the part of corporate America at losing one of the more "marketable" Olympians.  The expert quoted in the story was not an athlete or a coach or a former Olympian skier, but a professor of marketing at a business school.

Because what was most interesting about this athlete was not that she was highly skilled and gifted.  She was the standards of our culture...physically attractive.  "Runway-ready," as the article put it, and here they're not talking about airports, but about fashion and appearance.  "Sexy," as the article did not put it.  But we know what it meant, because..well..that's kind of the way our culture has framed this particular athlete.

And with her bowing out, those who view the Olympics as an opportunity to gather eyeballs to market product are concerned.  There are hundreds of other Olympians, of course, who've trained for their entire lives to try their skills in this contest of the best of the best.

But our consumer culture cares more about marketability than it does about talent and discipline.   Where are the pretty ones?  The "sexy" ones?  The ones we can slap into a swimsuit and use to sell our [stuff]?

I know we 'Murikans tend to roll our eyes at radically socialist Olympic systems, which seize on promising toddlers and take their lives away, driving them relentlessly.  Those systems seem disrespectful of their humanity, and their integrity as persons.

But our culture ain't exactly perfect on that front, neither.