Shaved, Crushed, Cubed & Block (February 18, 1998)

Epiphanies happen. Just this weekend I was plastered to the sofa and watching the Olympics when it hit me: its all about ice, and not just these silly overhyped games played for the benefit of corporate overlords like IBM and happy chat rooms like CBS. Everywhere ice rules. Theres ice dancing, ice capades, skiing on ice and even snow, ices beautiful cousin. In the summer theres shaved ice flavored with cherry syrup. Borne of the winter ice are the sad beginnings of all springtimes. The Himalayas and Alps boast regally opulent ice-capped mountains, for all eyes to wondrously climb into the heavens which, Im told, are quite icy in terms of temperature. Even though many cultures don't automatically serve ice with Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper and colonics, most will politely oblige the common American request for frozen water chunks to enliven the refreshment process. Iced tea is a favorite drink in the Midwest and Western Canada. In classic gangster movies tough guys like James Cagney bark, "If Rubber Dinky don't come through with the meat and potatoes, lets put him on ice". Walt Disney, whose Mickey Mouse is the proud banner of crass commercialization everywhere, had his body frozen in the hope that someday technology will be such that he will be removed from his chrome ice cave, unfrozen, then sent to Japan to toil as a sex slave for business execs with a taste for old-fashioned animation. Ice means cool like John Coltrane, Mary Shelley, Roberto Rossellini and Joe Montana. Entertainers, athletes and child custody lawyers of a certain stratosphere are said to have ice in their veins; that is, like hyenas, they feel no remorse in putting the claw and fang to terrified victims. Recently we've been subject to Vanilla Ice, Ice T, and Coolio all stage names of musicians hip to the benefits of being associated with ice. Furthermore, ice is the name of a strain of methamphetamine manufactured in public rest rooms in Hawaii. Some people even inject this kind of crank, making ice in the veins a literal as well as figurative description. And don't forget that ice is a form of water, and water covers three quarters of the worlds surface as well as the basic ingredient in human bodies. In fact, we are descended from creatures which crawled out of the primordial soup, a nutrient-rich, water-based broth not unlike chicken bouillon with sage.

As I considered the countless manifestations of the dominion of ice, a funny some might say inevitable thing happened. The more I thought about my ice epiphany, the more obvious it seemed. And as I realized how trite and inconsequential my so-called epiphany was, the angrier I became. But then, like Clintons self-perpetuating sex scandals, my insight into the ordinariness of ice led to yet another truism: the Olympics, who needs them?

Perhaps once upon a time, long before steroids, million-dollar shoe deals, Seals & Croft playing in the elevator, and slow-motion pans of dangerously nationalistic fans waving their stupid little village emblems and ringing cowbells, the Olympics meant something. At least thats what the reactionaries would have us believe. But maybe the Olympic Games never meant anything. Maybe their sole function throughout the mayo-stained napkin-pages of history has been to blunt homicidal impulses when total war was deemed as too costly by the financiers, aristocrats and soldiers under whose bloody thumbs we toil. Whats this nonsense about sport and comradeship and sneeze-guards on the lettuce line? The most memorable Olympic moments are legendary precisely for their place in the larger political context. At the 1936 Munich Olympics Jesse Owens and his brilliant four gold medal performance proved conclusively that Hitler and his adoring millions were racist crackpots who needed to be knocked around sooner than later. (For film and Nazi buffs, Leni Riefenstahl constructed her beautifully filmed piece of stormtrooper propaganda, Olympiad, at those same Munich Games.) At the 1968 Games in Mexico City Tommie Smith and John Carlos finished first and third respectively in the 200 meter sprint. On the victory stand to receive their medals Smith raised his right black-gloved fist high above his head and Carlos raised his left black-gloved fist when the Star Spangled Banner played. "My raised right hand stood for the power in black America," Smith said afterwards. "Carlos's raised left hand stood for the unity of black America. Together they formed an arch of unity and power. The totality of our effort was the regaining of black dignity."

Those were the good old days when America had leaders like Martin Luther King, when Oliver North and General Westmoreland were teaching the Viet Cong how to use change their own oil, and Sonny Bono was a schmuck no-talent singer instead of a plaque on a fir tree. In these more troubling times, when oversexed President Clinton fellates big business while screwing the lower classes, whatever sliver of dignity one glimpses during Olympic coverage is quickly submerged by a numbing torrent of Ford truck ads, meta-diagetic close-ups of monitor lizards bathing in budweiser, and human interest stories that hover between Unbearable and Nauseating (e.g., happy Japanese girl moves to America, gets job as sales clerk at salt mine, gives birth to happy little boy who learns to skate, eats his salted fish and rice gruel, becomes Olympic champ for Yankee Doodle Dandy, thereby making Grandpa-san and Grandma-san back in Anaheim-san very happy, etc.).

In an age where television coverage is horrible, CBSs take on the Nagano Games has been several dump trucks full of sparrow guts and goose excrement worse than fetid. Were treated to thirty seconds of ski jump footage, two minutes of deodorant commercials, five minutes of some barbie doll newscaster in goretex panties gushing over the pre-skate regimen of an ice dancer from Pocatello by way of Outward Bound, two more minutes of commercials, a ten-second tease about ice hockey, three minutes of a special news flash about how Whitewater led to Paula Jones led to Monica Lewinsky led to O.J. led to the Shroud of Turin led to the Big King Burger, two minutes of ads touting the benefits of bleach on toilet bowls, ninety seconds of the Pentagons plan to kill Iraqi kindergartners, then two whole minutes of a bobsledder with ties to Swedenborg stuffing himself into a spandex and lycra bodysuit. I didn't go to the bar and get drunk to watch this? Perhaps this will be capitalisms tragic flaw: millions of passive people just like me who were weaned on TV want desperately to watch the latest bit of deep-fried network sludge, but have even that modest ambition frustrated by know-nothing Hollywood execs who think a tour of USC summer school places them above graham crackers and Claude Levi-Strauss in the food chain. Its insulting. But instead of going outside to throw rocks at the neighbors or reading a book or creating a new language based loosely on Esperanto and The Eagles Long Run album, I remain attached to the furniture, my sweating palm on the remote. Ice dancing is next. Who needs epiphanies and dignity when you have Russian girls in spiked collars and fuchsia skates?

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