Sunday, February 26, 2006

Miller Time, Dude

Sometimes, seemingly fleeting parts of our pop culture are such perfect metaphors for larger realities that it's almost too easy to point out.

Watching the U.S. ice hockey team defeat the Soviet Union and go on to win the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid was one of the formative experiences of my youth---partly because I played ice hockey in school and on a club team at the time. The Americans were underdogs from the start; the team was seeded seventh out of twelve teams, and it lost to the Soviets 10-3 in an exhibition game a few days before the Olympics began. But my friends and I were obsessed with that team; we idolized each player and committed their biographies to memory. And we weren't alone. The entire nation---beset by inflation, lines at gas pumps, crime and urban decay, the Carter presidency, the interminable hostage crisis in Iran---projected its need for heroes onto that team. In retrospect, the gold medal marked a national rebirth on many levels that lasted for the next two decades.

Flash forward to 2006. The most visible athlete at the Winter Olympics is Bode Miller. He's celebrated by a media machine as a sort of Marlboro Man on skis. A "60 Minutes" feature, Madison Avenue eagerly at his door, cameras and microphones recording his every move. What's his appeal? He just goes for it, dude. It's all about the attitude---and in his case the partying, about which he freely boasts to a spellbound press. The actual skiing? Hey, he'll get to that when the time comes.

And when the time came, here's how our celebrated gold-medal favorite did:

Downhill: 5th
Combined: Disqualified
Super-G: Did not finish
Giant Slalom: 6th
Slalom: Did not finish

We arrived with the attitude. Everyone else left with the medals.

But of course drawing a larger metaphor to a nation in debt up to its eyeballs, a media machine that celebrates the famous for being famous, a live-for-today culture with Las Vegas as its temple and Paris Hilton as High Priestess, the primacy of "heckuva job" spin over actual results, and the invasion and wrecking of another nation based on little more than the rigor of "kids rolling around on the lawn" and a let's-just-do-it-dude ethos---no, that would be too easy. Almost corny, even. So I won't. Better to let our new heroes speak for us. Here's Bode Miller in an introspective moment, thoughtfully reflecting on his Olympic performance:
"I just did it my way. I'm not a martyr, and I'm not a do-gooder. I just want to go out and rock. And man, I rocked here."
Perfect, huh?

55 Comments:

Anonymous Eddie said...

At least there was Joey Cheek, the gold medal winning speed skater who used his 15 minutes of fame to promote helping the dying in Darfur, and ended up raising nearly $400,000 through donations of his own and corporate matching donations.

2/26/2006 9:43 PM  
Blogger SimoneDB said...

Via James Wolcott, an essay on "The President and Mr. Miller," by Tom Watson:

...it's one thing to be an over-hyped, overweight slalom slacker hanging out till all hours in the bars of Turin, letting down your sponsors, your teammates, and your fans. To me, athletes never really let their countries down - that nationalistic stuff is just for T-shirt sales. The Olympic movement is about as idealistic as the Nike advertising budget. In the end, Bode Miller really disgraced no one but himself. His stupid little episode will fade, and his moment on the public stage is nearly at an end. George Bush's incredible failure will be with us for many, many years. Increasingly isolated (if that's possible) and with his dream team riddled by buckshot and scandal, our national ski bum has the country on the icy, dangerous downhill towards disaster.

George Bush in the flight suit on that carrier was Bode Miller in the Nike ads before the Olympics, all image and promise. No substance and sacrifice, no guts and inner fire.

2/26/2006 10:03 PM  
Blogger jim in austin said...

And lets not forget Lindsay Jacobellis' little show of hubris. Quite the pair they would make...

2/26/2006 10:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is Bode Miller old to be our next president?

I heard the Bush Administration is looking for a scapegoat when the house of cards collapses down. I can actually see Karl Rove working behind the scenes to get Hilary Clinton elected so she can take the hit.

Can anyone else see that?

2/26/2006 10:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's been pretty obvious, seeing the current administration and general culture in the US, that words have been speaking much, much louder than actions for the past few years.

2/26/2006 11:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oprah onced asked Nichole Richie and Paris Hilton what they were going to do with their lives, because they were famous for being famous.

I'll add to your 'what were they thinking' list: the reality show "Growing Up Gotti", and professional atheletics who play in the Olympics (ie., US Hockey team). I don't think any Olympic qualifing athlete should be interviewed until after the Olympics are over. Bodi said he could have come in 1st if it weren't for the other guys in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th. I think Tanya Harding had that same attitude ;-) when Nancy Kerrigan's knees were slammed with a steel rod. I think Bodi is a great advertisement for Alcoholics Anonymous.

Jimmy Kimmel did a funny skit on USA sports that get added to the Olympics (i.e., snowboarding), and other US "sports" that should be added.

2/26/2006 11:36 PM  
Anonymous nil said...

Why is everyone ripping into Miller like he's the whore of Babylon? And why the comparisons to certain blue-blood alcoholic daddy's boy ne'er-do-well?

Miller grew up in a cabin and he made it to #1 in the world. No one gave him anything, the sport world is a meritocracy, and he made it on work and talent. 5th and 6th at the Olympics is actually not flopping. If you look at this year's FIS standings, he was 7th in the downhill and 6th in the giant. If US olympic coverage made it seem like he was a shoe-in for 5 gold medals, blame NBC. You can't ask any skier to win every race, no more than you'd ask a broker to make money on every deal. He didn't steal anyone's spot on the team, there is no other American who should have been there instead of him. Not unless you care more about attitude than aptitude. In a team sport, you can make a case you'd prefer an egoless team player to an extravagant diva. But skiing is not a team sport.

In some sports (long track speed skating, cross-country skiing) athletes push themselves to the limits of human endurance. These guys would not even think of partying, they simply would not be able to perform the next day. Alpine skiing just is not one of these sports! Now if the guy was 37th in the world and refused to listen to his coaches, I'd be the first to kick the arrogant bastard's ass. But the guy has been in the top 5 for the last 5 years. He has the track record to blast anyone lecturing him on how he should run his professional life.

2/26/2006 11:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But the guy has been in the top 5 for the last 5 years. He has the track record to blast anyone lecturing him on how he should run his professional life.

Yeah, and he took a boatload of money from NBC and Nike for his trouble. Which amounted to zilch at the Olympics. JoinBode! Or, not.

Look. If the guy wanted to be "all about the game," then he wouldn't have played the media game the way he did. But he did; and he played the media whore while he was skiing.

And then, he didn't deliver. So f(((ing what? Bet it all on red 32, and maybe you come up a winner. Maybe not.

2/27/2006 2:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your post gave light to the question I asked myself from day one of these Olympcs:

Why the hell did thee U.S. media hang its Olympic hats on Bode Miller? He embodies nothing other than lackluster sportsmanship, performance, and attitude. Poor form on the part of U.S. media, but are we surprised? I'm sure he'll be on "The Surreal Life" in no time and dispondent Americans will hail his flaws from a couch and still not be able to name the U.S. Secretary of State.

Yay us.

2/27/2006 4:47 AM  
Blogger HomeImprovementNinja said...

He was all sizzle and no steak, just like the rest of his generation. A self-important hack who thinks he is entitled to things by going through the process, not achieving the results. Reminds me of all these college graduates who want six figure salaries because, despite having no work experience, they got their MBAs/law degrees and have, therefore, allready paid their dues before they walked in the door.

2/27/2006 6:19 AM  
Blogger Mark Jones said...

While this is my favorite blog, and I usually agree with you, in this case you are a little off the mark. Bode Miller is not a metaphor for anything. He's just an athlete who mailed it in; no different than some NBA or NHL players who have "mailed" it in recently. For whatever reason, Miller did not show up. But the majority on the US team did show up, and performed fairly well. It is true that these games lacked anything remotely close to the 80's miracle on ice; as someone who watched a great deal of the coverage, I was waiting for some magical moment. It didn't come. We'll just have to wait for 2010.

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2/27/2006 10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After being a huge Olympics fan for years, I did not watch the games this year. I kinda figured it would be, at least with the Americans, a bunch of hype, ego, etc., in sum, the worst of our culture.

I didn't miss the games a bit.

2/27/2006 11:56 AM  
Blogger copy editor said...

Amen. At some point, he'll realize how much of a failure he is. Or at least I hope that will happen.

2/27/2006 12:42 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

A very interesting point that I could see myself making if I was just a bit smarter and more cunning. Honestly though I was struck by our failed showing in Italy and wondered if it might not be a symptom of a deeper problem going on for it is hard to root and work loud and proud on behalf of our corrupt, degenerating nation at least these days.

2/27/2006 2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I wouldn't scapegoat Bode. He is just a pawn in the advertisors' plans to use the Olympics to sell their products. The only reason we know so much about him is that he was chosen for the role before the beginning of the games. They are desparate to develop personalities to hawk their goods.

2/27/2006 4:40 PM  
Anonymous Antonie said...

Let's not exaggerate. There were "The Flying Tomato", Julia Mancuso, Belbin-Agosto, Apollo Ohno, the speedskaters, and the curling team. I'm surely forgetting some. Hats off to them! Bode Miller would have been better off just sticking with his results of four years ago. Returning ahtletes often seem to have a hard time. Let's also not forget that American athletes often get considerably less financial and other support than athletes in other countries. Our athletes have to turn to sponsors and commercials with all the added pressure. I'm not saying our system is better or worse, but it puts our athletes at a disadvantage.

2/27/2006 9:30 PM  
Anonymous Digital Amish said...

Ah ha! Finally something to disagree about with our host.

Screw NBC, Nike, Time and all the other hypesters. Miller got hyped by these guys because they thought they could make a bunch of money off of his talent. Well, they were wrong. So Bode Miller didn't win five medals. Ya know what? There's about 50 other world class skiers that raced in the Olympics and matched Bode's production. And if they raced again next week there would be different winners and different also rans. These guys are seperated by fractions of seconds.

Jacobellis? Exuberant, brash and excited. Good for her.

All the bellyaching by a bunch of overweight armchair athletes who have their nationalistic pride wounded by the failure of media annointed darlings to deliver our divinely entitled gold medals.

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