Living in the U.S. during the Summer Olympics is pretty weird.** Canada is historically pretty terrible at the Summer Olympics, unless communist countries are boycotting en masse. But the U.S., of course, is not.
You can always count on them placing in the top three in the overall medal count. So the stories that NBC latches onto are usually centered on inevitable victory…or at the very least, an inevitably decent chance at victory. Michael Phelps: just how many medals will he win? Missy Franklin: a bunch of gold medals or just a bunch of medals? The Fab Five gymnasts: awesome or merely great?****
**Well, statistically speaking, no it isn’t, since I haven’t lived in Canada during the Summer Olympics since 1996…when they were ironically enough happening right here in Atlanta.
****A refreshing counter to this is 11 Points’ detailing 11 nations that have never won an Olympic medal and why you should root for them.
So Monday’s women’s football/soccer semifinal between the U.S. and Canada was particularly interesting to me. For American viewers, it was just another chapter in their diverse book of inevitable medal opportunities. For Canadian viewers, it was a titanic David-vs.-Goliath struggle with our neighbours to the south, who’ve won three gold and one silver in the four previous Olympics.
The United States won 4-3 in a game filled with tension, drama and post-game bitterness. What struck me the most about all of it was just how much it genuinely hurt when Canada lost. I mean, here I am, a 35 year old man who never played an organized game of soccer in his life (does tennis court soccer at Churchill elementary count?) watching a bunch of people he will never meet playing a game that Canada was absolutely certainly destined to lose going in…and I was just FLOORED.
It reminded me of Bill Simmons’ excellent reflection of the emotional rollercoaster that is being a sports fan, told both through his fanship and his daughter’s. Simmons argues that watching his daughter sob over her favourite hockey team’s loss leaves him wondering why he introduced her to sports fandom in the first place, only to identify the merit of fandom in the in-between moments (the “suture,” if you would) that he argues sports makes possible.
I think I see the merit in what he’s saying although when you’re a Canadian watching the game in an American office by yourself, that explanation loses its lustre. It still *hurt* somehow; even though I couldn’t name more than three players on the team and 99% of the nation didn’t watch a single game of Canadian soccer before yesterday. (I can at least own having followed the team since its third game). It wasn’t like this game was a tremendous social lubricant.
There have been confirmations of positive relations between a fan’s favourite team’s outcomes and their self-esteem or moods. But I can’t help but wonder if the appreciation of the beautiful loss is overlooked in such research. Dating back to Barthes, those that have studied professional wrestling have usually returned the argument that fans identify with both the good AND bad wrestling presents: there HAS to be the unfair outcomes to make it all work because that’s how we understand life to work. So while we profess to be upset when the bad guys win, we often really aren’t because if they didn’t win more often than the good guys…well, THAT (more so than any “fakery”) would just look like a sham.
Comedian Louis C.K. appeared on Simmons’ podcast a few weeks ago and spoke something that is heresey for most sports fans: that there are losses from his favourite athletes and sports teams that he *gasp* enjoyed, because they made for a better story than a win might have. I suppose having taught a film class or three and having studied narratology should leave me more imminently curious to interrogate this narrative. Whether or not a loss was more interesting because of what it symbolized, like Rocky going the distance and just being happy about it.
In that regard, I appreciated Canada’s loss for its poetry. But all told, if I was to tell the truth, my brain sees the tragic drama, my heart just wants the damn handling the ball call back so I can see what would have happened…
I said last week that Atlanta was locked, theoretically speaking, to cars being its mode of mobility no matter what happened in the big TSPLOST vote. Not that there was much suspense as to what would happen in said vote.
Well, surprise, surprise #1: the TSPLOST didn’t make it last week. And surprise, surprise #2: all of the post-TSPLOST talk is about roads, roads, roads.
One question that should perhaps be asked aloud more often is why this tax was up for a referendum, but a proposed hotel/motel tax that would build a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons isn’t (at least yet). This stadium would replace a stadium that isn’t legally old enough to drink, even if plenty of drinks are served there. At least, one part of the puzzle is there: the vast majority don’t think taxes need to go towards a new stadium.
But never mind the trains, bikes or buses, let’s not lose sight of how Georgia runs itself and how Atlanta looks as a result.
Atlanta remains un-united
One other story in the American south that fascinated me last week was the furor surrounding fast food chain Chick-Fil-A.
The short short version of the tale is this: Dan Cathy says gay marriage is “prideful” and bad. Internet revisits Chick-Fil-A’s donations to groups with various anti-gay initiatives. Potential boycotts are debated and bans in some cities are threatened. Christian right gets wind of this, organizes a counter-protest in the form of people forming lines around blocks to buy chicken sandwiches on August 1.
Now, there is the usual “culture wars” sniping I could get into dissecting. (Supporters that say it’s not about being anti-gay, it’s about freedom of speech because mayors threatened to ban businesses based on speech. Critics that say boycotts aren’t about what Cathy said, but the wilful organizations he’s funding to deny a human right.) However, there’s also that tired cliché that says more about the Western world than most clichés could: “you vote with your dollar.”
As the mode of mobility is the car in Atlanta, the primary mode of political expression continues to not be how one votes or what they do, but what they don’t buy or do buy (the latter of which Monroe Friedman describes as “buycotting”). It’s deemed effective because affecting finances is seen as incredibly uplifting or devastating. Slower political operatives such as the Occupy movement sputter perhaps in no small part they don’t speak the logic of capitialism. If no money was exchanged in the first meeting or no money was taken away from another business, how are we to tell whether this is working or not?
Either way, we’ve come to accept the rules of the game that these things matter much more than (or least as much as) actual legislation, to the point that deciding what we’re eating for dinner (much like whether or not we say “Merry Christmas” and how often) somehow equates to intense political activism.
Indeed, if Facebook and Twitter feeds are any indication, both buyers and non-buyers seem pretty convinced they’ve committed a real act of political intensity. This is pretty telling.
To bring it back around to being a sports fan, when the NHL moved from Atlanta last year, I was pretty mad at the company running Philips Arena about how it handled the whole thing. I decided I wasn’t going to pay to go to any event there. A friend of mine said this was pretty ridiculous since concerts would make Philips so much money, “it wouldn’t make a difference.” I was kind of flummoxed by the idea that he assumed that was the point, as though I was puffing my chest out about it. “I just don’t want to go, no more no less,” I replied. That I was having any “real” impact beyond that didn’t really occur to me.
While the “real” impact of the whole furor is seen to be whether or not Chick-Fil-A was helped or hurt by all this, the real question to be answered is “which way does this move, if at all, discussions on gay rights?” Might it have a psychological effect in November when people might actually vote with their…vote? Or will it instigate a further discussion on the concept of gay rights and whether rights are determined at the polls to begin with? Whatever the case, I have a feeling we’ll continue to prioritize our votes by dollar, rather than votes or civic activity otherwise.