Believe it or not, it’s been two years since Russia hosted the Disaster Olympics with its broken hotels and stray dogs and people killing stray dogs and trucked-in snow and protests and the worry of terrorists and terrifying giant crying robot bears, which means that it’s time for a whole new round of Olympic Games in a brand new completely unprepared location: Rio de Janeiro.
By now you’ve heard all the stories about how Rio is a mess — and it almost feels like piling on to list the problems again … but not enough to actually stop me from doing so:
- Large parts of the Olympic Village are uninhabitable, with water pouring through the walls and all manner of electrical issues
- Olympic teams have been robbed, not to mention there has been a large uptick in police-related violence and an increase in muggings in Rio
- And then there were those body parts that washed up onto the beach volleyball courts
- The venue for sailing, rowing and other water sports is so polluted with human feces that athletes have been advised to not let the water into their mouths
- Oh, but the air is polluted, too
- Brazil is in the midst of a recession and the money just isn’t there for this very expensive event — much less other, more necessary things for every day Brazilians. There’s been a lack of funding for infrastructure to the point that the mayor of Rio warned the event could be a “big failure,” striking teachers extinguished the torch at one point to protest not getting paid for months, and tourists arriving at the airport were met by signs from first responders, welcoming them to “Hell,” and warning that they might not be safe
And then there’s the corruption and the doping scandals but that goes along with pretty much any Olympics.
BUT DON’T WORRY ABOUT ALL THAT BECAUSE WE’VE GOT SYMBOLIC PAGEANTRY TO GET TO! IT’S OPENING CEREMONY TIME, WHETHER RIO DE JANEIRO IS READY OR NOT! (And they’re not. They’re really, really not ready.)
Our NBC coverage begins with a video package about Brazil which is like, “Look, Brazil’s got political problems and E Coli problems and poverty problems but the Olympics are going to be held here, and it’s not our fault, we didn’t choose it. So rather than focusing on all that negative stuff, let’s instead look at pictures of the beach and that one Jesus statue and some people playing drums and some Olympic athletes and just pretend that it’s going to be alright, cool? Cool.”
Our hosts for the Opening Ceremonies are Matt Lauer, Meredith Vieira and Hoda Kotb who insist that yes, yes, Brazil is facing problems, BUT DID SOMEONE SAY “SAMBA?!” They introduce the directors of the Opening Ceremonies, Fernando Meirelles and Daniela Thomas who describe the London and Beijing Opening Ceremonies as “navel-gazing…”
…before explaining that they intend to put on an Opening Ceremonies about all of mankind. And by “all of mankind,” they mean scolding the audience about climate change.
But before we get to the Opening Ceremony itself, NBC airs brief interviews with Michael Phelps who NBC will never stop reminding us is ACTUALLY HERE! and GOING TO COMPETE, THANK THE RATING GODS!, track star Allyson Felix, and some golfer that NBC insists is one of the most familiar faces in this Olympics. I’ve never seen him before in my life. They then air an interview with President Obama who informs us that the Olympics won’t end war. WELL, NOT WITH THAT ATTITUDE, OBAMA.
The Ceremony itself begins with a video of overhead shots of Rio de Janeiro celebrating its natural and urban beauty, and it’s lovely! Why, you can’t see the Zika at all! We then go into the stadium where a bunch of bags of Jiffy Pop begin a countdown that end in some fireworks. Paulinho da Viola performs Brazil’s national anthem while a bunch of kids run around with Brazilian flags and a much larger Brazilian flag is raised.
Onto your more esoteric part of the Opening Ceremony. Green lights illuminated the stadium floor while people walk around with weird steampunk puppets of insects which is meant to represent the birth of the Amazonian rainforest and the creatures within but mostly looks like a petri dish and only serves to remind us that E Coli and Zika are the real creatures within. Some mostly naked natives come running in and begin swinging around some ropes until people representing the Portuguese arrive and put a stop to that nonsense. They don’t come alone, however, and soon people in hamster wheels are rolling around the stage, representing the Brazil’s brutal history of slavery. Other groups begin marching around the stadium floor, some carrying what appear to be cages for some baffling reason, others carrying giant red flags to represent the wave of Japanese immigrants who came to Brazil.
The stadium floor then begins rising up to represent favelas and the growth of Rio and São Paolo, and there are people in pink doing Parkour all over the place because nothing represents urban life better than Parkour. The Parkour guys then make a wall out of Ikea boxes before knocking it down which neither Matt Lauer nor Meredith Vieira nor Hoda Kotb have any explanation for me. WHAT GOOD ARE YOU PEOPLE.
Instead, we just hurry over to some guy in an airplane, Alberto Santos-Dumont, whom the Brazilians claim invented the first “powered flight.”
So he flies over Rio for a while before we return to the stadium to watch Gisele Bundchen walk around in a silver dress while some guy in a hat sings “The Girl from Ipanema” in what is described, tragically, as “her last catwalk.” Nevermind that she’s not actually on a catwalk or that this isn’t a fashion show or that I find this statement implausible at best — like she’s done with the Victoria Secret Fashion Shows, please. But hey! It’s Brazil! What are they going to do, NOT have Gisele Bundchen walk around to “The Girl from Ipanema?” Come on.
Then there’s a bunch of dancing and neon colors and hip-hop and people on go-carts and bunch of Brazilian musicians we Americans have never heard of. After a very long bit of that business, a bunch of people covered in Christmas tinsel swinging things around their heads show up to represent the “divide in [Brazil] between rich and poor, between white and black…” according to one of the creative directors. This divide is resolved in a giant dance party, as these things always are. I never receive an explanation for the giant rooster lurking in the back of the stage, however.
We are then treated to a film on climate change and all of its horrors: the rise of the global temperature, the melting of the polar ice caps, and the rising sea levels which are going to eat Miami whole. Judi Dench then tells us to plant trees, and you best do what Dame Judi Dench says. We are told that each athlete will be given a native Brazilian seed which will be planted in what will be called “The Athletes’ Forest” after the Games, which is a genuinely lovely idea.
And then it’s on to the Parade of Silly Hats which is so, so, so, so painfully long that Matt Lauer and Hoda Kotb become bored halfway through and start talking about Hamilton song lyrics. Some highlights:
- Let’s just get Mr. Tonga out of the way first:
- The fact that the overhead shots of the stadium as the athletes took their places looked, appropriately enough, like a woman in need of a Brazilian:
- This emotional Bolivian:
- Burkina Faso’s whole look:
- Indonesia, who came correct:
- Jamaica’s flag-bearer’s on-point hair game:
- Mozambique’s brave commitment to plaid:
- The New Zealanders who misunderstood the invitation and thought they were going to a Game of Thrones costume party:
- Kyrgyzstan who knows how to come to a hat parade:
- And the first ever Refugee Olympic Team, whose outfits were boring, but who made your trusty blogger emotional for the first time over the course of the entirety of these 18-hour-long Opening Ceremonies. Or maybe it was that I was just exhausted from watching 39 hours of hats, who can say.
And then marijuana plants bloomed into the Olympic rings …
… and people gave speeches and then some Brazilian marathoner named Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima — who, true story, was attacked by a crazy priest during the 2004 Olympic marathon — lit the torch which is protected by some metal spinny things but I missed that part because I fell asleep as it was 4 o’clock in the morning by this point. Samba! Games on!
Alright, so if you’ve ever read our Olympic coverage before over on Tubular you know that Bobby and I are not sports writers. If you are looking for sports knowledge or actual insight, may I direct you to any number of sports sites. However, if you are interested in making fun of athletes’ outfits, ogling swimmers’ abs and Mary Carrillo’s taped packages on Brazilian plastic surgery trends, then welcome! You’ve found your special place. We’ve saved you some box wine.
Happy Olympics, everyone!