A friend of mine derisively calls the American women's girls gymnastics team "America's Sweethearts". That is, when he's not derisively calling them "The Pixies". Watching the team finals competition the other night on NBC, I got increasingly creeped out by the whole thing.
To start, there was the Chinese team.The competitors are supposed to be 16, but even in the corrupt world of sports, that was asking a lot of we spectators to believe that some of those girls were 16. Being small is an advantage in routines like the beam and some of the Chinese team looked like they were 9. Add in all the make-up and plastered on smiles and it was cringe-inducing, making me think of the utterly creepy pre-teen beauty pagaent thing satirized so brilliantly in the movie Little Miss Sunshine.
Then there's the fawning, obsessive coverage by the media. You can be sure that if gay men gave the kind of attention to allgedly 16 year old guys as NBC and the other media outlets give to these girls, there'd be charges of "pedophiles!" all over the place: the slow, lingering shots up and down their bodies; the soft-lit quasi-Cinemax porn up close-and-personal profiles of people who don't really have anything interesting to say; the pressure that they're put under to perform for the gratification of adults etc.
Most of all, though, is how totally miserable the competitors look most of the time. Yes, they're under a massive world-wide spotlight, the focus of attention undreamt of by office drones like me, but I haven't seen this in other high profile sports.
At one point, after she had finished her poor beam routine, Alicia Sacramone's face was fascinating to watch: in the space of seconds, it went from "I so want to cry my eyes out" to a cold, dead look you usually only see on people in police lineups. Yet there was the NBC camera, vultures to the last, feasting on her pain for our edification. Ewwwww. Luckily, the Angels game was on and it gave me something to switch to.