Somewhere between the sad ska band and the sad swing dance, you got the feeling Tokyo’s heart wasn’t in this whole Olympics thing.
Sunday’s closing ceremony had all the usual nonsense – music numbers, tired and emotional athletes spread out on the infield, Uncle Tommy Bach lecturing us like he’s reading off a box of detox tea (“united by emotion, sharing moments of joy and inspiration”). But none of it added up to anything.
I mean, this stuff isn’t hard. Just think ‘Super Bowl halftime show with an educational component’. Hire Lady Gaga or Celine Dion or Beyoncé. Fix the stage so they come popping out of it at a moody moment dressed like a visitor from the future and boom! You’ve got yourself an extravaganza, my friend.
Japan’s goodbye was so flat they might want to take a look at whoever handled the budgets. That money went somewhere, but none of it showed up on television.
The evident lack of effort and ambition was highlighted by one section – the French bit.
During the hand-off between Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024, every pre-recorded segment popped.
In shots taken from the rooftops, Paris looked alive and new. Like you could go back there for the first time. Like you should go back there for the first time.
The centrepiece was a live view from the foot of the Eiffel Tower, where thousands of unmasked, cheering (Ed. note: Huh? Wut’s that?) locals, along with a collection of French medallists, were overflown by stunt jets trailing the bleu, blanc et rouge.
How much of a bummer was Tokyo 2020? The previews were better than the feature.
Everyone knew Tokyo (undeniably great though the city is) would not be able to escape the terminal entertainment velocity caused by plague. But everyone also secretly hoped the city would figure it out. That somehow all the weirdness would make this one better than the others. Instead, it just made the Games weird.
The Olympics creates an unreasonable expectation: that each Games will be special. Not just in itself, but to you specifically, the viewer sitting at home. That during those two weeks you will make special memories with family and friends. That the younger you are, the more indelible those memories will be. That the weepy ads about kids who grow up and call their moms every single day are true. That’s the Olympic viewing promise.
That promise is getting harder to fulfill. When a lot of us started out on this wagon train, there wasn’t anything else on in July except the Olympics. Jingoism was en vogue. People were convinced they looked good in flat caps turned backward. It was a different time.
But now – as the Canadian Olympic Committee might put it – there’s a lot of content out there. U.S. TV execs are trying to figure out where their ratings went. Was it politics? Was it the time difference? Was it weariness?
How about Netflix? Maybe this was the Games that got eaten by streaming.
Along with a lot of other trends, that should terrify the IOC. It should especially terrify it knowing it has dropped the ball on quality control.
No decent manufacturer releases a new product to market knowing it’s going to be okay, but nowhere near as good as the last version. That’s what the IOC did in Tokyo.
The Olympics isn’t The Sopranos. It can’t be great for five seasons with one stinker wedged in the middle. It has to be great all the time.
Because if you bore people, they will start to think about what they’re watching. Then they may realize they are not watching a global celebration of the community of man. Instead, they are watching a fancy track meet.
Are you planning on getting up early to watch six hours of diving or skateboarding or marathoning in the next few years? Of course you’re not.
You know what’s different about the two things? The logo.
In the NFL, they say ‘protect the shield’. Football has had multiple existential crises over the past decade, and been declared dead more often than a narcoleptic possum. But it’s thriving. The IOC ought to take notes – protect the logo.
Beijing is going to make things more difficult. That was an ambitious plan (‘Let’s go over to our bully’s house and see if we can make friends!’) that has already gone awry.
But assuming the Olympics comes out of that intact, there is Paris.
It is also unreasonable to expect Paris to save the Olympics. But that’s what was promised on Sunday.
The French could’ve got whoever passes for the Serge Gainsbourg of the ‘20s – some vaguely recognizable ugly-sexy muppet brimming with undeserved confidence – to come to Tokyo and pop out of a gateau. That would have been more in keeping with the tone of this closing ceremony.
Instead, they went for it. What caught your imagination was the crowd. They were excited about the Olympics. For all I know, they were paid actors. But they were convincing.
When was the last time anyone who doesn’t have a stake in this thing or expects a cut, was out in public being giddy about the Olympics? It’s not fashionable any more. Instead, you are supposed to wring your hands about the cost, and climate change, and the global rich-poor divide.
Those problems have always and will always exist. What’s changed is that we once saw the Olympics as a brief, deserved escape from them. Now we are told to see it as a reminder that they’re getting worse.
Unless there is a radical change in global circumstance, the Olympics aren’t going anywhere. But that doesn’t mean they will always be good and/or popular.
If the IOC wants to keep this thing on top, it needs to start producing special Games again. Games everyone can agree weren’t just diverting when your own people were winning. But Games that make the heart swell.
That’s the mission Paris volunteered for on Sunday. Let’s see if it is still up for it in three years’ time.
The Canadian Press