2/21/2006

The Dylan of Downhill?

It's all downhill from here, Bode baby.

Now the media's thrashing poor Bode Miller for turning out to be such a loser, or at least not the big winner that he was advertised as being. You know, you bitches set him up for a fall, and now you're kicking the poor sod when he's down. Turns out he is just another pretty face after all. Well, it's enough, I think. I mean, for most of us, a pretty face is more thn enough, isn't it?

But, really, the degree of disappointment is a little ridiculous. He's just some cute party boy on skis, not an American maverick, not an icon. That's the funny thing. You read the snarky commentary and you get the feeling it's at least partly about "falseness in advertising," like Miller had set himself up rather than just jumped on the media bandwagon and ad blitz around him. It was almost like the commentators were saying, "this dude advertized himself as a winner when he really wasn't."

The blame falls squarely on Bode. But what if he lost because there were six or seven other dudes we didn't know about who were just, um, better?

Truth is, Bode Miller qua Bode Miller means nothing to the media or the rest of us. Bode Miller is the latest (but not by any means the greatest) incarnation of the American dream gone bad. He's in illustrious company here. There are countless examples in our nation's short history. We love 'em when they're winning, but once their streak is over...

Bode is being scolded like a naughty child at best (in an interview with NBC's Brian Williams, for example) and excoriated as a "drunk-skiing jerk," a "career suicide," and "the biggest U.S. flop of the Olympics" at worst. But there is a strange satisfaction even in this narrative. Because while we love it when someone wins, we get just as much pleasure when after taking all the millions from product endorsements and having their face on the cover of Rolling Stone, they blow it all.

It's partly human nature--a simple case of schadenfreude--but it also serves as the flipside of our American Dream narrative. Bode Miller is the latest in a long line of cautionary tales. Bode had it, and lost it. As Mike Celizic put it here:

"The reality is clear that Miller took his talent for granted for too long. Last summer especially, when he should have been getting himself into supreme shape for the biggest skiing meet he’d ever be in, he partied instead.... [C]hampions ... work as hard as they play not because they love work — most of them don’t like it any more than the rest of us do — but because they want to win, and if that’s what it takes, that’s what they do."

So there's your problem. Bode rested on his laurels. But even worse than his lack of discipline is the essence of his character: "Miller has always portrayed himself as an artist." And you know how those artists are.

Described as "brash," "rebellious," a "roguish" "free spirit," Bode was an unlikely Olympian, and that's just what the media liked about him. I mean, aside from his scruffy, boyish, WASPy good looks and dreamy--some might say vacant--eyes. Like I've said, if he'd been brash, rebellious, roguish and free-spirited, and, say, Asian-American, nobody would know his name (Toby who?).

But you can't be too hard on him. He's an Olympic Athlete for the American Idol Age. Self-centered and self-indulgent, it's not about the nation, Team USA, or even the medal. It's all about Bode. "The American Cowboy". But that's what we esteem in our heroes nowadays, isn't it?

There is always a certain satisfaction in having our cliches confirmed. Even if we have to lose to do it.

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