World champion swimmer Michael Phelps earned eight Olympic gold medals last month, achieving one of the most outstanding athletic feats in history. But while his accomplishment deserves the celebration and admiration of American citizens, the media's coverage seemed to suggest something less genuine in play.
In the hours and minutes before each Phelps race, including his relays in the company of several men, a bright Phelps-alert popped into the corner of the screen with a clock below his smiling face, ticking down to the event like New Year's. Between events, commercials would have you convinced that the divine Phelps was the only Olympic contender, let alone swimmer.
And in the comfort of our own homes, we sat in anticipation for each passing montage, entranced by everything from his poignant mother-son relationship to his 10 thousand calorie diet, never considering that our lives might be passing us by.
Phelps coverage is not in itself damaging to American culture, and it speaks nothing poorly of the man himself. Rather it is representative of the damaging direction in which this culture seems to be going. We dig our noses into blogs, gossip magazines, reality shows and, most recently, the Olympics, following the lives of others as a distraction from life itself.
Acting as quack investigators, psychiatrists, and gurus to the stars, we trade our individuality for spectatorship. We redirect all the energy we would need to excel in our own passions and purposes, exhausting it on the artificial outlets of interpreting, judging and living vicariously through others.
When did our spectator culture emerge? It's hard to determine when we became more interested in Britney's haircut than in what we're becoming, where we're going, and who we're bringing. Perhaps her haircut is as much the effect of our spectatorship as it is the cause. Though it's not the most common interpretation, maybe her haircut is a way of telling us to get a life and leave her be.
Before we criticize the stars for cracking up, let's see if we're the culprits of their lunacy. Could you hold up under the pressure of a million people too busy looking at your life to examine their own? Let's see if we ourselves are cracking up a little bit, by spending so many of our 30 thousand days on this planet in the walking daze of hero worship. What would happen if we stopped ignoring the hero inside ourselves?
The Olympics are meant to inspire greatness, not passivity. In the wake of Beijing's closing ceremony, let's shift from observing and obsessing over Phelps, to modeling and adopting the powerful mindset, attitude, intent and discipline that empowered him to attain such profound success. Let's use college as an arena to start living, instead of watching others live.
Dan Skahen is a senior communications major who urges you to stop obsessing over the media. Except for this paper.