Content warning: instances of Orientalism and appropriation ahead.
Day 13: Wednesday, August 4, 2021:
ARTISTIC SWIMMING (fka SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING): Duet Free Routine Finals
>This sport is hands down the most underrated sport in all of the Olympics. Not only do you have to do a full gymnastics routine while holding your breath upside down underwater, but you also have to do it in sync with a partner (or seven partners, for Team events) with whom you are in such close proximity that there is almost no room for Jesus. Simultaneously, you cannot rely on the underwater speakers or on being able to see underwater, yet must still hit all of your cues. On top of that? You are required to have the flexibility of a boiled noodle, plus the swiftness of a coursing river, with all the force of a great typhoon. Not only that?? Your face is doing its own Olympic routine in the category of Facial Acrobatics (see slides below). And most astonishingly??? You must have core strength. No other sport requires you to have core strength.
>Now imagine you have to do all of the above with a wedgie in your butt, a pound of makeup on your face, and at least a gallon of gelatin in your hair. (Sorry for the American measuring units. See slides below.)
>I will never get over the synchro walk. It is not dissimilar to the walk I do when I find myself in public, suddenly menstruating, with only one inflatable raft of a maxi pad languishing at me from the crumb-laden bottom of my bag, and I have no choice but to use it, and as I exit the restroom, I repeat to myself, “Walk naturally, walk naturally, walk naturally,” but it cannot be helped. This—this penguinic synchro walk—is how I look.
>The fact that they have to “set up” their program by doing a mimetic circus routine in complete silence before entering the water?…seems a bit inhumane.
Here is where the Orientalism comes in…So, each pair’s routine has a theme, and where some of them are full of innovation, others of them are full of caucasity. Let me show you:
–Japan’s theme: “Robot evolution”—If you are on the Olympic world stage doing the robot and paying tribute to the video game music your country helped pioneer and also slicing through water like a praying mantis doing ballet, you are doing something right. (Video below.)
–China’s theme: “Snakes”— There’s a long history in Chinese culture of observing animals and their movements and incorporating those movements into dance and martial arts and language. Hence why there’s 蛇舞 (not the Jay Chou song), ie snake dance, and 蛇拳, ie snake boxing, or snake style gong fu. This routine taps into that tradition and reimagines it for the water. (Video in following section.)
Russia ROC: “Spiders”—Smart choice for a sport that relies a lot on sharp, angular movements. This duo are known as “the Svetlanas,” bc they are both named Svetlana. They have dominated the sport for ages, but tbh, I feel at this point like it is as much a product of their reputation as it is of their skill. Shout out their spider hair buns tho. (Video in following section.)
–Austria: “Evil dolls”—It’s creepy, it’s not afraid to be creepy, and you have to respect that. (Video of this same routine, but in the Olympic qualifier: click here.)
–Belarus: “Witches”—Loving these dark, spooky themes. (Video of same routine, but in the Olympic qualifier: click here.)
Order of photos: Japan’s robot pose; China’s snake pose; Russia’s spider pose; Russia’s spider buns; Austria’s evil doll costumes; Belarus’s witch costumes
–Lichtenstein: “Animals of the Chinese calendar”—Where even to begin. First off:
Second: they call it the Chinese calendar, but the words on their outfit which are clearly supposed to align with the 12 zodiac animals, are the Japanese rather than the Chinese characters for the animals.
Third: You better believe their routine began with the “oriental” gong sound and was peppered throughout with loud tiger growls and cock-a-doodle-doos and hissing sounds and random bird squawks (“bird” is not even in the Chinese zodiac, like??).
Fourth: it wasn’t even good.
–Australia: “Yoga”—This was some Putumayo “World Music,” fake rainbow dred wearing, Burning Man type blasphemy. They might has well have greeted us with their hands in prayer position and bindis on their foreheads, with an “ohm” symbol tatted on their respective biceps while intoning, “Namaste.”
-Italy: “Tribal music”—istg if one more person throws some dissonant melodies over pounding drums laced with shakers and rainforest sounds and calls it “tribal”……..
–France: “Amazons,” as based on Cirque du Soleil’s “Toruk” show, a staged rendering of James Cameron’s Avatar… France…it is fully 2021. There is no need for this.
–Canada: “Japanese culture”—I can’t. I’m done. I’m tired.
>These were my top programs:
–All-around best, in terms of technique, creativity, and artistry: China
–Most fun/entertaining: Japan
–High “technicality” or whatever: ROC
>These were my top musical moments: 1) when Charli XCX’s “Boom Clap” played in between routines 2) when Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away With Me” played in between routines.
>In can’t help but notice that the IOC (Int’l Olympic Committee) added so many sports to this Olympics: sport climbing, skateboarding, surfing, karate (more on that later), and yet, I still see no men in artistic swimming. Parity in sports means having men join artistic swimming, and it means not having women do weird dances in between life-threatening tumbling passes in gymnastics. (Some people believe that we must go so far as to even “challenge” this “gender binary.” But I don’t. For me, cis men in artistic swimming is the pinnacle of gender equality.)