The Winter Olympics are not taking place

Is Beijing 2022 the first winter Olympics without natural snow? The ski runs and jumps have been carved out above an ordinary-looking industrial area surrounded by brown hills.

Completely absent is the charm of a ski town in an alpine setting, where the gorgeousness of the surroundings is a vital element of the event. The Tour de France cycle race, staged in the world’s premier tourism nation, understands that the scenery is more important than the actual contest for many viewers.

Banff

Banff, Canada. This town was once an Olympic contender.

What comes next, in terms of this trend? Surely a winter Olympics where the hills are erected, like a roller coaster frame, on a flat area in the suburbs of a major northern city.

Why stop there? If snow can be synthesized, so can the cold conditions necessary to sustain it. Refrigerant pipes can be laid underground, to preserve the white stuff once it’s been made.

Or the whole scene can be moved indoors, into a sort of large hangar, in which the ambient temperature is kept low. The skating and curling events have done this forever, so let’s ski inside as well.

BRISTLE-BRUSH

Once we accept that snow spewed from pipes is as good as the real thing, we should take the next logical step and glide on plastic toothbristle, as seen in indoor ski venues in places like London and Canberra.

And since Covid has made international flights and quarantining such a pain, there’s really no need to travel at all. The contestants can phone in their performances from the local ski run or ice rink, leaving them to be expertly melded into a race on your screen.

VIRTUAL OLYMPICS

From there it’s just a short step to using avatars instead of actual contestants, and the whole thing can be devised in a CGI studio in the Hollywood Hills, Silicon Valley or Wellington, New Zealand.

This accepts the fact that the competitions have few on-site spectators and are mainly staged for the benefit of people watching at home. The concocted event can look better than the real thing.

The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, wrote French cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard in his celebrated monograph in 1991. He was even more prescient than he knew.

Photo by Braden Jarvis

 

Over the top, almost

I recently went to a performance of Verdi’s nineteenth century opera, La Traviata. Like modern musicals, it was a multi-media spectacle, combining singing, dancing, narrative, an orchestra, scenery and lighting.

The outdoor harborside setting boosted the opportunity for grandiose effects, including fireworks and cast members arriving by boat. An enormous 3.5-tonne chandelier with 10,000 Swarovski crystals overhung the stage.

SWEET SPOT REACHED

The whole enterprise was over the top Рalmost.  This is surely the key to success in entertainment, communication or almost anything, which is knowing how far to push and when to ease back.

The sweet spot is the point just before the effort falls over the line into absurdity or ridiculousness.

Changing entertainments, watch any motor race and check the lead car. You’ll see lots of small evidence of the traction limits being approached, such as brief wheel locks during braking, sideways judders on the bends, tail wag under acceleration.

The winner is the person who can drive fastest without spinning out, colliding or failing to take a corner.

JUST THIS SIDE

The skill of motor racing is not to drive safely and under control, but to keep the car just this side of catastrophe. Similarly, an accomplished producer or communicator knows exactly where the traction limits lie.

Of course each medium has its own parameters or variables. Opera is not the same as motorsport or a politician’s speech.

But people who have mastered the sweet spot principle are invariably the most successful. This was just as true in Verdi’s time as it is today.

Photo by Borna Bevanda