The Beautiful Con

by | July 31, 2012 at 9:46 PM | General

Skeet shooting. Team archery. Field hockey. Canoe/Kayak. Equestrian. TRAMPOLINE.

The sports of the summer games, America.

Why do we care again?

Why do we sit glued to our television sets as Michael Phelps tries to hold off a 20-year old South African 99.999999999 percent of us had never heard of until one minute and 53 seconds before the two swimmers would touch the wall? His name is Chad le Clos, if you were wondering (full name: Chad Guy Bertrand le Clos — according to Wikipedia).

His name might as well be Robert Paulson. We’ll forget it by this time tomorrow.

Why? Because we have nothing actually invested in these games.

Nothing.

Nothing except short-term emotional attachment expertly embedded inside of us by NBC.

Face it. Unless you’re one of the 12 full-time swimming fans in the US, you won’t be watching the Worlds in 2013 to see if le Clos can repeat. You won’t flip on Universal (Universal?) to check if Missy Franklin still has “it” in her next international meet.

Unless you’re the one guy upset about the loss of the Outdoor Life Network, you won’t be tuning into the next ISSF championships to see if Kim Rhode can go 100 for 100.  (That’s right, the ISSF championships. And yes, I had to look that one up.)

Unless you’re hopelessly addicted to the movie “Stick It” (best Jeff Bridges performance this side of Lebowski), you won’t be traveling to Antwerp, Belgium in 2013 to see if Jordyn Wieber can gain redemption at the gymnastics world championships.

You won’t do any of that, because you don’t really care.

None of us do.

Don’t get me wrong. We care right now. We care deeply. When Wieber gets a suspect score or Phelps gets out-touched by .05 or Ryan Lochte fizzles out or USA archery gets walked off on, we care. It means everything in the moment. Over the next two weeks, nothing in our sporting worlds means more.

Every two years, the Olympics pops up and instantly we’re invested to our core in sports which, if they were on any other time of year, we wouldn’t leave them on at our grandmother’s house for fear of potential abuse charges.

But for these 17 days, we’re in. We’re in completely. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

And that’s all thanks to NBC. That’s thanks to a bombardment of media coverage that plays on every drop of patriotism and nationalism running through our veins.

And you know what? We should thank them for that.

In a general sense, manipulation is not something that deserves gratitude. It’s rampant in every corner of our society, and generally it’s a pretty insidious concept (See, “The Expendables II”). But if you can hoodwink me so completely that I care — genuinely care — about Marti Malloy scoring a decisive ippon and winning a bronze medal in women’s lightweight judo, well then, bravo NBC.

Bravo.

(By the way, a “decisive ippon” is judo’s equivalent of a knockout. This is a fact I never thought I would want to know.)

Over the next two weeks, Americans will bleed red, white and blue over indoor volleyball, rhythmic gymnastics, water polo, badminton and something called “soccer.” (I kid, football fans.) We’ll do so without reservation. And as a result, we’ll soar to the great heights of elation and fall hard into the depths of heartbreak over moments we have no rational reason to care about.

The visceral emotion … that intensity of fandom … usually takes a lifetime to coalesce. It’s usually molded from birth, passed on from generation to generation. In the Olympics, it’s instant attachment. In the Olympics, it’s instant glory.

In an age where NBC gets a lot of criticism for its coverage, what the network does best is why we care so deeply about these games. So thanks NBC. It’s a beautiful con. And if I’m the mark, well, being a sap usually isn’t this fun.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.