Smile Politely

Olympic-Sized Life Lessons

The Olympics are already more than halfway over. As usual, they have provided valuable life lessons for athletes and viewers alike. A small sample includes:

  • Sports are more interesting and broadcast-worthy when Americans are good at them.
  • The love of sport and competition is important, but the big endorsement deals don’t go to losers.
  • Individuals need skill, determination, hard work and sometimes luck to win. Nations sometimes need forged passports to win.
  • China is concerned with worldwide attention on human rights, but not so much that they are going to give Tibet back to the Tibetans.

These are all fine lessons, and I am wiser for having learned them. However, the single biggest lesson I learned from these games turns out to be one of my favorite Stephen Colbert lines: The market has spoken, and global warming is real.

I know this because every second or third commercial aired by NBC during its primetime broadcast tells me that oversized, global corporations now care a great deal about the environment. GE tells me that they are going to save the world via biogas, wind power, and even green aircraft engines. GM says their enormous SUVs have better gas mileage than other, regular, enormous SUVs, and because of them gas stations will soon be a thing of the past. Even the games themselves are trying to be environmentally responsible, right down to green fireworks that set hardly any surrounding brush on fire.

Let’s face it, American energy technology and habits have not actually improved that much yet. But if the Olympics are teaching me anything, it is that we are well on our way to winning the marketing race on green technology. Any day now we will surpass the Europeans in making the world believe our multinational corporations care the most about the environment. Heck, that’s almost the same thing as actually being environmentally responsible. So join me, as we cheer: We’re Number One! USA! USA! USA!

I may be cynical about it, but really, this is a good thing. Global corporations are the churches of capitalism, and when they turn the marketing machine on, it’s like the pope declaring an edict from God. It’s only a matter of time before the people will follow. If they can figure out how to make a buck off not destroying the planet, fine by me. Let’s just make sure they don’t make a buck off merely appearing not to destroy the planet.

One other thing I’ve learned during the Olympics: Things are looking up for Barack Obama. Obama’s Olympic commercials are entirely positive, and his advocacy for alternative energy fits right in with the message that the environment now matters. McCain’s ads are attack pieces about how scary Obama is. Combined with McCain’s energy strategy (“drill, baby, drill”), it looks like he is out of step with even the money-grubbing capitalists. Also, who wants to see negative attack ads while rooting for America via our athletes? It makes him look cranky.

Granted, the message of McCain as out of step isn’t explicit, and you have to put the pieces together to see it. Whether this reaches average Americans who find flying sumo wrestlers funny, I don’t know. But, it’s nice to believe that thinking people will make the connection. It’s also nice to believe that people think at all during the Olympics, or during elections. I have to admit, though, that thinking nice thoughts hasn’t worked out too well for me in the last few elections.

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