Reasons to Get Involved with the Winter Olympics


Scott Phillips

Scott Phillips is our sports guy. He took issue with my (Alex Russell)’s opinion that the Olympics aren’t as interesting as we’re being told they are. You might say he took many issues. The following is his reasoned response.

As we roll along in week one of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, I’m continually puzzled by the lack of interest from friends and colleagues as one of the greatest sporting events in the world goes on. We’re past all the bullshit about the underdeveloped Olympic Village — and town of Sochi — and the games have finally begun. Bob Costas even took a day off to rest his eye and keep it away from Russian water. (Sidenote: If the Russians somehow hurt Bob Costas, this is grounds to potentially re-ignite the Cold War. Costas is a fucking American treasure.) But the games themselves? I feel like I have nobody to talk to them about. And I’m confused why… I hear a few gripes about the Olympics — mainly Winter — about them being boring, or lacking name recognition, etc. I hate these arguments. If you like sports, you should like the Olympics. Here’s why:

The “name-recognition” argument: This is an argument that I hear a lot in regards to the Olympics. It usually breaks down in some capacity to, “I can’t name more than five people in the Olympics,” or snarky, asshole detractors will challenge someone with that same line of reasoning: “Name five people in the Olympics. Go ahead. Do it.” [Editor’s note: he means me, and honestly, I still don’t think people can. I also asked for six, but I don’t think five is possible either.] You don’t need to name people to have a rooting interest because you can use the names of countries. You did watch Carmen Sandiego as a kid and can name more than a handful of participating nations, right? There you go, rooting interest done. If you love America, root for the American. Learn about someone from a state you never think about and root for the fuck out of them while enjoying a beer at the bar. Root against those “terrorist countries” you believe we’re facing until you’re blue in the face. It isn’t difficult to figure out. And if you can’t get into rooting for countries? Gamble on that shit. Drinking games; money; push-ups; dinners. Gambling is for everyone now. It’s American. Kids gamble. Your grandparents play bingo. Do it. The “I don’t know the sports” argument: Bobsled, luge, skeleton and skiing are all ridiculously exciting to watch and involve a person that could get catastrophically injured in one wrong turn. No, this isn’t the NASCAR argument to watch for the sake of the crash. But when a human being is moving 60-80 miles per hour on snow and ice it’s pretty incredible. If you live in Chicago like I do — well, shit, seemingly everywhere this winter got snow — you’ve experienced snowfall and realize how it slows everything down. Well, now, imagine crazy people flying down steep and dangerous courses of snow and ice. How is that NOT exciting? It’s not like they show this every week, either. It’s once every four years and it’s pretty damn entertaining to watch after a few beers. That doesn’t even include all of your friends that recently got into hockey because the Blackhawks got good again being really into the hockey portion of the games. And speed skating? C’mon, you’ve been to an ice or a roller rink and tried to race your friends while knocking over the uncoordinated kids. This is the same shit, but on a global scale for millions of endorsement dollars. Apolo Ohno eats Subway every fucking day now. For free. Show some respect. \

The “there isn’t any black people” argument”: Yeah, I really have nothing for this one… Chance to watch white people celebrate and dance regularly, which is funny for all races? That’s all I got.

The “I’m at work argument”: I get it, you like to watch live and many of the events are on during the work day. But you aren’t a writer and can’t sit around doing nothing, watching the Olympics all day like I can. You have a 9-5. Then figure it out! American ingenuity! You have sick days, vacation days and work-from-home leeway. You have the Internet at work and on your phone. If you’re a teacher, show that shit to your students. Make it educational. The “globalization of something-or-other.” Done; lesson planned for two weeks. Kids will love it. Well, there you have it, folks. Tons of reasons to get involved with the Winter Olympics. They’re gone before you know it and you shouldn’t miss them.

Image source: AP

Kristen Stewart’s Public, Private Poem: Celebrity Poetry and the Sadness of the Watcher


Austin Duck

When I sat down this morning, I didn’t intend to write about celebrity poetry (because who cares), but, after a brief glance at my long-neglected Twitter account, one thing was clear: Kristen Stewart wrote a poem and everyone thinks it’’ bad.

And, well, it is, it’s really bad (you can read it here), riddled with the self-obsessions and obfuscations that litter beginner poetry—private poetry, really (but more on that in a bit)—and thrust onto center stage (via Marie Claire and Entertainment Weekly and the dozens of other blogs that have picked it up to garner a little viral attention for something other than talking shit about Sochi [the irony that I’m writing about it right now is not lost on me]). But why is it here? That’s what I’ve been wondering all morning. Why does anyone care whether an actress writes a bad poem?

If you think this will be a large-scale condemnation of audience by some high-minded, poetry-for-all douchebag, you’re sadly mistaken. Remember that Twitter account I mentioned? I almost exclusively use it to tell James Franco to kill himself. Instead, what I’m interested in knowing is why, why is this a spectacle? Why does the production of a poem in general—usually so unnoticed that I dare you (MFA-holders excluded) to name three poets writing today or even to tell me who the last poet laureate was—create so much buzz when it’s bad? I mean, I know why James Franco’s does; it’s because it’s absolutely mind-numbing how he buys his way into the poetry community, gets thousands of people to buy SHORT STORY collections or pick up avant-garde poetry journals like Lana Turner to read his work, and then it reads like someone who wasn’t listening in school, who’s never read a poem before, who’s never thought to themselves holy shit! There’s so much I don’t know. Rather than just getting my work out there, I should take a minute to learn how to make it worth being out there because poetry isn’t just personal expression, it’s a fucking public performance made in language that other people need access to!!! (Alright, truth time: I feel some feelings about James Franco.)

I feel though that, K-Stew’s (can I call you K-Stew?) case is different. I don’t think that anyone actually believes she thinks she’s going to become a poet, hold NYU, Stanford, and Warren Wilson hostage while she shoots movies, etc. Instead, this seems sensational precisely because it is, because it is a first-class American spectacle, and one that has pretty serious implications.

The “theory” of spectacle that I’m using, though, doesn’t come from newscasters tweeting about shitty water in Sochi (take that SEO [Editor’s note: totally tagging this with Sochi now]) or from some super high-minded critical theorist; instead, it comes from what I intuit in David Foster Wallace’s story “Mr. Squishy” (from the collection Oblivion) to be an actualization of spectacle, one that I have a hard time articulating except by giving you one of the story’s plots. In this particular plot, there is a man, possibly carrying a gun, climbing a very tall building, while, in the plaza below, people watch. No one can really make out what he’s carrying, why he’s climbing, or even what he’s wearing, but they keep watching, making up stories, and hoping for a clue. But that isn’t all. There are also those inside a department store in building he’s climbing who can’t see him, but who can see those on the plaza reacting; they watch with equal amazement at the inscrutable intention of the reactions of those watching the climber because they can tell they’re watching someone watch something important, but they don’t know what.

It’s a pretty heady metaphor, I think, for how we might begin to talk about K-Stew’s poem (and public reaction) and why it’s here as “news.” Let’s start from the top (bad pun intended): K-Stew (already such a celebrity that I feel no remorse about associating with thick soup) publicly releases a private poem. Why she does it, we have no idea, but that she does it, we are certain, and, when we read it, it becomes clear—to those of us who are such assholes we say we read poems regularly—that this is what we might talk about as a “journal” poem, or a “private” one. This type of poem is one that isn’t meant for the public, not because it contains too much personal information, but rather because it is inaccessible. It doesn’t create a pattern for the audience to interpret. Instead, it jumps around using private references, phrases that are meaningful to the author but are totally unclear/uninterpretable to the audience. What I mean is that there’s no frame of reference through which all the metaphors (the devils, the sucking of bones, the pumping of organs, and the digital moonlight) become meaningful (that’s what public poetry does). Instead, we have someone really high up doing something that we fundamentally can’t understand.

But we are not the ones watching from the ground. Remember that. K-Stew didn’t come to your house and say “check out this poem I wrote.” Instead, she wrote something she was excited about, something she thought was “really dope” and shared it—seemingly offhandedly—in an interview. The interviewer, along with all requisite editors, publishers, and the like, then, make up those on the ground, those looking up and determining the spectacular, the that-which-must-be-named-and-in-naming-must-be-acknowledged-as-exigent. But what is it about a college-age girl writing a poem is exigent? Nothing. So, instead of telling us what they saw—which they didn’t because it was either a) uninteresting [as an event] or b) unintelligible [as a poem]—what we are given are reactions, judgments, “fan-annotations” as something to snark about (because, let’s be real, we’re a snarky bunch). But the worst part, and I do mean the worst, is not that we are laughing at a girl who attempted to make something and failed, but that we are accustomed to, expect, even rely on arbiters of “spectacle authority” to tell us that publicly sharing a poem is “embarrassing,” that the poem is “bad,” to point upward and react so that we know we should.

Obviously, I know that I’m not saying anything new about celebrity journalism, the divide between the celebrity and the non, or about what it means to “produce” or to “be produced by” news (and, to some extent, language itself measuring the world [sorry, I know I’m being a jackass here]); that’s not my aim. Instead, I want to talk about the profound sadness that comes with being in the department store, with not having access to the spectacle, with not really knowing whether the spectacle exists. I don’t mean this to demean, nor do I mean it to be ironic. What I’m talking about is the kind of sadness that comes from hearing an ex-lover singing in the shower just after you’ve emotionally (though not physically) separated, the song so far off that you can’t make it out, but you know she’s singing because, every once in a while, a note comes through, and you dream of the time when you could lay at her feet, stand next to her, and hear the singing, and though it didn’t matter, maybe even the song was bad, there was something spectacular about the moment. Even though you didn’t get to choose the song—maybe you didn’t even like it—you chose the spectacular; you weren’t locked out of the world quite yet, and sincerity wasn’t completely lost on you. You wanted to tell her she was beautiful, that her song and the water and the chill of the air was enough; you were reacting. And all you want now is the right to react, to be included in the song of a life you don’t have access to twice over—first because you never really know who someone else is and second, because now there’s something, spoken or otherwise, mediating your experience.

So our snark, then, becomes the boot that kicks the lever that sends the cage falling down onto the mouse in the mediated mousetrap of our experience of celebrity, specifically K-Stew and this rotten poem, but more generally with whatever else. And it’s easy to kick the lever without the context that comes with the actual creation of spectacle (as in subjectively spectacular rather than, as I’ve come to think of it, watching the gleam off another’s glasses and using that flash of light, that bit of the song, that obfuscated poem to determine how we react, what we say, what we participate in); we’re fighting for human engagement, to be part of a community, to be like girl, that’s not a great poem but what’s going on in your life and are, instead, moved farther and farther from where we started. That’s the sadness of watching in culture, what we are moving through, even K-Stew… even James Fucking Franco.

Image source: Us Weekly

Your Twitter Guide to #Sochi2014

Scott Phillips

One of the amazing things about Twitter is the real-time access you get to anybody that you follow. Bob — that guy you work with — might royally suck on conference calls, but maybe he makes some witty remarks on the CTA every morning. That little cousin of yours probably can’t string two sentences of real words together, but at least they have Twitter to talk about #oomf (one of my followers; get with the times, you assholes).

But Twitter is also granting us some amazing access to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, where journalists from around the globe are sending some pretty ridiculous images of the semi-completed Olympic surroundings.

Here’s a snapshot — no, not a Snapchat, that’s for another time — of some of the more interesting things we’ve seen in Sochi so far.

Since the Olympics is about the athletes, we’ll start with their accommodations. Hockey will be the sport that the casual fan of the Olympics will watch the most because of the involvement of NHL players, so that makes this photo even funnier.

Canadian hockey players are supposed to sleep and get laid in twin beds that are, like, a foot apart? Can you imagine Jonathan Toews trying to bring groupies back to his room?

“Hey, how you doing? Jonathan Toews, Stanley Cup champion. I signed a multi-million dollar contract, but do you wanna come back to my room and kick it on my twin bed with my two roommates? Also, we need some extra towels if you have any leads…”

As media members have checked into uncompleted hotel rooms, normal things in America like lightbulbs, door knobs, soap, and shower curtains are becoming hot items on the Olympic media black market.

The thought of someone like Dan Wetzel, a national sports columnist who makes six figures to comfortably cover every major sporting event from a prime location, trying to trade three light bulbs on the Russian black market for a doorknob is just awesome.

Then there’s this horrifying revelation: Russian water will evidently melt your face. Or, Olympic corporate sponsor Gatorade has taken their branding in Sochi to the fucking next level by replacing water with lemon-lime Gatorade. I mean, do people in Russia have enough electrolytes?

The water has been a much-discussed issue in Sochi and if you can get clean water at all — and it also happens to be hot! — then you’re basically staying in the best hotel room in Russia.

Why are there stray dogs fucking everywhere in Sochi? Have we established this yet? It’s like that scene in A Christmas Story when dogs are just randomly running through the kitchen tearing everything apart.

There’s also the famous story of the German photographer that tried three times to check into a hotel room in Sochi only to find a stray dog in the third room he was shown.

Did Stephen King have Pet Cemetery filmed there?

Manhole covers: We evidently take them for granted in America, but here in Sochi, they just call it “population control.” Not watching your kid? Sorry, mom, your son has fallen into the abyss and is playing an underground level of Super Mario World right now collecting coins and crying like crazy.

Seriously, why isn’t this the universal sign for bathrooms all across the world? It completely gets the point across and is so much more entertaining to look at than what we have now in America.

That’s not creepy or anything… Forget about things like privacy and an ability to sleep soundly thanks to randoms coming in and out of your room to see if construction is complete.

Maybe some other journalist offered a few million rubles to steal your hotel room. Try telling your boss that you have to cover Ice Dancing from your hotel room because the construction workers keep trying to break in to steal your instant oatmeal.

Well, there you have it, folks. Some of the crazier shit we’ve seen on Twitter from Sochi. And we’re still two days from the Olympic Games even beginning!