Kickstarting the Olympics

Curator's Note

However controversial they may be, the Olympics represent nationalistic excess and the individual greatness. Media portrayals of individual athletes craft narratives that support triumph in the midst of trial. However, Olympic narratives that are offered during the moment of the game often leave out particularly touchy subjects like the ones to be explored in "Three and a Half Pike" by High Energy Films. Operating outside of broadcast distribution, Human Energy Films takes advantage of their position as a documentary production team to highlight rising competition from Chinese competitors, whose national government has given strong support for Olympic diving. The stills of American-run facilities tell an alternate narrative of American sport - dilapidated buildings and dwindling funds.

What particularly drew me to this clip for this issue of In Media Res, was the use of Kickstarter to garner funds for the project. Crowdfunding is no longer new. Kickstarter is a solidified and highly competitive means for funding a wide variety of projects - from new technical innovations to films. Earlier in Kickstarter's history, independent producers tapped into the crowdfunding website for the guaranteed audience of the Kickstarter community. "Three and a Half Pike" leveraged the community, social media, and a grassroots network of divers and diving enthusiasts to become a successfully funded project.

One of the keys to the success of "Three and a Half Pike," has to do with traditional sorts of media funding. The team pooled support from a network of friends and supporters from within the diving community, bringing this audience to the website. While Kickstarter is touted as a great crowdfunding website, successful artists like Amanda Palmer succeed by bringing fans to the site. The "crowd" of  crowdfunding  are not an anonymous crowd in either the case of Amanda Palmer or "Three and a Half Pike." The crowd includes a known group of supporters and fans willing to provide advanced support for a project. 


Evelyn, thanks for posting this video and your commentary.  It strikes me as a particularly interesting counterpoint to the narratives proffered by NBC/Comcast, which seem to highlight the ways in which Olympic athletes overcome the odds but rarely (if ever) spend much time discussing the ways in which elite athletes' training is funded, beyond perhaps the odd allusion to families sacrificing by relocating.  The class dimensions of the modern Olympics -- always present since their founding in 1896, though also frequently unspoken -- seem to stand out here ... even if they're not the central part of the explicit appeal of the films.  I'm also struck by the "classic" look of some of the diving footage, which not only evokes a bygone era in which the U.S. excelled but also aesthetically suggests a connection to more conventional modes of media content creation and distribution -- perhaps lending an air of authority or credibility to the venture.

The clip, its method of circulation, and the crowdfunding dynamic also collectively raise lots of other macropolitical questions, echoing those evident in other discourses: what does this say about the role of government?  Is it implicitly a progressive critique of the neglect of infrastructure and public goods; a libertarian-leaning call for individuals to come together to support the training of elite athletes themselves rather than relying on the state to do so; a conservative cry to restore American predominance and exceptionalism; some, all, or none of the above?  And how are consumers of / contributors to this video and the venture it undertakes responding to it and to the Olympics in general?

Again, thanks for bringing such an interesting clip to our (or at least my) attention!

- Doug

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