"I am the most annoying person to watch the Olympics with. I'm a condescending former elite athlete who loathes the armchair fan. I love sports. I love athletes. I hate fans." So begins Jennifer Sey's defiant confession, "The Beast" on Salon. Basically, as a former athlete, Sey can't stand being around laymen who don't understand how hard Olympics-level athletics are. "I'm especially annoyed by those who believe their dalliances in amateur childhood athletics give them insight into the travails and accomplishments of Olympic athletes." The "horrifically ugly" woman inside her sneers when an acquaintance speaks of having swum in high school. "See? I'm horrible." she says, and then goes on to be even worse.
You loved Nadia and begged your mom to sign you up for gymnastics classes. You went two days a week until you were in junior high. But then your body developed and boys noticed and hanging out at the mall or trying out for the cheerleading squad seemed a lot more appealing than spending the afternoon in a chalky, musty gym scared out of your wits to do what the coach was demanding. I was practicing 12 hours a week by the time I was 7, traveling up and down the New Jersey Turnpike each weekend for competitions. I moved away from home when I was 14, trained 40 hours a week while attending high school, endured untold abuses by overenthusiastic coaches who weighed me twice a day to make sure I didn't inadvertently get fat during my seven-hour practice. I broke my femur at the 1985 World Championships when I fell from the uneven bars on my last event of the competition. My parents ignored my depression and starvation, assuming I was happy because I won medals. I did gymnastics.
Um, okay. "I get the feeling that regular folks believe that if they just had the heart to stick with it through 10th grade, they too would be celebrating on the medal stand in Beijing along with Michael Phelps and Dara Torres... Do Olympic fans understand how unimaginably hard it is to overcome fear, persevere through injury, come through in the clutch, give up one's entire life in the name of a few possible yet unlikely moments of glory?" she rants, before putting "the beast" back in its closet "where it belongs" and continue to watch Beijing. "And I will watch alone, where I can't offend anybody by acting like a total jerk. " There is so much weirdness about this piece that it's almost hard to know where to start. According to this logic, does no amateur have the right to enjoy anything professional? There goes American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Project Runway, to say nothing of theatre and movies. Is there only one way to enjoy these athletic feats - as athletes? Because this is how the author watches the games, she seems unable to comprehend that everyone's experience is not merely a cut-rate version of her own. It seems to me, most of us watch to marvel, specifically because we know we can't do it, not out of some kind of warped notion of projection. And if someone has dabbled in athletics, wouldn't that merely enhance their appreciation? If they've experienced the true difficulty of competing at even a high school level, wouldn't that serve to increase their respect for this degree of talent and discipline? Not to mention that it seems pretty irresponsible to implicitly criticize amateur athletics at a time when people should be encouraged to be active, not to mention appreciate feats of athletic prowess and the accompanying healthy physiques. And don't even get me started on the unconscious elitism of the piece - not everyone has the means (or, ahem, the stage parents) to devote this kind of time and training to athletics. It's not mere laziness and misplaced priorities that keeps all these laymen "in the mall" or whatever. But the larger point, for me, is this: why is she admitting this? Why do people think that being confessional somehow automatically normalizes something or renders it appealing? Ugly, clearly highly personal feelings like Sey's are just as off when she bares them as when she keeps them to herself; confessing something doesn't mean everyone's gonna come forward in solidarity, nor should they. Because something is an emotion does not make it right, or universal. It's true that it takes a very particular brand of writer to render his personal thoughts universal and appealing, and it's no secret that plenty of folks who lack this facility have fallen into the trap of mistaking the inappropriate for the compelling. And clearly, by acknowledging this quality in herself, Ms. Sey thinks she's being brave, admitting something unpleasant but essentially patting herself on the back for her honesty. There's an undercurrent of self-righteousness to the whole thing that's very off-putting. "Yes, I'm a jerk," she seems to be saying, "but I'm still absolutely right." To Jennifer Sey, in a perfect world, we'd have no right to, apparently, watch an internationally syndicated television program. But she'd still have the right to bare her soul. The Beast [Salon]