Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tom Cruise at the Olympics

I've got the Olympic fever. You know, the kind where you find yourself sitting in front of the TV shouting things at athletes competing in sports you didn't actually know existed. At least, that's how I've been spending my evenings.

It was while I was watching swimming coverage last night that a slightly more political thought occurred to me. Namely, that the Tom Cruise Effect was in full force. I've written about this a couple of times before. The gist of the effect is that no matter what happens, the media will fit it into a particular established narrative (e.g. Tom Cruise is crazy). No matter what happens, the event will get shoehorned into whatever narrative the media is telling at the time.

That's what brings me to the Olympics. I'm not sure if you've noticed, but Michael Phelps is kind of a big deal. He already has more gold medals than anyone else in history and he's shooting to break the record for most gold medals at a single Olympic games. This is undeniably a historic undertaking and in responses, the press has made pretty much the whole Olympics (at least in the Cube) about Phelps.

So last night I was watching an interview with Jason Lezak. A few days ago he swam the anchor leg in the 4x100 freestyle relay. (Michael Phelps was also on that team.) Behind by nearly an entire body length with only about 25 meters to go, Lezak caught up to the French anchor and out touched him at the wall to win the race. It was an incredible feat of swimming, it set the world record, the drama was incredible, and all the press could talk about is how it relates to Michael Phelps. During the interview I saw last night the reporter was talking about how Lezak's swim helped Phelps. Lezak took it in stride, but also very clearly wanted to make it known that he was a swimmer too who'd just earned a gold medal. Not that it mattered for much in the eyes of the media.

Also, check out this story. It's a story about a French swimmer winning a gold medal, but by the end it's turned to Michael Phelps.

Don't get me wrong, I like Michael Phelps a lot and I'm glad he's on our side. I think he's also a great example of how the press always falls victim to the Tom Cruise Effect, no matter what's being covered.

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