Gotta light?

A specialty of mine: Take some beloved community event — like the running of the Olympic torch through town — and shit all over it. But nearly a decade later, I remain appalled by how thoroughly corporate money and the accompanying shotcallers have seeped into every crack of public life, as well as how meekly we acquiesce to it.

January 9, 2002

Clear-eyed observers of the Olympic Games – as opposed to those misting up over a plucky-skater-who-overcomes-cancer story on NBC – have noted with a mixture of respect and admiration just how ruthlessly the International Olympic Committee guards its copyrights.

Dressed not in colorful uniforms but business suits, the IOC’s lawyers have taken down violators ranging from the Gay Olympics (now renamed the Gay Games) to any number of Greek-owned diners that had the cheek to call upon their own cultural landmarks and paint the word “Olympic” on the front window. It’s enough to make you think the lawyers should stand on the risers and receive medals for Best Cease-and-Desist Order.

It isn’t news that the Olympics have become a parade of corporate logos, and that the keepers of those logos pay dearly for the privilege of attaching them to the prestige of the Olympic Games. But it isn’t widely known just how far down the line the marketing efforts go, and how carefully the logos are pampered, lest any CEO feel he’s not getting his full measure of reflected Olympic glory.

Take last week’s appearance of the Olympic flame in Fort Wayne. From start to finish, it was a bonanza of feel-good words and, especially, images, most of which contained the logos of the flame tour’s two major sponsors – Chevrolet and Coca-Cola. Why was Linda Jackson chosen to carry the torch and not one of the other news anchors? Because WKJG-TV is an NBC affiliate, and NBC carries the Games, that’s why.

But many in the city might not be aware of how much those sponsorships weighed in the months-long planning process. For instance, you might have wondered why the torch run didn’t include a pass by Memorial Coliseum, which is, after all, the main venue for winter sports in Fort Wayne.

Look no further than the sign out front, and the logo thereon: Pepsi.

Coliseum General Manager Randy Brown said he was directly told the coliseum was out as a possible host for the flame, “because we are a Pepsi building.”

Joan Goldner, who headed the local committee that organized the torch run, said Brown “mis-remembered” any conversation in which he was told that. But another committee member confirmed the coliseum was counted out for exactly that reason, among others. Coca-Cola didn’t do the vetoing – it was the local committee, taking into consideration sponsors’ wishes.

“Way early on, I thought maybe we could skate the flame around the rink at the coliseum,” Goldner said, adding that she thought it would make a photogenic image promoting the Winter Games. But the scoreboard over the ice features a Pepsi logo, too. The idea was never pursued, in part for that reason.

“We had a very tight time schedule,” she said. But, “we had to be very careful who we asked for money. We couldn’t ask a Ford dealer. We could not have Pizza Hut as a major contributor,” because Pizza Hut pours Pepsi exclusively in its restaurants. “We could not include direct competitors to the national sponsors.”

However, she added, “I doubt if we would have been able to do (a skating leg on coliseum ice) because of timing.”

Fair enough. But just the fact the Pepsi sign out front played a part in the planning ought to tell us something not only about the torch run but also about the Olympics themselves. Companies bask in the reflected glory of the Olympic flame because of what it claims to represent – healthy competition that transcends the dirty business of politics. We expect competitors from countries that don’t get along to ascend to a higher level at the Olympics.

Basking in reflected glory, though, is only that. The keepers of the flame might want to consider just what is going on in its penumbra.

Posted at 12:05 am in Ancient archives |

33 responses to “Gotta light?”

  1. Deborah said on August 18, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Nancy, this is the best one yet. I love the way this was written.

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  2. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on August 18, 2011 at 10:51 am

    Deborah, I just saw this go by on my FB feed, and had somehow never found this hike — it may be an old familiar one to you, knowing the area so much better, but just in case:

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  3. april glaspie said on August 18, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Last time the Olympics were really great. And lest anyone forget, the Winter Games produced Mitt Romney, from the absolutely sleaziest Olympics of all time. I’m wondering how many readers understood penumbra.

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  4. Bitter Scribe said on August 18, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Personally, I liked the Olympics better when they only admitted true amateurs. The last Winter Olympics hockey final was really just a glorified NHL All-Star Game, with players divided by nationality instead of conference.

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  5. Deborah said on August 18, 2011 at 11:40 am

    Jeff tmmo, I’ve not been on that hike either, or I don’t think so, I’m trying to figure it out based on the directions. FR 151 sounds familiar for sure. I have a fear of heights, so I don’t like hikes that are too steep, this one sounds like it is gentle and easy to do. Thanks.

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  6. brian stouder said on August 18, 2011 at 11:46 am

    I bet the News-Sentinel’s ‘letters to the editor’ section the following week was stuffed full of ‘Nancy is a nincompoop’* letters!

    *or WORSE!

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  7. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on August 18, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Somewhere just past the turnoff for the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, but before Echo Amphitheater while on that (south) side of the road, and yes, it sounds like moderate steepness. I can’t wait to get out there and try it!

    Sorry to threadjack off of Economic Hegemony — back to the evils of sponsorship and pervasive adver-backdrop-tising.

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  8. moe99 said on August 18, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    Anyone who’s been to a movie in the past few years can testify to the increasing numbers of commercials they are subjected to BEFORE the previews come on.

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  9. Kirk said on August 18, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    The last Winter Olympics hockey final was a great game played at the highest level, unlike the NHL All-Star Game, which is a huge bore because no one plays defense or hits.

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  10. beb said on August 18, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Jeff – this thread needs hijacking.

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  11. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on August 18, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    Hey, I suspect this will also evoke some rants about what they ask for these days (and I’m not arguing), but I’m doing my column this week on the need for people to help refill the shelves for those offering school supplies to low-income families. The net effect of the jobless recovery and stagnant wages is to put families that have spent down assets and are running close to the bone in a real pinch when it comes to the $40-$65 cost per kid for school supplies. From what I’m seeing, I suspect this is true more places than not; add in the fact that food stamp aid doesn’t go for paper products of any sort, plus you can’t “borrow” lined paper or get a “hand-me-down” spiral notebook, and it becomes a real cash crunch moment.

    We’ve had three of the six or seven churches/food pantries that normally do a school supply & backpack effort get literally cleaned out in their first hour or two, and the rest are expecting high demand this weekend. So the point is: if you can give a little, or grab a stack of supplies and donate them, it can really be a bridge for people feeling like they’ve been skating on a canyon rim.

    How’s that for a threadjack?

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  12. moe99 said on August 18, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    How about my last post in the previous thread to threadjack the conversation here?

    Looks like the Univ. of Miami has eased the heat on OSU in the NCAA infractions arena:

    NPR’s Tom Goldman just spoke with All Things Considered host Robert Siegel. As Tom said, it’s not just the “impermissible benefits” [the NCAA’s term] that players are alleged to have received that make this a huge story. Those include “cash, jewelry, prostitutes, bounties for injuring opposing players, paying for an abortion for a stripper who was paid to have sex with a player.”

    The alleged misdeeds “go miles beyond the recent infractions reported at Ohio State or USC,” said Tom.

    Then, he said, there’s “the scale. … [This] allegedly went on for about eight years … [and] involved over 70 football players and other athletes” and perhaps a half dozen coaches.

    NPR also mentioned that the Athletic Director of Miami was involved and spoke out publicly about the NCAA sanctions against OSU at a time he probably knew Miami was in deep trouble.

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  13. Jolene said on August 18, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    I liked this column too–a sharp point supported by great detail. I’m also on board w/ the attack on corporate influence on pretty much everything. Health care reform is a clash of the health insurance industry, the pharmaceutical companies, the hospital association, medical device manufacturers, nursing home associations, and the AMA. Efforts to regulate the financial markets depend on the approval of banks, both large and small. Environmental protection is lame and piecemeal because polluters have Congress and the regulators by the short hairs.

    I’m not really a “torches and pitchforks” sort of person, but the likelihood that I might become one is growing. Between corruption and idiocy (Governor Goodhair doubts the validity off climate science and the integrity of thousands of climate scientists around the world and believes in the teaching of creationism.), it’s hard to see a role for logic and the public good.

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  14. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on August 18, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Jolene, corporations are people, too. (Speaking of Governors Well-coiffed.)

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  15. Jolene said on August 18, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Indeed, Jeff, corporations are made up of and run by people, and their shareholders (including me) are people too. But, as political actors, they do not seem particularly concerned w/ the well-being of those individuals, much less those of individuals who are outside their institutional walls.

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  16. beb said on August 18, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Moe! Stop the sports discussion. College sports is an abomination. I suspect it’s the beast of a thousand backs. I grew up in South Bend, IN and if I never hear another word about college sports it will be too much!

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  17. Deborah said on August 18, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    OK kids, just wait till your mother gets home.

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  18. beb said on August 18, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Jeff I’m astonished that students are expected to pick up $40-65 worth of supplies for school. I can understand lined paper, pencils and erases, maybe a three ring binder but when I hear that kids are supposed to bring in their own toilet paper I fear the world has turned upside down. If a state can’t supply enough toilet paper to public schools they are failing at their chief job — preparing the youth of today to be the adults of tomorrow.

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  19. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on August 18, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    (Soylent green is people!)

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  20. brian stouder said on August 18, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    I hesitate to total what we have spent on our young folks’ preparations for their return to school. Paper, pens, pencils, hand sanitizer, folders, and binders aren’t too bad; Pam generally is a step ahead on that stuff, buying things on sale through the course of the summer.

    But then there’s the shoes/chucks/pants/jeans/shirts etc, which are harder to buy ahead, given how the young folks keep growing.

    And then there are the things you find out about just as school begins; specific calulators and other particular materials.

    Aside from all that, I’ve about hit the limit on how much I’ll let go by, when people want to slam the president for vacationing. Someone in our extended family pointed out to me that the big difference between Obama daring to take a week off in Martha’s Vineyard, and his predecessor blithely knocking off for a month at a time back home on the ranch in Texas, is all those hoity-toity rich people basking in Martha’s Vineyard.

    My question in return was – how many rich baskers are there in Texas? Or – how many ‘common people’ live on ranches in the Texas outback?

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  21. LAMary said on August 18, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    We do a collection of school supplies here at my job. I usually buy a backpack or two at Costco and some packs of lined paper, pencils and pens. That adds up to over a hundred bucks. It’s very tough for people who are watching every dollar.

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  22. Jolene said on August 18, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    It’s an annual ritual, Brian. The fact that, at this point in his presidency, GWB had taken three times as many days off doesn’t seem to stop people from nattering on about BHO’s time at Martha’s Vineyard.

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  23. Linda said on August 18, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    There’s a reason we acquiesce: it’s cheaper than ponying up ourselves. We want pretty events that cost cash, but can’t be bothered paying for them. Or our kid’s schools. Or roads. Or… And when somebody else drops a dime in the jukebox, they hear their song.

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  24. Jolene said on August 18, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    A topic of no importance whatsoever: Any reactions to Hillary Clinton’s new longer hair? Just saw her on TV decrying the actions of Bashar al Assad and thought she looked good (always important when you are decrying foreign dictators). It’s unusual for an older woman who has had short hair for a long time to grow her hair long, as it’s so much more work to take care of. It’s easier, of course, if you can afford your own in-house stylist, but still something of a surprise.

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  25. coozledad said on August 18, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    I don’t give a damn if they photoshop Michele Bachmann’s face on a dog’s ass. It wouldn’t even begin to describe her or her little band. Her people are amateur fundie black ops scum. You don’t give people like this access to public office, you arraign them.

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  26. Connie said on August 18, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Today was school supply bingo at my library. Even if you didn’t win at bingo you got a box of crayons and a handful of pencils. But pretty much every one wins. I’ve also worked at libraries that did school supplies for fines in August, similar to the food for fines drives over the holidays.

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  27. Joe Kobiela said on August 18, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Bet there are a lot more “common” folks working ranches in Texas than there are at marthas vineyard. Just saying.
    Pilot Joe

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  28. coozledad said on August 18, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Just like the salt of the earth herding cattle up in Kennebunkport.

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  29. moe99 said on August 18, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    Geo.W Bush was no ‘common’ folk working the ranch in TX, Joe and you know that. He’s the scion of privilege from birth. Gimme a frakkin’ break.

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  30. brian stouder said on August 18, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    Cooz – interesting link. So now, will Sarah Palin say that Michele Bachmann has been “paling around” with terrorists?

    Bet there are a lot more “common” folks working ranches in Texas than there are at marthas vineyard

    “common” folks who buy a ranch one year before they run for (and win) the White House, and then who sell it off after they leave office?

    C’mon, Joe. The guy bought a vacation home, and spent a solid month there each year of his presidency, and then sold the thing when he left office and didn’t need it anymore, and then retired into the Dallas suburbs.

    Whatever else this exemplifies, it does not resemble the way “common folks” live.

    But rather than have this argument, let me hasten to agree that a president cannot really live like us “common folks”, even if he or she would really want to. First, the job follows them wherever they go, 24-7-365, for four years, or eight years, or until they are forced to resign, or are incapacitated, or until they die. And indeed, presidents are not kings or queens, and cannot govern by decree. With the Congress in recess, this is a good time to grab off a week and a half, and recharge – yes? And, if they vacation somewhere near DC – like, say, in Massachusetts, then they can get back to the office quickly if something happens which requires this, yes?


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  31. Jolene said on August 18, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    There’s a year-round population on Martha’s Vineyard too, Joe–people who run restaurants and shops during the summer, people who rent boats and bicycles. I suspect they’re glad to have Obama and his entourage visit. He may not visit lots of those places himself, but his staff, his security people, and the reporters who follow him do.

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  32. Dorothy said on August 19, 2011 at 8:47 am

    And presidents are not really on vacation when they are on vacation. Not like we “common folks” who can unplug from our jobs and forget about things for awhile. I’m truly astonished at people who begrudge a man (ANY man – Clinton, Bush, Bush again, Obama) who takes some time to spend with his family and tries to relax for a little bit. We elected a person to the office, not a robot. Enough about the vacation complaints!!

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  33. Dorothy said on August 19, 2011 at 11:04 am

    …although I do think some abused the option more so than others. Just sayin’

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