Frances Bula header image 2

Hey, it’s okay to be grumpy about the Olympics

February 11th, 2010 · 18 Comments

I heard the cheering and shouting near my house this afternoon so I, like many others in the neighbourhood, ran out to watch the torch-runner go by. It was weepiness-inducing to see school kids and little old ladies and people being pushed in wheelchairs hustle along our NDP-voting eastside streets to wave flags and cheer as the torch-runner, some young girl, jogged past us.

But in spite of that — and in spite of the fact that I finally went online this week and bought a ticket at five times the list price to see a figure-skating practice, something I’ll be going to by myself because I couldn’t talk anyone else into it — I feel it’s important to say that it’s okay to feel grumpy, whiny, cranky or any other negative emotion about the Games.

Yes, I love the enthusiasm and the sense of fun and the people roaming around town in all their multi-coloured uniforms, which I got to see when I walked downtown to do my regular CKNW appearance this week. But I really don’t enjoy all the hyper-ventilating boosters who think that you have to LOOOOVE everything about this mega-event or you’re a bad Canadian.

More than one person I’ve talked to has commented to me how happy they will be when the Games are over — not because of the traffic issues or the media madness or any of the other negatives — but because we won’t have to listen to all these Chamber of Commerce types constantly telling how how great the Games are and how they’ll salvage our limping economy and how awful it is that anyone would complain or protest against them. Some days, I feel like I’m in McCarthy’s America (“Do you have now or have you ever had any negative thoughts about the Olympics?”).

The reality is that many of us are ambivalent. There are parts we like and parts that make us feel like we’re being taken for suckers or that some weird group of hostile aliens (aka VANOC) has taken over my city.

My feelings were validated this afternoon when Angus Reid came out with a poll, which you can read here, saying that people have mixed feelings. They like the athletes; they can’t stand the people who are running the Games. They see some benefits, but they also worry about the long-term costs — and not just how many years it will take to pay off the Olympic village condos. They agree with Olympics opponents that money is being wasted, but they don’t want protesters disrupting the Games.

And that’s fine. It’s mindless to think the Games are all good or all bad. They’re complex events and we’re right to enjoy what’s enjoyable and be critical of what’s been badly done. Maybe our whining and griping will have an influence on the next Games that are put on or the ones after. That would would be a pretty good outcome actually.

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  • Well said Frances.

    Those who can find something to enjoy, that will be fun for them, should make the most of it. There is a lot of free entertainment, folks don’t have to go to sporting venues to have a good time.

    At the same time, it isn’t un-Canadian to be critical of the Games. Peaceful protest has to be tolerated, violence or vandalism shouldn’t be and I’m sure that it won’t be.

  • Higgins

    Well said Frances.
    What boggles my mind is how easy people pretend to ease into those Anthony Robbins trademarked, hyperventilated “seminars” that we see now, packaged in the form of “torch relays”. Adults behaving like high school students before their evening dance party, pass the joint, don’t be selfish, booze, bring more booze. And the Mayor by far is the biggest Joker of them all. Phew.

  • Dan

    Reading Gary Mason’s column in the globe today was gross. It was like listening in on a dinner party full of some hard-line olympic boosters, talking about the “bloody protesters.”

    “The Mounties have promised a measured response to the protests. We all can only hope. That doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to moronic activity that threatens the integrity of the Games or hinders people’s ability to enjoy themselves.”

    Who advocates harsh crack down on protesters to a group of law enforcement people that frequently go way overboard? He says hes appealing for reason form “both sides of the barricades” but the piece reads like a really threatening letter to the protesters, subject: “don’t f*ck this up your punks!”

    Though I am currently living out of province, I am excited for the Olympics being in Vancouver and wish I could make it out. but the more and more vancouver media try to paint the city as this unified Coke drinking giddy mobb, the more and more I wanna hop in a protest.

  • Rick

    I saw the torch pass by my workplace today. It was nice to see the woman carrying the torch had a big infectious grin. But I wanted to hold up a sign saying “thanks corporate sponsors for cheapening this moment”

  • shannon d

    Thank you Francis. We were just remarking on the increasing “you’re with us or you’re against Canada, children, sports and probably puppies too” mentality that seems to have seized many otherwise sensible people.

  • Olympic Committee is nothing more than an a content provider for the media industry.
    Actors of this content are so-called “Athletes” some become rich and famous most will stay in the shadow with struggling life like in any other entertainment industries.
    Stage of this content is the so called “host city”. Some gain something of the exposure, most get nothing but debt.
    Live Spectators, like in any TV show are a necessary ingredient for a good picture, but nothing more.
    Act (Olympic committee call it “sport”) are chosen according to how sell able they are, usually “X” things sell well…
    But because Olympic Committee has been founded at a time the main entertainment providers were circus and funfair, it has also some circus act, like the bullet man: In Olympic verbiage, it’s called ski jumping…
    Because Olympic committee carries heritage of the age of peplum and before, it has introduced a kind of greco-fascist packaging to its content still appealing to the mass: after all we still appreciate to see “Ben-Hur” or “the ten commandment” from time to time: isn’it?

    There is nothing wrong with all of this, and it is certainly OK to enjoy it like any content, after all it is the purpose of the entertainment industry to amuse us, and sure the show can be nice when paid with the kids education money, but no-one should fool itself about this Barnum remake and its values.

    In order to maximize its profit, the Content provider want also take control of the stage. It could be OK if the stage was not a real city…
    (It has been decided it was OK to paint whole city’s buildings to the Color of some sponsors, but not OK to put animal picture on your balcony… image rights of a whole city financed district are fully owned by the Olympic committee..sexual discrmination is also OK under this committee’s law…)

    It is where the corporate value should be bounded by the democratic ones.

    Unfortunately, instead our democracy prostitutes itself to it, like a movie starlet willing to do anything to get under the spotlights.
    It is also Ok for a whore to enjoy to be abused…but noone should fool himself, about her values.

    So let’s enjoy the games, but don’t forget it is a pretty guilty pleasure build on the wrecking of our democratic, freedom and human right values.

  • Glissando Remmy

    Well said Frances.
    Voony, so true.
    One have to be a great man to speak the truth but one have to be a greater man to accept it. So far none of our “leaders” are to be found in these two categories.

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • Thank you!! This post articulates exactly how I’ve been feeling…as if I’m in both camps, fully aware of and in agreement with anti-Olympics issues and the reasons behind them, but also personally a huge sucker for big events and getting swept up in it all. And trying to balance not letting those responsible “get away with it” while simultaneously not trapping people like torchbearers or athletes in the cross-fire. I alternate between finding the protesters counterproductive and thinking that it’s still necessary/good for people to occasionally be disrupted out of rose-tinted bubbles of complacence.

    In the end, it’s nice to read/hear that one’s feelings are valid no matter where they lie here…though a little bit sad that this is something that has to be explicitly stated.

  • grounded

    Agreed. The Olympics make people very sensitive. A long-time acquaintance and very big hockey fan revealed a paranoid side this week, blurting out online that “all Olympic haters should just shut up”. I tried to explain why people have some legitimate beefs about the Olympics in our fair city but he wouldn’t have any of it. I also tried to explain the importance of dissent and debate in a democracy but he didn’t want a rational discussion of costs and benefits. He just saw it as an affront to his precious sporting extravaganza and all other consequences be damned. It’s as if I were questioning his entire worldview. Very strange.

  • Peter

    Couldn’t say it better myself! I’ve compiled a list of news articles, which I give to people when they ask me why I dislike the VANOC debacle.

  • IanS

    I agree completely with this: “It’s mindless to think the Games are all good or all bad. They’re complex events and we’re right to enjoy what’s enjoyable and be critical of what’s been badly done.”

    I was kind of skeptical and “grumpy”, for lack of a better word, but stopping in at the David Lam Park “Live City” event for the torch last night went some way to converting me to a more positive attitude. There was a real sense of excitement and enjoyment in the air, which I haven’t experienced in Vancouver since.. I don’t know when.

    Yes, there’s lots to dislike or question about the olympics, but equally, there’s lots to enjoy and, as you say, its kind of a mindless approach to take the event as all good or all bad.

  • “It’s as if I were questioning his entire worldview. ”

    Questioning the phenomena of the mass spectator event is doing exactly that. Nobody wants to face up to the fact that our culture, with its preoccupation with immediate gratification w/out a full accounting of the costs involved is akin to putting a gun to our grandchildrens’ head and pulling the trigger until it just makes a clicking noise and brains and bone are spread everywhere. That kind of cogent comment doesn’t get you invited to cocktail parties.

  • Jackie

    Great post, Frances. I’ve been thinking about these issues a lot lately, and you hit the nail on the head. Thanks!

  • MB

    @ Chris Keam, I’d say it’s also akin to putting the gun to our (i.e. The Boomer’s) own heads.

    Surely the Olymics debt will be paid down in part with future cutbacks to healthcare … just when Boomers will need the system en masse.

    Yet I suffer a little from doublethink on this one too. While I agreed with the slogan ‘Healthcare Before Olympics’ issued by the early protestors (in 2003 I was putting my mother into a care facility after a 4-month stint in hospital), I kinda get off on plunging into the crowd of 250,000 visitors who profess mostly glowing reports of Vancouver.

  • AJ

    I am grumpy but trying to see the positive side. There is that “palpable sense of excitement.” I’ll be downtown for the opening ceremonies tonight. Wilco is playing tomorrow night – an outdoor venue with an international audience.

    That said, if the labour pool is roughly 2.5 million in BC and the “just-Olympics” portion of the bill works out to $2 billion or so, that leaves $800/worker. I was away at school, unable to vote on the plebiscite. The rest of BC will see little return on their “investment.”

    It’s all just a massive misallocation of resources.

    And Boomers will never see the brunt so long as they maintain a majority.

    Healthcare funding increased 70% since 2001.
    Taxes were cut during Boomer’s peak earning years.

    My tuition more than doubled.

  • landlord

    @Chris : “cogent”? “cocktail parties”?? It’s amusing to see a blogger complain about the drawbacks of instant gratification.

  • Landlord:
    cogent [ˈkəʊdʒənt]
    compelling belief or assent; forcefully convincing

    cocktail party
    people gathering and drinking various alcoholic beverages, sometimes discussing topics relevant to their interests.

    Any other ??s?


  • Well, this thread may be dead, but I spent today wandering around the downtown, and the city looked so spectacular, I just had to write it here for posterity! I was VERY PROUD of Vancouver, my city, and while I still get upset at the thought of just how much money has been spent, I think the place was wonderful….and maybe, just maybe….there will be dividends for all that VANOC and the city administration have accomplished over the past few years.

    It was great, and I urge everyone, even the grumpy ones, to take a look at our city through ‘new eyes’.