I caught some of the Olympic games, here and there, over the past two weeks. Kinda hard to get excited about curling, and it seems they’ve sucked most of the fun out of skiing, even… but the snowboarding chaos has some real promise.
I watch more for the unfolding human drama.
Not the drama of the games. Rather, the drama of the network coverage… which gets more hysterical and over-the-top each broadcast.
It’s a great lesson in human behavior.
I grew up wanting to be a journalist. I created “pretend” newspapers as a kid, and was on the newspaper staff in both high school and college. (Although, once it was known that I could draw cartoons, that became my “job” at both publications… which isolated me from the reporters.) Some of my favorite writers have been newspapermen — Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, “Red” Smith, Herb Caen.
But, geez Louise, I can’t imagine a kid wanting to be a reporter today. Writing well and getting to the bottom of things is, like, last on the list of what newspapers do now. It’s just ridiculous how little actual insight is provided into anything the media touches (“60 Minutes” excluded).
If I were growing up now, I’m have dreams of being a blogger — the only writers left on the planet who can escape censorship and actually think for themselves.
Anyway, the “story lines” invented by the media about the Olympics are getting very, very, very boring and predictable. That’s the fault of the reporters and the media overlords, who struggle to find something to please the “mass viewing audience”. In almost every human endeavor, pleasing “most people” means downgrading the quality to abysmal levels.
What’s worse, to my mind, is that the people doing the reporting (Bob Costas included) seem to regard athletes as alien species, so impossible to understand that all we can do is… well, make up stuff about them.
It’s just horseshit. I have the same problem with music critics who have never attempted to master an instrument. Or film reviewers who have zero acting experience. Or, on a more serious level, politicians who have no life experience dealing with people or bureaucracies or law.
I once read a smug, arrogant review of a Dire Straits concert by a woman who wrote — as if this were a fact everyone on the planet just of course agreed with her on — that Mark Knopfler was “never very good at playing the guitar”. Uh, okay. This would be same Mark Knopfler who was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame as a guitar player, and whose jaw-dropping masterpiece “Sultans of Swing” has been cited by other guitar greats as probably the best solo ever performed using a Fender Strat?
I read that review years ago, and it just stuck in my craw. Who hired that idiot writer? What small, ego-centric world did she live in that allowed her to hold such insane thoughts in her head without being challenged… and where the hell did she get off putting that nonsense into an article?
You can fill in your own examples for film review and politics, I’m sure. And I’m too tired tonight to get into the specifics of all the equally bone-headed stuff touted by false “experts” in marketing and advertising.
It’s one of the inherent problems of the Information Age — as more and more conduits for spreading info arrive, more writers are needed, and the ranks of good ones are alarmingly thin. The New York Times has to fill a thousand pages with words, even if their best thinkers and journalists are home sick with the flu.
The real trouble, as I see it, is that no one seems to give a shit anymore. Most people still get their news from television, which is pretty much like relying on your grandmother. There’s no punishment for writers who get the story wrong, no matter how much it riles people up. There’s no follow-through, no fact-checking, no editing at all. (In the publishing world, manuscripts now often go out the door as “finished” novels and books without so much as a grammar check.)
There are no adults in charge anymore.
Which, interestingly enough, actually makes for some very interesting situations.
Apparently — and I hope I don’t shock you here — most of the athletes at the Olympics are driven competitors who will accept nothing less than the gold medal. The silver or bronze is a humiliating insult… and not getting any medal at all is just inconceivable.
This, according to the reporters covering the events. One of the commentators said, in reference to the aging Russian ice skating star who choked during her event and had to “settle” for the bronze: “I cannot imagine what she will do with the rest of her life, now that her dream of Olympic gold has been shattered.”
Now, I’m not a high-performing athlete… but I do know something about being driven. Y0u need basic drive to become an accomplished musician, to become a world-class writer, to get good at anything, really.
And I understand what high achievers mean when they say they will “settle for nothing less than total victory”… whether that victory is dominance in a market, marrying the prettiest girl in class, or winning the top prize.
That kind of hard-core self-motivation is necessary to squeeze out the best performance. Much to the chagrin of non-musicians, non-writers, and non-politicians, it takes a very disciplined dedication, for a very long time, to acheive great results. You don’t hit a home run the first time you pick up a bat, no matter how much you wish that was the way reality worked.
But most reporters, and most reviewers, and most critics in all fields never experience that kind of dedication. They believe they can “get the general idea” by dabbling around the edges of true expertise, and that’s plenty enough to give them the right to judge everyone else.
This, my friend, is misinformation. It just ain’t true.
You know what really happens when high achievers fail to reach their “dream” goal, whatever it might be?
I’ll tell you, because I happen to know.
They dust themselves off. They look for the next logical or possible step — whether it’s retirement from the ring, or diving back into practice.
And then… they keep on keeping on.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard came from Richard Nixon (of whom I am no fan). He said, early in his disaster-filled political career, that if you were going to fail… make sure you fail spectacularly. Don’t hold back.
In other words, go for the gusto… even if you come up short in the end.
Now, some athletes, ten years from now, will be bloated alchoholics boring the shit out of everyone about the good old days. I’ve been to several of my high school reunions — I’m a glutton for examining and rehashing the past — and while there are a dozen or so people I really enjoy seeing… I get the most kick out of checking up with the jocks and social elites for whom high school was the highlight of their life.
Those aren’t the high acheivers. Most of the truly successful types had it pretty miserable during high school (and most have no intention of ever going to even a single reunion). They nursed their wounds, learned their lessons, and moved on.
For people who feast on life, the goal isn’t to “win”, whatever the hell that means. No. The real goal is to live large, and attempt to pull off the grandest and most exciting adventures you can conceive of.
And, if you fail, you fail spectacularly.
My hat is off to the Russian chick. She went for it. I believe she’s going to be just fine through the years, despite not going home with the gold.
No matter what else happens in her life, they can never take the fact that she went for it away from her.
P.S. I have — count ’em — two spots left at my upcoming Hot Seat Workshop here in Reno on March 11-12. To get the details, rush over to www.john-carlton.com/Hot_Seat_Seminar.pdf and read the letter I’ve posted. I will never hold another event like this again — it’s a LOT of work for me. But the payoff for the handful of attendees savvy enough to come is going to be earth-shaking.
If you’re at all interested, hurry.
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