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PRINT EDITION
Olympic opening ceremony on TV: A dubious rallying cry for harmony
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The joint Korean spectacle was dazzling and not at all subtle in its symbolism, but Canada's broadcasters found new ways to state the obvious
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By JOHN DOYLE
  
  

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Saturday, February 10, 2018 – Page S2

Harmony. It's all about harmony.

The Winter Olympics are all about harmony.

So we were told over and over by CBC commentators and by the TV commercials during the televised opening ceremonies on Friday morning. Cockles of the heart were warmed, no doubt.

There was a preshow at 5:30 a.m. (ET) and then the big spectacle at 6 a.m. It's an unholy hour to be up, in the dark, watching TV, no matter what spectacle is promised. Me, I had a pot of coffee and applecider doughnuts from Norfolk County to sustain me. Nobody can live on platitudes about harmony alone.

What happened? Bunches of athletes in parkas marched into the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium in South Korea (except for Bermuda - they wore shorts - and the legendary chap from Tonga who went bare-chested), there was a complicated but visually throbbing display about South Korea's history, some music, speeches and the Olympic flame was lit in the cauldron. Also, on CBC, Rosemary Barton played the role of Peter Mansbridge.

"It's cold here, but these things warm the heart," was one of the opening remarks from the CBC posse. Full marks for stating the obvious. But, stating the obvious is an integral part of TV coverage of opening ceremonies. "Here's Latvia," Scott Russell said as Latvia's athletes marched in. "The Latvians love the sliding sports," Russell continued. "There are Canadian troops in Latvia!" Barton said, going all uber-Mansbridge on us. It was that sort of TV special.

Alexandre Despatie and Andi Petrillo kicked it off for CBC, with much banter about how they had wagers on who would actually light the cauldron. The loser buys the other coffee, we gathered. Glamorous life covering sport for CBC around the world, it seems. It's all about harmony and getting coffee for others.

Then Russell, Pedita Felicien and Barton took over, with Kelly VanderBeek inserting quick interviews with athletes.

"You can always count on Kelly to bring the emotion," we were informed. That's nice. And you can count on Barton to bring the politics. "There are geopolitical things going on behind the scenes," she said, stating the obvious and making sure nobody was getting carried away with the harmony message, or distracted by a Canadian athlete's struggle with food allergies while in South Korea. The latter was one of VanderBeek's special bringthe-emotion reports.

The geopolitical things, we were informed, are North Korea wanting to be cheered, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence warning about the Olympics not being a distraction and the scandal of Russian doping coming after assertions the Russians meddled in the U.S. election.

Not in the harmony game, those pesky Russians. Russell announced that he gets choked up every time the Olympic cauldron is lit. Just to lighten the mood a little.

Speaking of meddling, Barton also used "medal" as a verb, which is super annoying to a lot of viewers. She was wondering what will happen when the Russia athletes actually "medal" at an event.

A commercial from Procter & Gamble offered the lofty message, "Love over Bias." A President's Choice commercial told us we should all be eating together, not alone. Don't mention the price of bread. That would ruin the harmony theme. A Bell commercial says the world needs more love, Petro-Canada says it understands the Canadian spirit and figure skater Patrick Chan told us in a commercial that this banking app he uses is dead handy. You will see a lot of these commercial messages, about harmony and banks, over the next two weeks. A lot. Be prepared.

The spectacle of dancing, drumming and the enacting of Korean history by children was indeed spectacular, precise and fun to watch. Every host city wants to go big with the opening and in this circumstance it was all about precision, timing, lights and visual oomph. Not the most crazily dramatic ever, but lively and engaging. What was it all about? Harmony, of course.

The entry of athletes from the two Koreas, behind a unifying flag of the Korean Peninsula, caused much talk. About harmony. And the whole stadium stood up to greet them. But on CBC TV the absolute highlight was the arrival of the Tongan flag bearer Pita Taufatofua, shirtless and in a skirt. His story is truly inspiring, having morphed through sheer force of will, from summer to winter athlete, but it is the oiled-up chest that was topic on CBC coverage. The commentators giggled, cackled and practically lost it. A sign of harmony - a strapping man, shirtless, can distract people from geopolitical issues.

Eventually, after more commercials about patriotism and pushing hard, speeches and folk dancing and laser-beam spectacles, Yuna Kim, the 2010 Olympic champion in figure skating, received the torch from a pair of women hockey players from the unified Korean team, lit the cauldron and the Pyeongchang Olympics were declared open.

Phew. Plaudits to CBC for unstuffy coverage and adding some fun. And for all the talk about harmony, CBC quickly got down to profiling Canadian athletes who intend to win medals and win big. Harmony be damned, this is about fierce competition and accumulating gold. We all know that, it's why we'll be glued to the TV for two weeks. Cockles warmed, let's get hard-hearted about winning. This harmony thing is for the opening ceremonies only.

Associated Graphic

Tonga flag-bearer Pita Taufatofua poses with a volunteer and teammates during the Winter Olympics opening ceremony on Friday. He was the absolute highlight of CBC's coverage, John Doyle writes. Taufatofua's story is truly inspiring, having morphed through sheer force of will, from summer to winter athlete, but the commentators giggled and practically lost it over his oiled-up chest.

CLIVE MASON/AP


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