Olympic Opening Ceremony Review: Who Says Propaganda Can’t be Entertaining?

Say what you want about Communists, but they know how to throw an Olympic opening ceremony.

There are really two ways to watch the Olympic festivities: Laugh at them for the bloated exercises in propaganda that they are, or embrace the pageantry and the one-world ideal. Either way, there was a lot of cool stuff to see on Friday night, as well as much at which one could poke fun, from the glitch involving the Olympic rings (hey, four out of five isn’t bad) to NBC’s ponderous “All of Russian history in six minutes” introductory film package.

For NBC, of course, the Sochi Olympics — much like Beijing a few years ago — will inevitably be a delicate balancing act. Given the network’s enormous investment and time-shifted coverage that plays as much like a soap opera as sports, it has every incentive for the Games to go off without a hitch. The host country’s human-rights transgressions, however, threat of terrorism and early horror stories about logistics add an unwelcome element of news and real-world intrusion to the proceedings, opening the door for criticism and accusations of whitewashing such concerns.

NBC’s Bob Costas sought to address some of that in his initial comments and interview with President Obama, but he also acknowledged, rather honestly, that the hope was the Olympics would be remembered as much for the sports as for any of the controversies. Those sentiments were echoed by “Today’s” Matt Lauer, who said he had “fingers crossed” that the Olympics could maintain their focus on the athletes and competition — clearly a set of priorities shared by Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, who surely disappointed some by wearing a shirt throughout the evening.

Thirty years after the legendary producer David L. Wolper set the standard for Olympic showmanship in Los Angeles, the Russians continued that particular arms race, from the beautiful image of an extremely brave little girl being hoisted through the air to the glowing figures forming the Russian flag. (One seemed to step out of line briefly, and hey, it was nice almost knowing him.)

OK, feel free to chuckle at the ridiculous Vegas headdresses the women escorting the athletes into the stadium were forced to wear, or the musical tribute to the Soviet space program. The parade of nations is still kind of a kick — especially those warm-weather countries that only send a couple of beaming, absolutely-no-chance-of-winning participants — and it’s hard not to admire the majesty of all those objects floating across the stadium, or even the idea of feeding a global audience a healthy dose of ballet.

That interlude, incidentally, produced what might be the most pricelessly inane Olympic segue ever, with Lauer saying, “Imperialism in Russia is about to be swept away by two important events: The Russian Revolution, and this commercial break.”

Granted, Disney parks pull off a lesser version of this twice a day, but for whatever reason, a U.S. audience never seems to tire of revisiting this revue every couple of years.

As for those who will fret about the Games becoming a showcase for Putin’s Russia, as they did in Beijing, take solace in two things: All that will go out the window once the figure skating starts; and given how hard the Russians are marketing themselves — and how often this Russian revolution will be interrupted by commercial breaks — it sure looks like the capitalists have won.

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  1. ArtDeco777 says:

    Hi Brian. ..I enjoyed your review. .I am still smiling while typing this. I thought it was funny..light hearted ( ? ) , not offensive but with good points about Russia vs USA. BUT

    How could you …making fun of modern version of Russian folk head piece by calling it VAS VEGAS STYLE BABE!!))) Rrrr!))))

    Love it..Thank you.

  2. tony says:

    Say what you want to say about Communism but????..Brian why don’t you ask the millions of people who died under Communism that question…You can’t…They died a horrible life…How stupid can one be to make that statement….Yea say what you want about communism but they put on one heck of a show…Folks you can’t make this stuff up…Brian what the hell are you thinking?

    • Brian Dzyak says:

      To be fair, nobody died because of Communism. The economic system isn’t designed to kill people. It’s designed to help everyone equally.

      It was the corrupt leadership who killed people. It is vitally important for humanity to recognize the differences and to uncouple the totalitarian PEOPLE from the economic systems which could work if not for the corrupt humans involved.

  3. Max says:

    “Ridiculous Vegas headdresses”?! You gotta be kidding, right? Okay, I’m Russian and I don’t know a lick about Vegas apart from what the movies show… but those headdresses were straight out of Russian national costume, albeit sci-fied up somewhat. That’s called a kokoshnik: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kokoshnik
    So even if some go-go dancers or someone down there in Vegas wear anything like that, they certainly stole it from us.

  4. Hillary says:

    Funny, NBC shows Obama before the Olympic Games saying Putin shows him respect. Then he goes on to explain the reason Putin, in public, seems bored at their meetings is just “a schtick”. In addition to that being utterly classless for a US President to say, especially right before the opening of an event that is supposed to unite the world, it’s Obama’s propaganda attempt to explain away the fact that Putin actually thinks Obama is an amateur.

    • How wonderful it is that President Obama does not wish to be a dictator like Vladimir Putin. If that makes Putin think the President is an amateur the United States is clearly the better for it. America does not have Presidents that rule by absolute power, our Executive Branch does not take our Judicial Branch under control, such as Putin has done. Putin is a rank amateur on the world stage.

  5. tony says:

    First Google Americanises the Olympic charter. Now this thinly veiled racism. Yet Americans have to be the most bombastic flag wavers the world knows. And just look at the racism storm because Coca Cola used other languages.

  6. Brian Dzyak says:

    The consistent use of the word “propaganda” to describe anything the Russians say is ridiculously hypocritical as the USA certainly has it’s own share of propaganda that would make Leni Riefenstahl proud.

  7. Jacques Strappe says:

    The moving images projected on the stadium floor were very cool, though. Overall, viewed as pure entertainment and spectacle, I would say the Sochi opening ceremony ranks closely to the Beijing one. Being a winter Olympics opening ceremony makes it all the more incredible, Like Beijing, the clash between a tightly controlled communist government propaganda machine message delivered in the style of a grand American schmaltzy spectacle (with the emphasis on style over substance) was nothing short of fascinating.

  8. Brian Dzyak says:

    That snarky review of the ceremonies was entirely uncalled for. It was a beautiful ceremony and not full of “propaganda.” If Lowry wants to advocate for Conservative unfettered free market Capitalism that leads to the kind of Fascism that the USA is experiencing at present, then let him, but to allow him to degrade the Olympic opening ceremonies because of his personal biases is unnecessary and entirely unprofessional. Variety owes Russia and the entire Olympic community an apology. Oh, and fire Lowry. I’m sure he’ll do fine working over at Fox.

  9. Alternate History says:

    Where has this author been for the last 20+ years? Somebody bring him up to date in geopolitics.

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