On Sunday morning, for the second time in seven months, I took apart my makeshift Olympic viewing station, which consisted of a second computer monitor perched on a TV table next to the sofa from which I could see the big-screen TV. I didn’t do quite as much work for Beijing as I did for Tokyo. I was just working for The Guardian, not NBC.
But there’s a certain melancholy to the end of the Olympics. When I covered the Salt Lake Olympics, they must have had something scheduled for the next day in the convention center that served as the media headquarters, because temporary walls were falling like the end of the Cold War. I was afraid to leave my table for fear that I’d come back with no place to sit.
Closing ceremonies are cool, of course, and you don’t always get to see it all on TV. In Salt Lake, we saw the international feed and NBC feed side by side. Viewers around the world saw a bunch of people painting a circle of ice in real time. NBC saw some commercials and then a circle that had been painted.
But the Olympic flame is extinguished, and we’re jolted back to reality. These days in particular, the reality isn’t particularly pleasant. Thanks, Putin.
Even without global political crises or an irrationally enthusiastic convention center demolition crew, the end of the Olympics can prey on my sentimentality. During the last event of the Games, the men’s ice hockey final, I handed off to someone in Australia. This was an event in China that I covered from my basement in the United States and handed off to Australia for a British newspaper. There’s something beautiful about that.
When I’ve been to the Olympics, I can sense from the staff and volunteers that they’ve come to the abrupt end of something they had been anticipating and doing for months or even years, In 2010, I left the beautiful, happy village of Whistler, wondering if I’d ever get back to someplace so beautiful — and knowing that I would soon be leaving USA TODAY after 10 years.
The best closing ceremony story I have is from Beijing. I was in a bus heading back to the media village while the fireworks were going off. We were going on a freeway offramp, and I could see, just sitting to the side, someplace you’d never be allowed to be in the United States, there was a young mother holding up a young child who must have two, maybe three. The mother was beaming, and the child was just looking on in awe as the fireworks exploded a couple of miles away. We weren’t really that close to the stadium. This child just got a glimpse of the Olympics from afar. I’m guessing this family didn’t have VIP status to go to all the venues.
I hope that child grew up and volunteered for Beijing 2022 and got to see some of it. I hope that made an impression on him that there’s a much bigger world than the Chinese government is going to otherwise give him.
Of course, my sentimentality and my optimism were killed the next morning when our flight was canceled and we wound up in a hotel next to the Hard Rock in Beijing, which is why I have a Hard Rock Beijing T-shirt.
But it’s impossible to see something like that family by the side of the road and not think about the power of sports and the ceremonies around them. They can be absolutely over the top — unless you’re Torino, and the opening ceremony is as half-assed as everything else you did in hosting the Games. (And Italy is getting another chance? Weird.)
These ceremonies mean something. They help bring inspirational stories to life. And there were a lot of inspirational stories. These ceremonies just helped them resonate.
And that brings us back to something else that happened in the past couple of weeks. The Super Bowl. For the first time since X Marks the Pod launched, we have an actual generational brouhaha. So I’m going to talk about that for a bit and then tell some Olympic stories.
This is X Marks the Pod.
The Super Bowl halftime show featured Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent, and Eminem.
So was this aimed at Generation X or Millennials?
To which a lot of people noted the birthdays of most of the performers. They are most definitely not Millennials.
This was the subject of some debate in social media, but the tweet that won the day made no such distinction. Here’s Rodger Sherman:
The best piece I’ve seen that’s longer than a tweet is from Cat Bowen, writing for Romper, who calls the show “an elder Millennial and Gen X dream” but also writes, “As an elder Millennial, I felt seen.”
I hope no one saw me during the Super Bowl halftime show because I was live-blogging the Olympics for The Guardian in my sweatpants on which I had spilled some icing from the cinnamon twists I’d ordered from Dominos. I didn’t watch all of the Super Bowl, but I ate like I did.
So, no, I didn’t see the Super Bowl halftime show.
But I’d argue that it’s complicated. Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg did their breakout work in the early 90s, of course. Eminem and 50 Cent are Gen X age but broke through when the earliest Millennials were in their teens. Kendrick Lamar is a Millennial all the way.
The show did feature things like “guitars” and “drums” and “brass instruments,” which undoubtedly confused most of Gen Z if not a considerable number of Millennials. Score one for Gen X on that front.
Some celebrities, though, don’t belong to one time or one genre. Snoop Dogg is everywhere, like Dave Grohl. Snoop is probably the only person to appear on the Puppy Bowl and Super Bowl broadcast on the same day.
There’s some joy to be found in the idea that the Fox News crowd is clutching its pearls upon seeing all these foul-mouthed, weed-smoking Black people on stage. But if the NFL had really wanted to make a statement with Gen X hip-hop, we would’ve seen Public Enemy doing Fight the Power or maybe doing Bring the Noise with Anthrax.
But no matter who’s performing or who’s playing, the Super Bowl doesn’t have the power of the Olympics. And I say that who marveled at every improbable twist and turn of this year’s playoffs. The Bengals escaped against the Raiders in the wild-card round and won in Tennessee on Evan McPherson’s 52-yard walkoff field goal. The 49ers advanced when the Cowboys made that bizarre decision to have Dak Prescott scramble up the middle with no timeouts left, then won in Green Bay on Robbie Gould’s 45-yard walkoff field goal. The Rams finally put an end to the national nightmare known as Tom Brady.
Let’s sum this one up: The Chiefs fell behind with 1:54 left when Josh Allen threw a touchdown pass — on fourth and 13! — to give the Bills the lead, only to score on Patrick Mahomes’ 64-yard TD pass to Tyreek Hill, only to fall behind again when Allen carved up the KC defense like barbecue — and please note that true barbecue is in North Carolina, but KC’s is pretty good as well — and then to tie it on a 13-second drive and Harrison Butker field goal before winning it in overtime on a pass to everyone’s favorite fantasy football player because the only tight end worth having is Travis Kelce.
Oh, and then the Chiefs lost to the Bengals, and some Wikipedia editor with a sense of humor attributed Cincinnati’s win to the death of Howard Hesseman, who played Dr. Johnny Fever on WKRP in Cincinnati.
The 49ers had several chances to put away the Rams but never did. And then the Rams won the Super Bowl, with a lot of fans in Los Angeles suddenly taking an interest in a team from St. Louis. What? They’re not in St. Louis any more.
So yes, that’s all amazing. But the Olympics gave lessons in how and how not to deal with talented people. Mikaela Shiffrin was given the space to show extraordinary grace when the greatest Alpine skier of all time had the worst two weeks of her career. Russia showed once again that it’s back in Cold War mode, manically manipulating young figure skater Kamila Valieva.
The unfortunate thing about the Olympics from an American perspective isn’t the IOC’s fault. It’s American exceptionalism. We Americans are so wrapped up in our sports that we only care about a lot of Olympic sports during the Olympics.
That’s especially sad for people like figure skaters and skiers who are always one slip away from not attaining their goals. It’s one thing if it happens in a Grand Prix event or World Cup race. It’s another if it happens in the Olympics.
At this point, you’ll want to listen to the podcast to hear stories about …
- Lindsey Jacobellis, whom I interviewed a few months before her high-profile hot-dogging mistake in 2006 and is only now widely known as the GOAT in snowboardcross because she won a surprise gold medal 16 years later. In 2006, people wrote in saying she must hate her family and her country. That’s jingoism for you. I’m glad she won her reputation-changing gold, but it’s a pity she had to.
- The Icelandic handball team of 2008.
- Getting stuck in Qinhuangdao and bribing a Tianjin taxi driver with a pin.
Here’s my Guardian story on Mikaela Shiffrin, Jacobellis and seeing humanity in Olympic athletes.
Here’s my look back at 2008. See Aug. 20 for Icelandic handball.
Gen X news
First, a quick word about Joe Rogan, because people continue to misunderstand him. He’s not some right-wing dude. He’s someone who just doesn’t want to believe things, no matter how authoritative they are. Here’s a Daily Show clip that explains his approach better than I can.
Next up: Remind me to catch up on the last couple of seasons of Pamela Adlon’s show Better Things, about a single mom struggling to chase acting gigs while raising her kids. I enjoyed the first season or two, and it’ll be worth watching the rest so we can build up to the line — ironically noted by Boomer-founded publication Rolling Stone — in the final-season trailer: “For the last time, I am not a boomer. I’m Generation X!”
I also liked the line about exercising every day to have a chance of living past 60. Is it really worth it? I may talk about this in a later episode. Do we really want to live into our 90s if it means we have to spend most of our lives in an endless cycle of self-denial and maintenance? I’m going to need more incentive than that.
The show undoubtedly suffered because the co-creator was Louis CK, who has effectively been canceled.
Elsewhere: I saw the headline “Why Gen X-ers Are the Luckiest People on Earth.” I loved the sub-headline: “Boomers to the left, Millennials/Gen Z to the right. Stuck in the middle is a fantastic place to be.” (I sang and played bass on that song in the last performance of the Vienna School of Rock adult program, by the way.)
But the writer lost me here:
In the nineties, I was caught in the middle of making some difficult life decisions. Should I study technology or social sciences? I did a bit of both and ended up working as a corporate lawyer at a multinational company. The combination of technology and the law appeared to be a great choice. I was good at it and successfully followed the corporate career path.
And in the two-thousands, I reached one of my goals — an executive position and the large corner office that my Baby Boomer boss occupied for almost two decades before he retired with a well-deserved and healthy pension pot.
Yeah, that’s not me. That’s not me, that’s probably not you, that’s probably not a lot of Gen Xers. Those are people who have disposable income and time to write crap pieces like this.
Is Jackass a Gen X touchstone? From Reason, the publication that tries to be libertarian in an era in which the Republican Party pretends it’s never heard of the word: “On TV, Jackass embodied a particular Gen X form of transgression—not a direct challenge to authority, but utter indifference to it.”
But I think it also preyed upon our alleged boredom. I was never that bored. Gen Z folks planted in front of latter-day MTV fare like Ridiculousness are.
Charles Bolinger of the Edwardsville Intelligencer has provided a Valentine’s Day playlist for Gen Xers. Synth sounds of the 80s are overrepresented, but kudos for the Madness song It Must Be Love. Underrated band, perhaps written off because of their quirky videos.
Speaking of music, The Atlantic’s Ted Giola dug into some music data and found that old songs are dramatically outperforming new songs. “The 200 most popular new tracks now regularly account for less than 5 percent of total streams.” He also notes that a lot of Boomer icons are selling their catalogs for a ton of money. Also, if you go to a record store, you’re likely to see a bunch of vinyl reissues — which makes sense, because the generations after us have no concept of paying for any content, let alone music, unless it’s bundled with Netflix or Hulu. And radio, including satellite radio, contribute to the stagnation.
Finally, from the UK, we have news of an exciting opportunity for Generation X. Come work on the railroad!
“With roles including train drivers and conductors requiring no previous practical experience, they are a great opportunity for people of any age looking to try something completely new.”
To quote Nigel Tufnel in Spinal Tap, what are the hours?