Saturday, February 25, 2006

Ideologology: the Study of Ideologies

Does anyone else think that speed skaters look like superheroes?

Perhaps I make too much of the Olympics, and of course it's foolish to assign symbolism and significance to a sporting event... But something within me stirs at the collision of cultures that takes place during international sports competitions. I have loyalties to countries like the United States (land of my birth), the Netherlands (land of my residence), Sweden and Norway (lands of my ancestry) -- and aversions to countries like Russia or China (old remnants of my Cold War era upbringing)... But beyond simple nationalism, I've learned that I can observe much in the vices, virtues, and general points of contrast between different cultures represented in the Olympic games.

People in the Netherlands certainly admire their speed-skating superheroes. The country pours almost all of its time, money and attention into long-track skating competitions during the Winter Olympics. And yet, it wasn't until yesterday (third-from-the-last day of competition) that the Dutch men delivered their first gold medal, in the 10K. And indeed, Bob de Jong instantly became a national hero (and not just because his skin-tight racing suit made him vaguely resemble Spiderman or the Flash). It was a joyous victory for the Oranje, and I found myself celebrating with everyone else here in the Netherlands -- in spite of the fact that the primary competition for the gold medal in the 10K speed skating event (as with the majority of the speed skating events) had been an American.

The truth is that I've felt embarrassed by my countrymen in the dark blue racing suits, and I can't help but wonder what America thinks of its spandex warriors? I don't know how much my attitudes reflect a Dutch media bias (although I get more of my information through American news sources on the internet)... or how much I've personally changed some of my cultural filters (weeding out some of the American competitive ruthlessness)... or how much some of the American skaters are just immature and ignoble icons for the world of sporting.

Chad Hedrick and Shani Davis have made a sad spectacle of themselves with their feuding fanatics of the last couple weeks. They've displayed such egotism and poor sportsmanship that it's a shame they grab attention as some of the leading medalists of the last two weeks. I've been particularly astonished by Hedrick, who bubbles arrogance and self-centered rhetoric from every orifice... I feel a true sense of culture shock, even with my own countryman. And this makes me sad. Joey Cheek has saved some face for the USA, with his humble attitude, gracious smile, and generous heart to use his fifteen minutes of fame for something beyond him. But I've observed a general disconnect from me and my American roots -- at least in regard to the skating schmucks and hot-shot skiing playboys of the US of A.

So ground me. Remind me of America's finer points. Or at least reassure me that you are equally ashamed of what's become of our superheroes...


At 6:34 PM, Blogger Bret said...

I too have been embarrassed by much of the egotism of the American team. It's actually turned me away from the Turin Games a lot - when you are watching from here and the media is so biased towards these guys. I wish they would just call them what they are - arrogant! Unfortunately, I was also sad to see Bob de Jong's quips about Hedrick. I was hoping he wouldn't stoop so low. Oh well.

At 8:03 PM, Blogger Jay said...

Perhaps the egotism is partly our fault. America has done a great job (or poor, as the case may be) at overpaying and over-acclaiming their athletes. In a nation where physical prowess brings a bigger paycheck than political, economic, and even academic ability, we are to blame for making these morally- puny-while-muscularly-mighty mortals into hero-like gods. With all the attention thrown at them, how could they not be arrogant? I'm talking specifically about professional athletes, which Olympians are rapidly becomming. What a miserable failure the last "Dream Team" was in the most recent summer Olympics! Stop paying them and endorsing them and let the cream rise to the top. Maybe then we'll see true national embassadors who possess character garnered from refusing to give up when training got hard; who compete out of passion. Not the pampered fat-cats we have now.

At 1:52 AM, Blogger patricia said...

It's cool to read about your growing love for all things Oranje (not that your growing love seems at all to the exculsion to your genuine appreciation of the Red, White & Blue). Your process of cultural acclimation has similarities to mine but in many ways is very different .. or at least your observations surprise me and present things I haven't thought about. I can;t get past the beer & cheese ... let alone having a working familiarity of Dutch athletes (forgive me, European football fans!).
Anyway, the real reason that I am posting is just to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ERIC ... and to post on your blog as a tiny, little birthday gift. Feeding the OCD. ;-)
Proost op jou!!!


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