by Darcy Cosper

Although the Olympic Games are (finally) over, the images will linger on: close-ups of the faces of many nations, sweaty and transfigured by joy or anguish, bodies silhouetted in mid-flight against the sky, hurtling down the track, emerging triumphant from the pool as if from a baptism.

And those were just the advertisements.

With the flood of advance campaigns, sponsors colonized billions of consumer imaginations, branding images of the Games with their corporate identities. By the time the Olympics began, seamless transitions from events to advertisements and back again made it easy to lose track of which was which.

Using predictable slow motion and long, silent panning shots, or fast, MTV-style editing, accompanied by surging music, earnest monologues, or the isolated sounds of heavy breathing, Olympic ads got a stranglehold on the heartstrings. They otherwise mundane sports events with a rapturous, religious quality, celebrating nationalism or a we-are-all-one-people globalism. They traced the trajectory of the American Dream through the lowly individual's determined struggle to achieve Excellence®, and the ultimate reward—the Olympic currency of gold, silver, and bronze. These mawkish, emotion-rousing images were accompanied by the persistent and ubiquitous logos and slogans of the official sponsors; through their campaigns (not to mention product placements, coupon specials, supermarket displays, and valuable prizes) the Games themselves became echoes and extensions of the ads.

It didn't matter, in the end, if the raised hands of athletes held Olympic torches or cans of Coke, if the song on their lips was a national anthem or an AT&T jingle. An early advertisement announced that "all of the [Olympic sponsors] have joined together to develop a remarkable product...The Olympic Experience." And that is precisely what they delivered: the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, trademarked, wrapped in plastic, and available at your local drive-through.    </end>

DARCY COSPER is a freelance writer and researcher. She lives in Manhattan.
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