Every four years, I become a figure skating widower for a couple of weeks. I won’t use the term “chick-flick” because someone out there will find it offensive, but it’s like a 14-day-long one of those. And I have to act interested — in the name of post-Olympics marital bliss. So last month, before the Olympics began, I enthusiastically asked my wife if she thinks Michelle Kwan will finally win the gold in Pyeongchang with a quintuple lutz. I got the I-so-need-a-divorce-attorney glare. I probably should have known better. I meant Tonya Kerrigan.
I’m not sure what happened, though, after that. Despite the usual anticipation and our cherished quadrennial tradition of spousal abandonment in the midst of Winter Olympic fervor, Pyeongchang for the Larsons turned out to be a dud. My wife joined me in my disinterest in figure skating and most other sports. I monitored the performances of and cheered for the athletes from our region, but overall I just wasn’t feeling it. If there’s such a thing as an Olympic Grinch, I was it this year. Not even the welcome absence of Bob Costas and his pink eye could pull us in.
Most Olympics typically produce drama with an athlete overcoming injury, or the beautiful spectacle of flawless athletic execution, or a hopeful Olympian training through poverty and adversity to make it to the podium. Typically the Olympics are a welcome escapist paradox: nations competing under a banner of unity, a reminder of our common humanity, and a whole bunch of other bromidic terms found on a Hallmark card. I have no doubt there were these inspirational stories in Pyeongchang. They just weren’t highlighted as boldly as in previous Olympics.
My Olympic grinchy-ness may not be isolated. Viewership for the Olympics was down, the least-watched on record, even though the games were more widely available via streaming. Like me, it seems a lot of people just weren’t into it this year.
I spent some time trying to figure out why many emotionally sat it out this time around. Abraham Lincoln famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Slavery, of course, is not the only issue that could make this maxim true. It was difficult to enjoy games designed to celebrate goodwill and common humanity while Americans were hating on each other the whole time.
Let’s take a quick look: The absurd controversy over Shawn White’s inadvertent American flag dragging. Adam Rippon’s Twitter feud with Vice President Pence accented by Donald Trump Jr.’s unsolicited barbs. Twelfth place Gus Kenworthy’s inflammatory tweet asking why “tf” Ivanka Trump — leading the official White House delegation — is there. And of course the media’s naive adoration of North Korea’s creepy Potemkin cheerleaders. They all contributed to my Olympic apathy. This was not the drama I was hoping for. This is the crap we were supposed to set aside for a couple of weeks, find common ground, applaud vigorous competition and celebrate victory.
I think we confused “common humanity” with “we have a common hatred for each other.” I think I bailed out for the same reason many have bailed on the NFL and ESPN. Focusing and amplifying our division while ignoring our common aspirations may draw people in for a reason, but it’s not for our common humanity. The Olympics did not serve as that needed respite.
I hope not, but perhaps the anemic Olympics were a microcosm of our politics, a symbol of that house, divided against itself, that Lincoln warned us about.