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General Pop Culture, In Defense Of

A Brief Word on the Olympics and the Value of Criticism

Here’s the thing: I like a healthy dose of both sides, positive and negative, in my Olympic coverage. Another thing: the Olympics are awesome and probably always will be, but they’re also a cultural event, a sizable blip on the world’s pop culture radar. Because they’re in the spotlight, they’re open to criticism, and we’re seeing more of it during these 2012 games than ever before.

As someone who prides myself on my ability to think critically about all sorts of things, I happily support staff writers for magazines and websites writing articles like this one (http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/8220839/terrible-fashion-2012-london-olympics) that are a little jokily snarky about the Olympics in one way or another. This writer is still clearly having fun watching the Games, but he’s also not letting the glitz and glamour of it all cloud his razor-sharp critical mind. He spits a little good-natured vitriol towards the Olympic fashions, a minor part of the Games at best. (Best line: “He looked like a man whose apres-swim tinnitus is ‘Let’s Get It On.'”) 

Here’s another critical article, this one more aggressively disparaging than the first. This author comes across as a bit more of a cranky old man than the author of the Grantland piece, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have valid points scattered throughout.

Most Olympic coverage is rapturous and awe-filled, and while those pieces are rightfully front and center, I like reading a perspective that isn’t so glowing sometimes, too. I sometimes feel like articles pertaining to the Olympics can be blinded by sentimentality, especially NBC’s human interest biographies they choose to air instead of additional footage of athletes in either the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. (Semi-unrelated: Kevin McFarland articulates some of my thoughts perfectly in this piece: I’d much rather see someone who is happy to make the podium at all than someone indignant about receiving a silver medal.)

This naturally raises the argument that criticism subsequently equals cynicism, which I wholeheartedly disagree with. Yes, the two often go hand in hand, but some of the best critics are the ones who let moments of adoration peek through their writing in between disparaging comments. Those bits and pieces are the cookie dough chunks in the ice cream: you keep coming back for more and more of the delicious ice cream, hoping for another chewy morsel.

What if every critique was glowing all the time? It would be exhausting. A constant stream of anonymous bitching would also be overwhelming, which is why I mentioned that I appreciate the criticism of staff writers earlier, people whose livelihoods are based on their words, not just Joe Schmo on the Internet saying that Michael Phelps is just a big Butterface or that NBC is royally screwing the American public with its coverage of the Games.

All I’m really trying to say is that thinking critically about things is a very valuable skill, and I’m glad to see writers putting out intelligent think-pieces on what the Olympics are doing right and wrong. The Games are one of the most thrilling events in any given year and the coverage, both positive and negative, only adds to the overall awesomeness of watching athletes at the top of their game compete for the top honor in their respective sports.

And, for the record, I watched the interview with Tony Azevedo, the open-robed gentleman mentioned in the first article above; the writer is right on the money. He looks like an idiot, and I, for one, am glad somebody wasn’t afraid to say so.

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About Cory Hershberger

Neurotic/eclectic critic obsessed with pop culture who enjoys good food, good company, and, most of all, good books.

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"Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind."

-Virginia Woolf, "A Room of One's Own"

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