Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Skate Talk

I’ve had the flu, which has caused a delay in following up the previous post. Even now I'm sort of dragging myself across the keyboard, but if I don't force myself to get going, I'll end up malingering straight through the Canadian Championships.

Once my eyes stopped glazing over every time I looked at the computer screen, I tried to start in on the next post, which became this post, a post I’d intended to be about Meryl Davis, or more precisely, to be about how people inside the sport talk about Meryl Davis when they, like Angelika Krylova, are interviewed. I'm stuck now thinking about how people talk about and analyze skating, skaters, competitions, and wondering how fans are supposed to look at and analyze skating and competitions in what is, IMO, a newly flagrantly oppressive system (even for figure skating, it's still newly oppressive in ways it hasn't been before), that has demonstrated itself in fine form so far this season. I think a Rubicon has been crossed.

The only one who is sort of talking about it is Richard Gauthier, Duhamel and Radford's coach, and I don't even know if he knows he's talking about it. I'll elaborate later.

I’d been stuck on that Angelika Krylova interview, the one where she claimed Virtue Moir, specifically, Tessa, got fat and lazy after Worlds 2012, while Meryl Davis, a woman with no discernible ice dance or figure skating ability, Angelika Krylova reminded us, willed herself to the top. This is Krylova’s framework for Meryl, not mine.

As always happens, Tessa immediately became the topic of debate and discussion on skating forums, while, despite Krylova’s praise, nobody really wanted to touch Meryl except when her supporters affirmed once more how they admired the ability of a woman with no talent whatsoever to persevere until she had an Olympic gold medal at home. It’s much easier to talk about fat versus muscle development, weight distribution, Scott’s knees and Virtue and Moir’s arrogance, and, of course and eternally MUSIC SELECTION AND STYLE (which is all that matters in a program) then to really get into the specifics about how a woman like Meryl, with, we must be reminded, no talent or skill, got a gold medal at the Olympics. People say they admire that she did it, and kind of leave it at that.

It's difficult to think of any other figure skater where THE key narrative element to their success arc begins by reminding us  - emphasizing -  their utter lack of talent and apparent lack of anything else to bring to the table (and there’s a world of fan insecurity in that “or anything else” because those inside the sport always imply Meryl started with nothing but sheer will). Meryl’s lack of ability appears essential to the storyline. The subtext ends up reading: “What she did was amazing for a woman who can’t skate or dance and hasn't much charisma either!”*

Well, yeah. And that’s where we are, really. That’s the story. If Meryl had been presented as an extremely talented woman, a brilliant figure skater and wonderful dancer who was number two in the world until the even more brilliant and talented number one (Tessa) got fat and lazy,
 and Meryl was able to take over, it doesn’t seem as if anybody in the sport had confidence it would sell, not to the public, not even to her own fans or the credulous media. So the narrative seems to be – “Let me remind you again – this girl had NOTHING going for her, but she kept at it anyway, and then they won! Meantime the spoiled girl who had EVERYTHING got complacent and sat around stuffing her face! Who deserves to win, huh?"

Meryl always does need a little help even with her own story. There has to be a negative Tessa story to help grease the wheels AND Meryl needs to be graded on a curve. It's always compensation when it comes to her.

And that seems to work okay, logical implications be damned. Meryl Davis – she sucked, but didn’t let that stop her!

(I don't know if it's Tessa extraordinary talent or Meryl's lack of it that makes pushing Tessa down a requirement, that if we're not told Carmen proved how lazy and fat Tessa was, we'd never believe even the ferociously willpowered Meryl Davis could ever surpass her. The narrative arc of Meryl's zealous drive to the top doesn't work unless we're simultaneously told Tessa Virtue pigged out and became a sloth. Just amazing. Selling Meryl as a legit champion - this is what it takes.)

These are the storylines we’ve got in this sport, now, Meryl’s story is at the top, and furthermore, and no matter what wonderful skating may randomly display itself, stories are all we've got. The skating part is gone. Meryl's story will always and forever demonstrate overcompensation (a woman who can't do anything has to be flipped and presented as someone who can do everything), and I think we're in for a lot of that all around. It's deadening.

I believe, and believed last year, that with what happened to Virtue and Moir at the Grand Prix Final and in Sochi, there's no going back. It's impossible for the sport to ever return to an athletic/skating skills narrative even when/if at times that narrative might be attractive to the ISU. I do see some period-of-adjustment awkwardness this season as some seasoned skating observers reverse engineer/adjust to the new order, like: "Oh wait, Papadakis and Cizeron are GOOD? How was I supposed to know – all I had to go by was the skating. Why didn't you tell me before I submitted my competition preview!"

Before, the sport was corrupt but I don’t think the corruption was “officially” institutionalized. With Virtue and Moir, that happened. It was an unprecedented step across the line and there’s no going back without official acknowledgement it was done, and that will never ever happen. We'll continue to get dumb fuck agenda’d analysis like Krylova’s*, and I believe what happened to Virtue and Moir has had, and will continue to have, an incredibly oppressive effect on those who participate in skating and those who are fans of figure skating. Bottom line, I think what happened to Virtue and Moir had the effect of making skaters and those few knowledgeable fans who exist KNOW they’re powerless. The one power skaters did have was the belief that if they listened to feedback and looked at the protocol sheet and adjusted their skating in response, they could alter their results. If they now know this is a charade, that the exercise is futile before it’s even undertaken, where does that leave the skaters, where does that leave the public?

*As I said before, my suspicion is this was a desperation, kiss ass ploy, because she's fearful Weaver & Poje are slated to be Cappellini'd and Lanotte'd next season.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

First of two posts. The second post isn’t fully worked out, but I think is going to focus on last month's Angelika Krylova interview, with a particular emphasis on Meryl Davis’ superior talents in the realm of figure skating and ice dance, which Krylova had no problem whatsoever enumerating. I may also remark on Meryl Davis’s implied hot romance with Fedor Andreev, and how this doesn’t do her fans’ near-unquenchable need for validation any favors.

The just-concluded holiday season has been, for the blogger, about two weeks’ worth of holiday celebrations/busyness, and one week procrastination. I didn’t really want to know or think about if Virtue and Moir, a couple of mid/late twentysomethings, apparently retired ice-dancers, continued to feel the need to make a display of self-importance via shamming on social media during Christmas and New Year’s, so I avoided finding out. I also didn’t want to pollute the holidays with second-hand embarrassment, even though anybody following Virtue and Moir should be real comfortable with second-hand embarrassment by now.

Every day she's shoveling all right.
I don’t know what’s going to be sadder – when the latest crop of Virtue Moir fans, in, say, 2029, wonder if these two fortysomethings regret never having gotten it together, sharing fan fic about Tessa and Scott’s wistful conversations about what might have been, or Virtue and Moir still pretending to themselves, enabled by the sycophants who appear to surround every figure skater, that shamming is necessary.

Caveat, for what follows: this isn’t focused on skating women in social media to the exclusion of men. It’s just that in some respects, what I’m talking about next is kind of what a gossip columnist once said about the cast of Friends: as the show went on, the actresses on it got skinner and tanner, their hair got longer and straighter, and the dudes just got fatter and more slovenly. The particulars of Tessa’s social media image manipulations got me thinking along these lines.

When I look around at guys who were competing ten years ago, some of whom are now coaching, a number of them have gotten pretty comfortable wearing relaxed-fit pants and jackets. I look at women who were competing more recently, or are still competing, but have been at it a long time, and some of them, no matter how free-spirited they pretend to be, have become even more image-conscious.

So, speaking of second-hand embarrassment, Jessica Dube is now posing like this: