Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why The Heck Do We Keep Watching the Olympics?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 50 - tiebreaker

It just doesn’t make sense. I’m not really a big sports fan at all. I mean, I’ll watch the occasional baseball or football game, and about the only sports I play are on a Nintendo Wii. So why have I logged over 20 hours of Olympic watching in the last 10 days?

An even better question: why are the rest of you watching so many Olympic events with me? The rest of the year, I bet 75% of you run out of the room screaming at the sight of a sporting event on your television. And I know that virtually all of you would never dream of spending even 10 minutes watching sports like rowing or synchronized diving or rhythmic gymnastics if they didn’t have the word “Olympic” prepended to their names.

And the sporting events that Americans actually watch outside of the Olympics? They’re barely mentioned at the Summer Games. Baseball is just an afterthought as the American team is composed of minor-league wannabes filling in for major leaguers who wouldn’t dare leave their teams for weeks or even months in the middle of real American baseball season. Basketball gets some decent Olympic coverage—but America stopped caring about professional basketball about 15 years ago. And football? Yeah, that’s what the rest of the world calls soccer, so don’t expect to see touchdowns and two-point conversions at any Olympics on this planet.

So if we don’t watch fencing and beach volleyball and table tennis the other 1446 days of every four years, why are we suddenly glued to our TV tubes for two straight weeks to watch these bizarre sports, most of which America sucks at? I’ll tell you why (and finally tie this article into something money-related, lest I waste my once-a-year off-topic permit): the Olympics are an escape from the financial woes of our everyday lives.

Most people will probably admit that the Olympics provide a nice diversion from normalcy. After all, the Summer Games only happen every four years, so the Olympics are something special—not just some ho-hum boring annual event. But notice that I said the Olympics provide an escape specifically from financial woes. How am I drawing such a conclusion? Well, how else do you explain why we watch 16-year-old girls in skin-tight outfits swinging around on bars and dancing on balance beams only once every four years? Am I still not making sense? Okay, let’s look at it this way:

  • The Olympic games are the most expensive sporting spectacles ever. Putting together a venue for the Olympic games is an expensive proposition. It’s estimated that China spent 12 yuan (approximately $293 gazillion U.S. dollars) to put together the Beijing games. Poor people like us, for some crazy reason, enjoy watching countries spend a ton of money on temporary things. In a few more days, nobody’s going to give a damn about the Beijing Water Cube or Bird’s Nest or Ping Pong Castle. Maybe we just feel good knowing that we use our personal money for more practical things like inflatable furniture and high-definition mailboxes.
  • Most Olympic athletes are, and forever shall be, poorer than us. Except for the gold-medal winners of the big sports who are pretty much guaranteed cushy endorsement deals, 99% of the athletes you see at the Olympic games are dirt poor. Heck, most of the American Olympians are probably making less money than your typical four-year degree-holder. So yes, that guy from Botswana can run 100 meters while you’re still saying “100 meters,” but at least you have food on your table every night.
  • Gold medals are shiny. Forget that many of these Olympic sports have National and World Championships that also award gold medals to top finishers. There’s something about the phrase “Olympic gold” that consistently pulls in those TV viewers. Perhaps if we awarded big hunks of precious metals to doctors, police officers, and sanitation workers, people might start caring about them a little more.
  • The Olympics are a free vacation away from garbage TV programs. While technically the Olympics are reality television, it’s leaps and bounds above the other reality television NBC has to offer (except American Gladiators which is awesome so shut up). Sure, we could do something crazy like turn off the TV and go outside, but why would we want to do that when we can get over 400 different Olympic events beamed halfway across the universe into our living rooms for cheap or free.
  • If you don’t watch the Olympics, you’re a Communist. The U.S. has so successfully commercialized the 2008 Beijing Olympic games—despite the fact that they’re being held in the most Communist country left today—that not tuning in and watching the Nike and United Airlines commercials would be like giving away your constitutional right to sit on your ass and watch other people exercise competitively. The Chinese are already trouncing us in the gold medal standings; you don’t want them to come over here and force their economic growth and prosperity on us, do you?

Essentially the Olympics become much less about the sport and far more about the spectacle—the super-expensive, gold-plated, sponsor-supported spectacle. I don’t know about you, but my wallet feels a little bit heavier just watching a few rounds of women’s floor exercises… well, at least until I start shelling out for assorted Shawn Johnson merchandise.

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