Time to Pass the Torch

It strikes me as the height of irony that the Olympics are all about competing to be your best yet NBC’s coverage of the event is a monopoly that has allowed it to be its worst.

I thought this on Friday night as I sat watching the opening ceremonies “live” from London, a full half day after they happened –- which as it turned out was as quickly as any human being in Los Angeles (except those who work at NBC) could get them.

This would have been bad enough had the opening ceremony not gone on to include duds like:

  1. The real Queen of England and the real actor playing James Bond exchanging pleasantries in Buckingham Palace, followed by their (presumed?) stunt doubles jumping out of a helicopter into Olympic stadium.
  2. A floorshow featuring an odd pastiche of agrarian, industrialized and social media-ized Great Britain over the course of several centuries, interspersed with very brief verbal recitations by Kenneth Branagh and J.K. Rowling while hundreds of extras danced in period costumes to the point of distraction.
  3. And a finale of Paul McCartney singing a slightly off tune “Hey Jude” (why that of all his songs?) that made one wonder WWJLD (What would John Lennon Do?).  In answer to the latter I say something welcomingly naughty, but one can only IMAGINE on that score.

What is happening here??

Call me crazy ( or even “maybe” since its Olympic-related) but all this activity made me rethink if being a little desperate and hungry is a good thing (as opposed to starvation and “The Hunger Games”), and if perhaps a few rounds of good old, level-playing field, REAL competition in the world might not just be the better answer for at least some of the things that ail us.

These thoughts surprise me since I’m not much into sports and certainly don’t think unfettered, free-market capitalism is the answer to anything but 21st century greed.  Still, you have to wonder when a corporation like NBC is able to shell out $4.38 billion (yes, that’s a B!) in order to hold you captive to its whims, ratings or otherwise.  One could argue that for billions of dollars a corporation (who the US Supreme Court recently ruled is indeed human) has earned/bought the prerogative to do exactly as it pleases and, legally, one could argue that one is right.  Except – if you toss out legalities and use common sense – is it???  And is it wise for us?

The Olympics are about excellence, humanity (the non-corporate kind) and grit.  Yeah, there’s money and sponsorship and opportunity thrown into the mix but, when it comes down to it, you can’t prevent a superior athlete from a war-torn country from decimating another from a large, rich industrialized nation and thus prove his or her superiority for all the world to see.  In other words, at the end of the day it’s not about how much money you have but how good you are at what you do.

This is not the case for cash rich NBC or for the rest of us who choose to watch the show and, as fans, expect to at the very least see the real version of a live event we elected to watch.

Despite Twitter, You Tube, Facebook and other streaming technology, NBC has figured out a way to block almost all immediacy of every match up and thus render its billion-dollar coverage pretty lackluster for world-wise consumers.  Yes, there is online streaming of each event but only if you are in front of your computer at the precise moment NBC’s cameras happen to be there in London time.  Otherwise, for the competitions geared to primetime (meaning all the ones you really want to watch), you have to wait 9-12 hours in order to raise NBC’s prime time ratings.

In need of a serious lift…

True, you can watch it some 9-12 hours later on your tv/tablet in high resolution and technically feel as if you’re there, both out front and backstage.  But that’s only technically – meaning high def, clear as glass pixel images.  What you might consider the best parts of the event STILL get cut or filtered by correspondents who you’d rather see serve as the actual bullseye in Olympic archery than pose as experts asking the questions you might never ask if given the opportunity to have been there live yourself half a day before.

For example, in its infinite wisdom, NBC chose to excise what was arguably one of the most emotionally moving segments of the opening ceremony – a haunting tribute to victims of the 2005 (7/7) terrorist bombings in London which occurred just a day after the city was chosen to broadcast this Olympics.  Instead, NBC decided American audiences couldn’t relate to worldwide terrorism and chose to run an interview by its new resident haircut Ryan Seacrest (who Deadline Hollywood’s Nikke Finke recently dubbed the “Viscount of Vapidity”) with uber Olympian Michael Phelps that could have won Olympic gold itself were they giving out medals in television blandness.

Am I sounding bitter and petty?  Then don’t take my word for it – judge for yourself.

The memorial tribute you missed

click for full video


click for full video

The Viscount of Vapidity barely distracting Michael Phelps on TODAY

(because all copies of the infamous Olympics interview has been removed from the Web)

Seacrest is an apt target of derision not because he’s uber successful and wealthy but because he is so clearly devoid of anything related to what the Olympics is really about – namely excellence and grit.  He is everything the Olympics isn’t.  As was NBC’s decision to use this interview instead of staying with one of the few planned emotional moments that director Danny Boyle (who also had little competition) created for the London ceremonies.   It makes one wonder whether the Olympic Gods actually decided to curse Phelps to fourth place and thus deny him a medal of any kind in his first race in London in retaliation.

Thanks Zeus!

Certainly this is life in the real world when everything, including all of us, are on the chopping block for a price.  But what the top 1% of the “job creators” need to know is that the changing platforms in world media will not allow them to gorge themselves with a diet of indulgent choices forever.  At some point, there is an Arab spring for everything – a “tipping point” where audiences turn off and, as they used to say in the sixties, “turn on” in ways their elders never imagined.  Ask the music industry.  Check in with the production heads at film studios.  Survey some of the smarter, more prescient business people in the world who make their money by inventing things and recognizing trends or potential needs.  You might want to even call some of the leading climate scientists who were being laughed at 10 or 20 years ago if the recent rash of heat waves across the country haven’t knocked out your phone service.

All of this is what makes the world a still somewhat pleasant, amusing and consistently wondrous place to live in.  There is indeed something called evolution, despite the very vocal minority of worldwide religious fundamentalists who to this day spend a lot of their capital (both financial and intellectual) trying to deny it.  Evolution is defined as “the development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form.”  What that means is that try as one group might to make choices for you that you don’t want, eventually that one group will overreach and the world will change enough and evolve to something more complex that will accommodate the majority.

Oh I could puke.

There is no timetable on this, as much as one wishes there were.  But it will happen as sure as Seacrest will manage to annoy me sometime in the very near future (try today).  Because what it will come down to is a world that runs, and has always run on good old level-playing field, real competition – whether it be women’s volleyball, horse dressage or corporate indulgence (some might even go so far as to call it censorship) in any particular industry in any particular year.

Competition ain’t so bad!

The wisest among us, both individual humans and the corporate kind, will take the lead of the most practiced Olympic athlete at their peak performance and prepare for the race that will inevitably come.  The competition is long but ultimately there can only be one real winner.  Despite what we’re being sold.  Or told.   And both history, as well as evolution, have a way of making things right – or at least giving the least likely among us more of a fighting chance that we will run with.

For Jessica

The likelihood of surviving a mass shooting in one country and then being gunned down less than a month later in an unrelated mass shooting in another country is the kind of overwrought dramatic coincidence most writers tend to avoid.  Except when it happens in real life.

Lots of people have been telling the story of 24-year-old Jessica Ghawi, one of 12 fatalities in this weekend’s shooting spree at a Colorado theatre during the midnight premiere showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”  And looking at the facts, it is certainly understandable.

A weird feeling told Jessica to leave the food court of a Toronto shopping mall last month and she followed it.   Three minutes later she stood in terror as gunshots went off, screams were heard and people were instantly killed and injured.  Jessica instinctively knew that when a strong inner voice or instinct speaks to you, it’s usually a good idea to take it seriously and at very least listen even when there appears to be no apparent logic involved.

Jessica wrote about these odd feelings and more in her blog a few days after the Canadian tragedy — certainly something I can identify with.   If she was anything like the rest of us bloggers, and I have every reason to believe she was from both her active blog and twitter posts, I can surmise it was her way to deal with the confusion, pain and probably some huge amount of gratitude at having survived a potential tragedy when others were not so lucky.  Perhaps there was even some unconscious guilt involved.  She was a young person with a journalism internship in her dream career as a sports reporter.  She was even sometimes getting to cover her dream sport – hockey.  And up until that moment she was on a cool trip to Toronto, by all reports visiting her boyfriend, a minor league hockey player.  Life was, as they say, good.

But little did Jessica know that only several weeks later and back home in her own country she would be dead in yet another public shooting spree of which she would have had no warning or even feeling.  But that is exactly what happened to her early Saturday morning in the small town of Aurora (not far from Columbine – the site of one of the most famous US gun sprees until now) while watching a Batman movie. During an onscreen gunfight, life unfortunately imitated art, and pretty quickly bullets were flying at that screen and on through into the adjoining screen where Jessica was shot dead in even eerier circumstances than what she had endured in Canada.  A lone gunman dressed head to toe in black, with a ticket to see the movie, entered the theatre, then exited and re-entered but this time with a gas canister, an automatic rifle, two hand guns and enough ammunition to take down 12 people in cold blood (including a six-year old girl) and injure another 58 more.  It is a scene that not even the most hackneyed of us could conceive of – the kind of scenario that would get stifled snickers in a beginner writer’s workshop and could easily (and most assuredly) get one silently fired from a professional writer’s room.

But as most of us in the arts know, the events and scenarios in real life don’t always make sense and one of the benefits of this profession is you get to spend your days trying to measure and rearrange the unlikely moments of existence in order to do so.  Which is why many of us write or do anything else in the arts to begin with – as if through sheer will we can make some kind of logic out of a random, and often surreally, cruel reality.   The limiting factor is – the moments and scenes in real life often do not happen in linear, three act structure and are frequently far from logical.  While we try to “evoke” truth, it happens each day around us in a way that often defies visual or written description.

We are all connected.

Still, and despite the odds, the best of us soldier forward.  What are we providing?  Sometimes no more than a diversion from the indiscernible.  Other times some sort of safe passage back into understanding for our self and others about our communal existence.  Though both are equally valid, I suspect the latter is what Jessica was doing several days after her experience at the Eaton Shopping Mall Food Court in Toronto.

Jessica’s blog post has an eerie quality in light of the new tragedy in Colorado.  But read without that hindsight, it feels like nothing special – only the sincere, honest musings that could have come from any of us who were enduring a personal tragedy or trauma.  Which is what makes what she wrote so much more powerful than she could have ever realized:

“This empty, almost sickening feeling won’t go away.  I noticed this feeling when I was in the Eaton Centre in Toronto just seconds before someone opened fire in the food court. An odd feeling which led me to go outside and unknowingly out of harm’s way.  It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how a weird feeling saved me from being in the middle of a deadly shooting.

I was reminded that…we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end.  When or where we will breathe our last breath.  I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing…I know I truly understand how blessed I am for every second I am given…Every hug from a family member.  Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude.  Every second of every day is a gift…”

                                                                                                                              – Jessica Ghawi

Jessica was able to bring herself to the page and in simple language make us feel what she felt in some way.  In short, she did what all writers try to do – through words and thoughts transport us into a moment, a situation or a state of mind and in doing so even give us some small perspective on life.  What she wrote resonates for many reasons, but mostly because it is a reminder of how we are more alike than different, how our vulnerabilities actually unite us and can possibly make us less scared in a world where events and circumstances seem to consistently drive us so idly apart.  And sometimes the more ordinary and plainspoken the language used comes across, and the less exceptional the actual words themselves are, the more effective the evocation.  Who among us hasn’t gotten a bad feeling whether it be walking on the street or going out with the wrong person?   Or even taking or not taking a job or buying an item that in either case could have ended up, if not in tragedy, in a mini-disaster like co-dependent enslavement or the final purchase towards our personal bankruptcy?  Or, in less dramatic fashion, maybe only even miserableness or mounting debt.

Those are feelings to listen to and not to think “oh come on, I must be crazy.”

We’ll remember what Jessica wrote and perhaps know on some level that we aren’t crazy in our thinking. Usually, I know, I often jump to the crazy.  Jessica’s words will cause you (and me) to consider in the future that obvious reason is not always the barometer to employ in order to take action even though we’re too often taught it should be, and that unexplainable feelings are not simply a silly notion to be ignored. Certainly, this won’t matter to everyone and perhaps all the rest of us will forget about it in a week or a month.  But at least Jessica did try to tell us something.  And she even took the time to write it down.

Jessica did.

To my mind, that is one of the main purposes of being creative. Not to only get things off your chest, but to – in some very, very small way – inform humanity.  To tell people: you are not alone.  To admit: “Hey, I felt that way too – you’re not crazy.  Or at least – if you are crazy – you’re as crazy as the rest of us – so don’t worry about it.”  It’s both small and large at the same time.  Which is what all good work is.

At the time of her death, Jessica was an intern working in her chosen field.  I work with students like that everyday and I know they sometimes wonder if whatever mundane task they might be doing in life is making any difference for themselves or anyone else.  I myself sometimes wonder these very same thoughts when I think about what I do today in the work I do with them or even in the writing work I do for myself and for others.

following her passion

What I have begun to realize, and what this recent tragedy in Colorado tells me, is that in some small way it always does matter but that the limitations of our human existence doesn’t allow us to always clearly see what good or purpose (even the smallest amount) our work or routine will have in the scheme of things.   In Jessica’s case, she had no way of knowing that one particular piece of writing would also resonate with a tragic irony worldwide of how life turns on a dime.  The legacy of that in itself takes her life to a plane she never could have imagined.  Simply because she chose to, in a consistent fashion, work at her art and commit her thoughts to the page.  Its impact will have unknowable ramifications not only for her memory but also for all of our futures in ways we do not yet know and, perhaps, will never know.  Which is, in the end, what any single one of our lives is all about.