Entertainment: The Olympic Hangover Begins
The 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang get a five-star review from a career movie critic who laughed, cried and finally fell asleep on the couch as the Olympic flame shone a light on our nobler selves.
By Katherine Monk
So it begins. The Olympic hangover. A sad headache prompted by a cocktail of adrenaline, fatigue and extinguished propane fumes. For eighteen days, we couch potatoes put our bodies through the rigours of extended television viewing and all-night streaming. Now sleep-deprived, about three kilos heavier and feeling emotionally bereft without a need to channel hop across the grid, it’s time to look back on the games that were — and what made the PyeongChang Winter Olympics such fantastic entertainment. Obviously, the athletes and their individual feats were the highlight — and the reason why the drama is so sincere, but sorting through the sporting achievements is for experts such as Bev Wake and Rod Mickleburgh. I see the world through the eyes of a career movie critic, and to me, the PyeongChang Games deserved a five-star review for not only delivering top-notch competitions and a record-breaking year for Canada, but for the whole package — from the ad campaigns that forced me to think a little bit harder about the nature of compassion and social responsibility, to the rediscovery of motion picture soundtracks as figure skating scores. The magic is over, but it lingers on my PVR, and in my memory — with these ten elements defining my PyeongChang 2018.
PYEONGCHANG TOP TEN
1. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir
Their gold medal ice dance was just the glittering surface of what they brought to PyeongChang. The two Canadians were the very embodiment of what we see as the Canadian identity: athletic ability, good sportsmanship, palpable compassion and gorgeous teeth. They also embodied idealized love. From their deep, pre-skate hugs, to their acrobatic on-ice embraces, the two figure skaters completely convinced me they were a romantic couple. In fact, I had to look it up. I was among the few hundred Googlers who entered the search term “Tess Virtue Scott Moir Married,” causing it to hit the trend meter. When asked about their chemistry and how they seduce us all, they said “I guess we’re doing our jobs right.” And we loved watching them do it. The fact they aren’t a couple only makes their mysterious chemistry all the more mesmerizing, and their off-ice privacy all the more important — because who wants to ruin the perfect optics? They know exactly where to draw the lines, and they do it with sharp edged perfection. It’s like they were created by an act of collective will to show off the very best in all us, and what we can be as individuals, but also as a people. The proof is all over the ice, and especially, in their perfectly skated final competitive tribute to Gord Downie, and their gala skate to Long Time Running. I mean, come on. How can you not burst at the plaid seams with pride?
2. The Sappy Ads
O-o-h Child… The commercials were hoping to cash in on our collective rush of empathy stirred by the Olympic cauldron, and godammit, the strategy worked — at least in the beginning. I admit to brushing away a tear or two, despite all efforts to remind myself I was being manipulated, by the first few viewings of Procter & Gamble’s “Proud Sponsor of Moms” campaign set to O-o-h Child. The Five Stair Steps’ original hit from the 1970s had real soul, which is why it’s considered one of Rolling Stone’s greatest songs of all-time. Procter & Gamble’s Olympic ads took the song, re-recorded it with a chocking, earnest vocal from Chinese-American Milck, and proceeded to show us a string of ‘outsider’ kids seeking to realize their athletic dreams in the face of implied intolerance.
They had a bunch of them: An African-American girl dreaming of being an alpine racer, a small town teenage boy wearing spandex with a black eye, a female figure skater with a hijab, a poor kid with broken speed skates being ridiculed by rich kids. The ads, created by Wieden + Kennedy, pitch #LoveOverBias and “Imagine if the world could see what a mom does…” Chief brand officer Marc Pritchard said P&G’s campaign was designed for millenials, who consume about four hours of Olympic content daily. “It endears our brand to consumers because they see we talk about the things they care about.”
After seeing the ads about 100 times over the course of the past 18 days, they definitely had the opposite effect: I started Googling P&G’s SuperPac spending and corporate donations, such as their cheques to the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) and Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), both of which received close to a quarter-million to lobby for “sustainable chemical management policies…” Nobody knows how to ride a tide of sentiment to a complete whitewash as well as P&G, but that doesn’t mean others didn’t try the same big air 1080.
RBC and Visa showcased a handful of Canadian athletes who were medal hopefuls, but in many cases, came home empty-handed. Canadian Tire gave us a small town curling rink story of inclusion, a kid learning sledge hockey, and then took cameras across the nation and asked employees to make noise with the merchandize in their “We all play for something greater than ourselves — We all play for Canada” ads. Toyota went for the same world empathy as P&G in its freedom to move spots — showing mobility challenged athletes and innovative technology instead of cars. Air Canada took off along the same runway, but headed further North in the celebration of Canadian values: “This is our time. Our time to show the world why. Why everyone is welcome. Why we cherish our land. Why we find strength in our differences. Because in showing the world why, we’re showing the world how.”
It all added up to something of an ad-based Canadian manifesto about embracing the Other, and a not-too-subtle response to Trumpism. We Canadians love to celebrate multiculturalism. The big surprise was P&G’s gamble to echo the same bid for tolerance in an ad market built on division. For an Ohio-based company that supports a great number of Republicans and tends to back Conservative values, the mom campaign either marked a turning point in corporate culture, or a tour-de-force of peddled hypocrisy.
3. The Fashions
This had to be the best year for winter games uniforms for just about every country, short of the prison-themed garb for the Olympic Athletes from Russia. From the Latvian Airstream-styled bobsledders to our Canadian tuxedos in the ski cross, PyeongChang offered a variety of difference — with each sport getting a chance to express its own style. The big air competitors had some of the best gear, both supplied by Burton. Team USA nodded to America’s 50 year-anniversary of the moon landing, while Team Canada took its cues from the traditional Cowichan sweater. Least favourite: Nike’s outfit for the male curlers: Somewhere between golf pants and pajamas. They looked like a bunch of middle-aged men at the hospital gym. And what was up with those red baseball hats? They had nothing on Team Smurf, the white hatted Russians at the closing ceremonies who embodied the bizarre Russian presence, and simultaneous absence, at this year’s Games.
Team Smurf: The 2018 games gave us Olympic Athletes from Russia, and some of the most memorably uncomfortable fashion moments of the games.
4. The Drones
Who cares if they pre-recorded the opening drone display of the snowboarder and the Olympic rings? The future arrived on our doorstep in a choreographed feat of engineering from Intel that still feels surreal, and way more impressive than any tank or missile.
5. The Photo Finishes
Those crazy pictures with the lines and the elongated body parts. It’s like watching Einstein’s theories come alive, and we can thank Switzerland for all of that. Omega timing systems makes the Scan’O’Vision star, which moves along the finish line shooting at over 2000 frames per second — capturing each body part’s progress across the plane. Learn about the technology here.
6. The Women’s Gold Medal Hockey Game
Without a doubt, the most entertaining contest of the entire Olympics. It didn’t matter that Team USA beat their Canadian counterparts. They all played their hearts out, and it was a testament to team play. Shame anyone had to lose, and even a bigger shame that someone took off their medal in revolt, but for the viewers, it was anything but a disappointment. The game was one for the history books… and two minutes to both teams for looking so good. Seriously. You were all models. In helmets. Black eyes, smokey eyes, and all.
7. Figure Skating with Song Lyrics
Turns out the rule change just allowed for three short programs featuring Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber’s Despacito, Wonderwall performed by Paul Anka, and more than one Hallelujah. The best music for figure skating is still instrumental, and some of the best instrumentals tend to come from movie scores because they are designed to deliver drama and mood changes in short periods of time. No wonder half the music we heard behind skaters came from the movies. We all know Virtue and Moir used Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, but that’s just the tip of the sonic iceberg. Bradie Tennell used Cinderella, Javier Fernandez and Keegan Messing trotted out Charlie Chaplin, Dabin Choi skated to the dependable Dr. Zhivago, Boyang Jin used Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Giada Russo crosscut to Eyes Wide Shut, Larkyn Austman did Cabaret’s Mein Herr, Xianing Li cranked up Cinema Paradiso, Hanul Kim played to the Piano, Satoko Miyahara found inspiration in the official soundtrack for Memoirs of a Geisha and not to be left out, the Star Wars bar music echoed once more.
8. Getting Your Rocks Off
CBC and producers at Windy Isle created a series of spots featuring kids explaining the different sports, the one for curling prompted a gold medal guffaw. Always nice to be reminded they’re just games, after all. The best way to win is to have fun.
9. Jimi Hendrix Reincarnated
I don’t think I was the only one who saw something familiar in the likes of 13-year-old guitarist Yang Tae-hwan when she took to the stage in the closing ceremonies.
10. 18 No Trump
For eighteen days, Donald Trump was pushed to the back of the news cycle and the world almost felt back on keel, with honest competition and athletic achievement standing front and centre. The world of sport has a moral compass all its own. We demand honesty and fairplay. The last round of Olympic Games questioned their integrity at the highest level. Yet, while the State-Administered doping scandal from Sochi continued to leak into this year’s Olympic sample, and the Stoneman-Douglas tragedy prompted a collective moment of silence, the ugliness of the outside world couldn’t taint the pure sense of joy and accomplishment from the athletes who realized The Dream, and became Olympians. They showed us how beautiful, how noble, and how resilient we can be. Champions or not, they showed us what we are at our best, and why the Olympic flame will always gather humans together in a way no other event can. Thank you, all, for the incredible show.
THE EX-PRESS, February 27, 2018