What happened to the Olympics?

Sal Iovino, Opinions Co-Editor

The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing are nearing a close, yet interest in the games seems to be historically mild. Is this because the United States is not excelling against its competitors? Are the COVID restrictions implemented by China – including limitations on in-person spectatorship – curbing excitement? Am I just out of touch?  As much as I’d like to believe any of these reasons, unfortunately, I think that the lack of engagement with this year’s Winter Olympics is just a symptom of today’s media and social climate in the United States. 

After the past nearly two years, any news that isn’t pertaining to COVID, vaccination, mass social movements or incendiary political discourse has become comparatively mild.  The Olympics is the least concerning item for most as the U.S. attempts economic and social reform, the ever-lingering presence of COVID still dominates headlines and mental health concerns are seemingly growing at an alarming rate for most of the population.

With people becoming more politically active now more than ever in the United States, many cannot go a day without engaging in some form of ideological debate or conflict with either their peers or those on the internet, all just to satiate their need for social engagement and excitement. Much of the young adult population in the United States has become enamored in conflict and debate about all manners of social justice, economic reform and human rights issues. While this is certainly not a problematic trend, it has largely limited what was previously considered “exciting,” like top-shelf athletics. Serious topics are certainly important and worth at-length debate and recognition, but there also needs to be a balance. 

Young people are not the ones to blame for these newfound fixations, however.  For years, the current generation of young adults was excited about the Olympic games, largely owing to its dominant cultural presence on the global stage.  In 2012, 2014 and even up until 2018, the Olympics were the headlining event for weeks at a time, dominating the 24-hour news cycle.  Unfortunately, the Olympics are not the money-making headliner they used to be.  Over the past few years, it has become increasingly profitable to fuel both ideological and political fires, drawing more and more young people into the space with every article and news story. It is nearly impossible to turn on the TV or open a major newspaper without seeing several articles based on COVID-19, the right-left divide in U.S politics or just other generally divisive and upsetting news meant to generate an emotional response.

The Olympics do not generate the same emotional responses that these articles pushed by major media outlets do.  In the grand scheme of things, these sports are recreational and fun, meant to highlight the hard work and dedication of various athletes competing for the glory and pride of their country.  What needs to be realized is that this is fundamentally acceptable, and should actually be encouraged. There is no harm in enjoying things that are meant to be enjoyed. There are certainly serious problems in the United States and abroad that need to be addressed, but the hyper fixation on these problems is not solving them; indeed, they only lead to greater and greater dissent both with our peers, neighbors and colleagues.  

Understanding how discourse shapes our enjoyment and understanding of things has become an incredibly important topic of modern political conversation, and I feel it is appropriate to be applied in this case too. Social justice and respect should prevail in all spaces; however, combative attitudes have also begun to dominate all spaces, an unhealthy symptom of a generation manipulated by media as well as those with an interest in inciting conflict.  The COVID pandemic has been a miserable experience for many, robbing young people of some of the most enjoyable and foundational years of their budding adult lives, but it is not a reason to succumb to new social pressures.  The pandemic and its lasting effects should not strip our lives from what had been some of our enjoyments for a long time. It is a decision to reclaim those enjoyments that will be the way forward for the next generation of young adults.

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