Saturday, February 8, 2014

MTVP Sochi 2014 Olympics Coverage: Opening Ceremony

It’s Olympics time again, this time coming to you from the resort town of Sochi, Russia. I’m just going to admit this right here and now. I am a complete Olympics junkie. I love the cheesy pageantry of the opening and closing ceremonies and the treacly culture and athlete stories that are a staple of NBC’s coverage. The Olympics combine two things I love: learning about other cultures and watching sports. I’m not as obsessive about Russian culture as I am about British culture, and I’m not as amused by Russian culture as I am by Canadian culture, so the Sochi opening ceremony was a different experience for me compared to London or Vancouver. I don’t dislike Russian culture by any means (I’ve wanted to learn to speak Russian for a long time), it’s just not as much part of my life. What I found most amusing was how my Facebook feed blew up last night as all my musician friends started commenting on the music choices. Yes, Russia has human rights issues, but you can’t deny that Russians have supplied us with some gorgeous music. They played Firebird as the torch was lit, y'all!

My favorite moment from last night happened even before the opening ceremony itself. The choir from Russia’s Ministry of Interior Affairs (or closest analogue is Homeland Security) performed Daftpunk’s “Get Lucky.” What I find so hilarious about this is how the younger guys, especially the two soloists, were so into it, and most of the rest of the officers were barely tolerating the silliness. And it’s not some “oh look at the silly foreigners” amusement to me, either. I’d find it just as hilarious if some Maryland State Troopers (and I know several of them from my day job) did the same thing. Check out a clip below, or go here for the full performance.

For this Olympics in particular, it feels like you can’t have an honest discussion about what the event means without talking politics and human rights a bit. Most prominent at the moment are the recent steps the Russian Federation has taken to be more unaccepting of the LGBT community. My Facebook news feed captures friends with a spectrum of sexual orientations and almost as diverse a spectrum of opinion on whether it’s okay to support these Olympics in Sochi. Some of my friends are refusing to support the Olympics in any way, and some were upset at how the NBC coverage was condescending towards Russia. I will admit that there were aspects of the NBC coverage that did feel like some of the commentators wanted to re-fight the Cold War, and we’ll get to that in a bit. Overall, I feel like it’s okay to enjoy the Olympics as a celebration of sport and appreciate a display of the best of Russian culture, while being mindful that there really are atrocities happening there as well.

As for the show itself, there were ups and downs. The two main performance pieces were a bit early on with the show featuring a little girl named Love dreaming of Russia, and a segment which showed Russia’s history. There was a scene of Russia in the Middle Ages, then Imperial Russia, then the Revolution. I especially liked a reenactment of a scene from “War and Peace” that involved some impressive ballet. I’ve never read “War and Peace” myself, although I have two coworkers currently reading it. I think they’re nuts, personally! That being said, I really appreciated the quality of the ballet in that particular segment. When we got to the Revolution segment, that’s when the NBC commentary got a little awkward. They started talking about how the symbolism had to be vague because the USSR was so horrible, and it had to be abridged so that Russia could have a “usable past.” Yes, horrible atrocities happened (and there still continue to be human rights violations), but people are still people, and the tone of the conversation was disrespectful. We Americans aren’t exactly completely innocent, either.

Let’s take a moment to talk about one aspect of the Opening Ceremony that is always going to cause laughs, and not always directed at people from other countries. I’m talking about the Parade of Nations. Team U.S.A.’s uniforms were especially unfortunate this year. In fact, I don’t think I’ve really liked our Opening Ceremony uniforms since the 2002 Salt Lake City games. Those uniforms were made by Canadian outfitter Roots, and while I’ll admit the hats were kind of strange, they seemed younger than the uniforms Ralph Lauren has made ever since. Yeah, it’s cool that Ralph Lauren went out of their way to make sure every component of the uniforms this time around was sourced and created in the United States, but that doesn’t mean the uniforms look good. It looks like I could buy one of the sweaters for the Ugly Sweater Contest at my office holiday party next year. Seriously. The sweaters are hideous. There weren’t any uniforms that stood out as being especially stylish this year. Even Team Canada, styled by the Hudson’s Bay Company, looked a little ridiculous this year with Mountie-ish pea coats and maple leaf mittens.

While Sochi hasn’t really inspired me yet, I’m still looking forward to these Olympics. I’ll probably be sleep deprived for the next two weeks thanks to staying up late to watch the prime time coverage every night. I’m especially looking forward to figure skating and cheering on USA Hockey. Team USA seriously needs to avenge that gold medal loss to Team Canada in 2010! I’m especially excited that James van Riemsdyk, formerly of my beloved Philadelphia Flyers, now of the Toronto Maple Leafs, will be playing for Team USA. What I like about the Winter Olympics is that I can just turn on the television, and I’ll be entertained by just about any sport that is on. Except maybe curling. I still find curling kind of suspicious. It’s too quiet!

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