the beautiful and the banal

Superfriend butting in here to say: Let’s have a Tom Shales kind of morning, shall we? He’s in rare form — and believe you me, I don’t say that lightly, still not having forgiven him for not understanding why Jon Stewart is funny.

He takes on last night’s NBC coverage of the opening ceremonies of the Athens Olympics. And he is dead on. Mostly.

He isn’t quite as impressed as I was by the pageantry of it, which is truly some of the most amazing theater I’ve ever seen on that scale. Theater managers all over the world have to be dreaming of replicating effects like the human statues and the costumed people that seemed animated through the effect of exquisite make-up and wardrobe that moved like drawings. One of the best things about it was its complete disregard for any sensibilities other than the aesthetic — you would never see anything that interesting in an American-created Olympic opening, because we would be too afraid at pissing people off by showing a glimpse of a human breast, or having a couple roll around lustily in a giant lake, or the Greek god Eros flying around in naught but a drapey loincloth. The switchboards would light up, the hands would cover the mouths and we’d be reading about it for three months. It would disintegrate our moral fabric. Right?

But incorporate some athletes at the end and some stupid commentary so people don’t feel threatened by the intellect behind it all, the symbolism (which is surely rated I for inappropriate on television), and people can deal. As long it’s happening in Greece.

Bob Costas and Katie Couric should be ashamed at their running idiocy during the entirety of the show’s majestic portion. They only seemed to get their sea-legs when the parade of athletes started. I actually turned to Mr. BondGirl at one point and said, “This is what it’s come to?”

This comment was provoked by Katie Couric’s reading off an index card that the foustanela skirts several men on one of the floats were wearing consist of 400 pleats symbolizing the years during which Greece was under Ottoman rule. To which Costas replies, “I wouldn’t want to have to press that!”

I. Wouldn’t. Want. To. Have. To. Press. That.

Bon mots singled out by Tom Shales in his column included:

The very quotable Archimedes . . . was an excitable guy,” Costas said as if talking about another of his chumpy sports chums. “But we must make allowances for genius, I guess.”

…Costas to recite the plot of “Oedipus Rex” — how he murdered his father and married his mother, with Costas adding that this was “a sequence of events that seldom turns out well.”

Once Couric and Costas shut up and put aside all the notes about Greece that NBC Sports researchers had assembled for them, the pageant had other inspired touches besides Cube Man. The huge stadium seemingly turned into a large man-made lake for costumed performers to skate on. A 9-year-old boy had the thrill of gliding around on the pond in what looked like a giant paper hat. It eventually broke into several pieces that were suspended by wires and dangled up into the stratosphere, or near it. Ever-ready with the concise acerbic remark, Couric looked at the kid and declared, “He’s so cute!”*

* Note to Shales, the kid in the paper hat actually came BEFORE Cube guy. What happened was the giant face representing early sculpture broke apart into all those more natural representations of the human form, and which then settled into the lake to represent the Greek islands. Quite awesome actually. But unfortunately, B & K still had plenty of notes and yammering to do.

I suggest you check out the Washington Post’s photo gallery, which has the only photos that come close to getting the cool stuff, such as the amazing Centaur and the columnistas. It’s here. (You’ll have to click to photo 4 or 5 to get to the good stuff.) The BBC has some decent pics here.

Perhaps if we combined a plot from Six Feet Under, where David gets carjacked and hijacks the entire rest of the episode with melodrama, with Bob and Katie, we’d have a winner. Bob and Katie carjacked outside the Olympics, the cast of Six Feet Under must narrate the opening ceremonies.


  1. Okay, so he’s against Stewart, but he was one of MST3K’s grand champions. Plus, he co-authored a juicy history on SNL. So Shales is pretty cool in my book. 🙂

  2. I watched the Opening Ceremonies for about 2 seconds but the spectacle made my head hurt.

    OTOH, Michael Phelps is my new object of drool. That is, until Alexander Popov starts competing later in the Games.

  3. I am a total whore for anything with a red centaur. And I suppose that counts as spectacle…

    Michael Phelps ALSO counts as spectacle in that def. And they got Paul and Phil to call the men’s road race.

  4. You know these games need? Fred Willard’s character from Best In Show.

    “Hey, and there’s Eros! Is that an arrow in your loincloth or are you just glad to be here?”

    “And there are the atheletes from Iraq! Boy, I bet those guys are glad to be here. You know, in the old days, Saddam would kill their families and cut their toes off if they lost. I’ll bet they’re glad to be done with that, huh? I mean, sure it’s less pressure, but I imagine they won’t do as well in the events. I mean, going for the gold is nice and all, but I would run a lot faster if I knew I was gonna get my toes chopped off. What about you, Katie? Would you run faster if you were gonna get your toes chopped off?”

    “They tell me that outfit is supposed to be dedicated to the Ottoman Empire. Now Bob, you’ve done this Olympic thing before. Maybe you can tell us, shouldn’t that be draped on some kind of furniture? Seems obvious to me, but I’m not a history guy.”

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