The Olympics are Talking: Are You Listening?

I truly enjoy watching the Olympics. Having played and watched sports my whole life, it only makes sense, I suppose.

I’m the kind of guy who can flip through the television stations on a Saturday afternoon and land on a football game between two no-name colleges, or a ping pong match or a skateboard race– it doesn’t much matter — and before I know it, I’m way more involved than I should be.

Even at an early age, however, I knew there was something more to the Olympics than just mere competition; the games always seemed to communicate something far bigger.

As a kid growing up during the Cold War, it was particularly striking to witness the unifying quality inherent to athletic competition. It was as though the images on our television sets effectively, if only temporarily, reminded us of the undeniable truth that people are people. The Olympics somehow managed to show us in true living color (black and white in my house) that the athletes representing the USA had more in common with their Soviet counterparts than we ever stopped to imagine.

It wasn’t all sweetness and light, however. There was yet another aspect to the Olympic games of my youth that spoke to us on an equally deep level, but in this case it hinted at a truth that a great many people nowadays would prefer to ignore.

The Cold War Olympics stirred something inside of Americans that went way beyond national pride alone and a natural desire to emerge victorious; rather, it drew many of us into the realm of the spiritual as the competition between the USA and the Communist nations became a metaphor for the battle of good versus evil, right versus wrong, and truth versus lies.

That this analogy was implied in the events more so than deliberately crafted made it no less poignant and no less tangible, in fact, its very sublimity rendered the message all the more forceful.

Given its powerful ability to communicate on such a deep level, it’s no surprise that the Olympic games have in fact at times been deliberately leveraged as a tool for social, cultural and political commentary, if not outright propaganda. The Berlin games of 1936 come to mind, as does 2008 in Beijing, and several others in between.

This time around, however, other than those diehard global warming enthusiasts who insist that my pick-up truck is to blame for the rain in Vancouver, the Winter Olympics of 2010 have been relatively low key on this front. But that doesn’t mean these Olympics aren’t talking…

Watching the men’s figure skating competition the other night, I couldn’t help but marvel at the blatant “in-your-face” nature of the regrettably common yet profoundly dangerous message that has become a hallmark of this once proud sport.

What on earth is it, the naïve are still wondering?

The message, as the Kinks put it in their 1970 hit song, Lola, is “boys will be girls and girls will be boys, it a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world,” and guess what? If you buy into all the hype, it’s positively delightful!

I have to tell you; I for one am not even close to being delighted with what I saw.

There seems to be an unspoken competition-within-the-competition among many of the male figure skaters these days. It’s as though each one is trying his level best — be it through make-up, hair-dos, mannerisms or costumes — to out gender-bend the next guy.

Now I won’t lie; I’ve never been a big fan of men’s figure skating. I’ve always kind of figured that any guy that can skate like that should have a hockey stick in his hand and a few less teeth than the rest of us. Even so, back in the day it seemed like breakthroughs in the sport were measured in terms of acrobatics, now they seem to be measured in terms of histrionics as these grown men prance about like little drama queens determined to take flamboyance to here-to-for unseen heights.

It truly is an amazing thing to witness. Now, I may be showing my age here (as though reminiscing about the Cold War hasn’t already sealed it) but the other night’s competition was so surreal it was like watching one of those Saturday Night Live parodies from when I was a teenager.

How far is this spectacle going to go, I wonder? Seriously, is there anyone who watched the telecast the other night that would be even remotely surprised if four years from now one of these guys comes skating out in an evening gown and a tiara?

Even the announcers were not entirely comfortable it seemed, but they dutifully did their jobs as they forced feigned laughter and tried their best to put a positive spin on the clearly bizarre; as if they were laboring to convince themselves as much as anyone else; “isn’t this wonderful!”

If you detect a dash of humor in some of my observations you’re not mistaken. As I watched this folly-of-the-fabulous unfold I was admittedly semi-amused by the sheer ridiculousness of it all, but even though it’s difficult to take a man in chiffon seriously – make no mistake about it – something very serious is going on here and you better be paying attention.

Let’s face it, the current popular culture is hell bent and determined to promote the view that the Creator-given characteristics that define us as male and female are little more than shackles that limit us; imposed as they were by a society that is inherently unfair.

Ours is a world in which little boys are all-too-often trained in the ways of liberal feminism; a place where big boys not only cry but are praised for their sensitivity. As a result, many of our schools have replaced recess and the natural competition that should be expected among little men-in-training in favor of “everyone wins” activities that require no sweat.

As for that natural male aggressiveness; no longer is it guided toward its good and useful application, it’s just treated with Ritalin and deprogrammed away.

And what do we have to show for it now? A metro-sexual class of soft-bellied fellas who are inept at taking charge and making decisions, yet are strangely proficient at plucking their own eyebrows in traffic as they head to their 4 o’clock pedi.

My daughters are now young ladies and — please God — neither one of them seems very likely to become one of those overwhelmed moms who lie awake at night staring at the ceiling after coming to the horrible realization that they married their best girlfriend. Even so, I worry for all of those little boys out there whose parents have bought into the lie and just don’t get it.

If I had had a young son sitting next to me watching the Olympics you can bet he wouldn’t be left to witness the charade of men’s figure skating without some much needed observations from his dear ol’ Neanderthal Dad.

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  • Claire

    I agree with 99% of this article. However, I don’t think it’s fair to make boys suppress their feelings and tell them that it’s not okay to cry. I’m not saying we should encourage them to be effeminate. But if a boy happens to have a sensitive nature (as my husband and son do), I don’t think that makes them effeminate. Everyone deserves validation of their feelings. As parents it’s our responsibility to provide guidance so that they don’t channel those feelings into inappropriate behaviors (such as aggression, shying away from appropriate risks, etc).

  • KMc

    My own mother was in Ice Follies in the 40’s so i grew up watching and appreciating ice skating – I truly love watching the competitions but have to admit the author here is dead on. What ever happened to “manly” skating? I am not talking about doing a quad – I’ll take a solid triple over a frumpy quad any day….I am talking about the manly characteristics that separate men’s figure skating from ladies! My 13 year old WAS watching when these guys skated and when Jonny Weir came out he goes, “I thought this was just for guys tonight…how come that lady is skating?”….teaching moment to be sure. My 15 and 13 year old sons both watched some of the guys skating and took their dads side….it is NOT a sport, it is an exhibition and a “froo-froo” one at that…and wondered why these guys did not have a hockey stick and a few less teeth! It makes their false bravado all the more ridiculous – look at ice dancing…at least SOME of the couples realize that the man must BE a man to do well in this competition. Loved your article – KMc

  • Christi Derr

    I don’t think I can write a large enough “AMEN!” to this article. I am so weary of the gender confusion being pushed on the youth in our society. Lou, did you also notice, the number of advertisements that spotlighted little girl hockey players?
    My husband predicted as a joke, but one that I sure will prove propetic, that the next boundary to be pushed will be same sex couple skating!

  • catholic_mom

    I also long for a return to “valiant” masculinty — not the beer drinking big belly guy on his couch hooting for his team. But let’s name names here: I’m sure the skater Johnny Weir was the most obvious “gender bender” in the Olympics. Please have some sympathy and pray for him. He was blessed with a long, thin body type and what some call “delicate features” anyway, so it’s no wonder he may feel more “acceptance” in gender limbo and probably gets LOTS of encouragement from that camp. I will give him credit for making the Russian Orthodox sign of the cross before and after skating, and I read he was criticized by a gay commentator who said something to the effect that his “feminity” would not well represent the gay male community (what??). Mr. Weir has refused to make any public statement on his proclivities, so let’s give him credit there as well.

    And speaking of tiaras, Lindsey Vonn’s tiara wearing seems awfully little girlish for a presumed adult Olympian…where are mature women? Is everything degrading to dress up play?

  • I miss Elvis Stojko. He was in absolutely no way effeminate in his performances.

  • goral

    Vancouver is the perfect venue for this gay display. Canada loves it as does the left coast to the south. Where are they going to get a better opportunity to wear their pants that tight.

    Sorry Mr. Verrencchio, I’m not listening and I’m not watching. I find figure skating more boring than curling. The real men are on skis and skates without tassels.

    Claire, I also fall into that one percent of men who tear-up rather easily.
    Surprise! I’ve also speedskated since I was a little brawler.

  • Thanks for your comments, all.

    For the record, my reference to boys and crying was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the old saying intended to contrast today’s culture with that of previous generations. It wasn’t meant as an indictment of men who can be moved to tears at all. I’ve been there many times, believe me. : )

    That said, there’s quite a difference between letting boys know it’s OK to be moved to tears when appropriate, and another to raise them to believe that it’s acceptable to burst into tears at every disappointment. To me, the lesson of “big boys don’t cry” is really to say “not at the drop of a hat,” and sometimes it means sucking it up even when tears would be understandable as well. Why? Because in adulthood others will count on you for strength…

    I’ll offer a very personal example… My youngest daughter has Cystic Fibrosis, and there have been circumstances and challenges in her life that had my wife and I worried, frightened and heartbroken. My wife is very strong in her own right, but there have been times when no one would have blamed me for breaking down in tears, but for my wife and for both of our children, I would not let that happen in their presence. At certain moments in life, wives and children deserve a husband and father who can be a rock and still leave no doubt where his heart is.

    There’s a time for a man to cry for sure – sometimes it’s alone and sometimes it’s with his family, but there are also times when a sobbing husband and father is just weak, selfish and a resounding disappointment. Those poor little boys whose parents praise them for their sensitivity when they cry for trivial reasons (and I do know some) are being ill prepared for manhood.

  • Claire

    Point well taken. Even as a woman, I need to work on saving my tears for more appropriate times. It’s very hard for me to hold back when something really upsets me, and it gets really embarrassing sometimes.

  • elkabrikir

    catholic mom: facts are, Julia Mancuso wore the tiara, not Vonn. I’ve pasted an article about it. It’s not childish at all, and even if it were, is that immoral? What about the teddy bears chucked to Michelle Quan over the years?

    “When Julia Mancuso completed her Olympic event — the women’s downhill — in Whistler, she broke out her famous tiara.

    In first place at the time, she eventually lost to teammate Lindsay Vonn, who battled a bruised shin to take gold by just over half of a second.

    But Mancuso kept the tiara on, even on the medal stand. The American skier has been wearing it since her coach gave her a plastic one in 2005 as a good luck charm. She also has a line of lingerie out called ‘Kiss My Tiara.'”

    About the males: One in particular fits the bill. Why don’t you just name him instead of skating around the issue? Johnny Weir. Even my 9 year old son noted it, without any prompting. I then asked him about other costumes. “They’re fine.”

    I think that Weir is a unique individual, who comes off as very strange in many ways to the mainstream world. Is that immoral? (loves all things Russian……?) And I’m strange for having 11 children. Are either choices immoral? However, I’ve never heard him, nor anybody else mention a disordered lifestyle. (Unlike all the evidence that Adam Lambert of American Idol lives and promotes perverted behavior.)

    Weir trains like crazy and is super focused. He doesn’t need to work that hard just to get the pro gay message out.

    Also, don’t tell me that Evan Lysechek or Yvgeny Plenshenko aren’t masculine. How about Barishnikov (ballet)?

    In my opinion, some parts of this article, and some of these comments are bigited. Given your tone, I suppose no people with homosexual orientation can be found with a hockey puck scar on their cheek, or on the football field.

    What truly disturbed me, was the media focus on some American pair skaters who are “shacking up”. I firmly explained to my kids that normalizing fornication is the goal of the announcers and that it was not acceptable. THAT is a much more insidious problem than the obvious tassel on Johnny Weir’s costume.

    Real men don’t wear tassels. Everybody knows that, even a 9 year old.

  • elkabrikir,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Weir is simply the worst of the lot, but certainly not alone.

    “In my opinion, some parts of this article, and some of these comments are bigited. [sic]”

    Bigoted, how?

    “Given your tone, I suppose no people with homosexual orientation can be found with a hockey puck scar on their cheek, or on the football field.”

    Why would you suppose that? You brought a concern for homosexuality into this discussion. I didn’t. This article is about masculinity and the undeniable agenda on the part of some on the Left to feminize males in this culture, an issue that extends beyond homosexuals.

  • Heather-Rose Ryan

    “As I watched this folly-of-the-fabulous unfold I was admittedly semi-amused by the sheer ridiculousness of it all, but even though it’s difficult to take a man in chiffon seriously”

    Really? How do you feel about male ballet dancers? Are they all “ridiculous” too?

    Our son took ballet lessons for two-and-a-half years until bullies at his school picked on him so much about it, he finally chose to quit. He’s 9 now, and he’s decided to start lessons again, which makes us very happy.

    In my experience, the boys who identify as macho “jocks” tend to be most likely to engage in bullying behavior. I have also noticed that they tend to be the least interested in music and the arts. My son observed, “When it’s time for P.E., they all cheer, but when it’s time for music class, they complain about how BORING it is.”

    One problem with promoting the “macho jock” template of behavior and, as part of that agenda, mocking artistic boys/men as “ridiculous” and presumably less masculine, is that you end up driving boys and men out of the artistic field. It also indicates a lack of appreciation and respect for artistic expression in our culture.