The opening ceremony for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro takes place Friday.
A reason to celebrate because, as you know, they might have been taking place in Chicago, a kind of surreal mockery added to our usual set of grim urban woes such as holding a child’s birthday party with balloons in the middle of a blood-soaked battlefield. Dodged that bullet, for once.
You’re not watching, are you? Whatever for?
You do know about this internet machine, correct? That anything halfway interesting immediately will be tweeted and Facebooked and ballyhooed around the world. Why park yourself for five hours in front of the TV when you can just hoover up the highlights, should there be highlights, the next morning?
Me, I plan to be at Millennium Park on Friday night. Some kind of concert.
Yes, to be candid, had my wife not come up with that outing, I might have sprawled on the sofa to check out the opening festivities with all the minor countries you forgot existed, marching in with all sorts of fashion nightmares: “Look, the team from Kyrgyzstan seems to be wearing green oven mitts on their hands.”
I would indulge the dull, might-as-well-see-the-spectacle curiosity. I would flash back to the 2008 opening ceremony in Beijing, a chilling demonstration of totalitarian power, this $100 million, four-hour show of old Red Army-style coordination with 15,000 slaves in mechanized synchronization all designed to overawe viewers into submission. You couldn’t watch it and not think, “Surrender is our only option.”
Rio will have a completely different feel. The only question is whether it’ll come apart during the opening ceremony or later? Or somehow lurch to the end without complete disaster, whether security collapsing or the swimmers killed by polluted waters or swarms of Zika-infected mosquitoes driving the crowd from the stands. I hope it doesn’t. The normal intercity schadenfreude isn’t in effect here; you pity Rio too much. I truly hope they’ll muddle through just because disaster has become so commonplace that anything working halfway well, anywhere in the world, is to be wished for. At least it’s possible.
We haven’t even talked about the athletic events. With the exception of parents of high school athletes, nobody cares about these sports, competitive swimming and pole vaulting and such. You never think, when it isn’t the Olympics, “Boy, I’d love to watch a discus being thrown.” The other 206 out of the last 208 weeks, none of this stuff crosses your mind.
And a good thing, too. A lot of the Olympics is just plain disturbing to think about. Gymnastics at the Olympic level is child abuse — they should just arrest the parents of Olympic gymnasts as they arrive in Rio and immediately hand their children over to family services to be fed and allowed to play for the first time in years. That the Indianapolis Star let loose with a jaw-dropping expose about how USA Gymnastics routinely buries widespread accusations of sex abuse among coaches only underscores the creepy vibe that accompanies any sport involving bulked-up-yet-still-emaciated 16-year-olds twirling through the air in their underwear.
No, don’t write in. You love the Olympics. Fine. You went to Sydney in 2000 and had a great time. Fine. Better you than me. For me, the only thing to celebrate about the Olympics is that it’s taking place in Rio and not Chicago.