Past perfect: Gore Vidal, Mike Doonesbury and the Olympics

I haven’t been reading the comic strip Doonesbury by Garry Trudeau as regularly as I once did, 40, 25, even 10 years ago. I own three hefty early volumes of collected strips which I used to reread frequently. However, I’ve never cottoned to it appearing on the op-ed page of my local newspaper. So I managed to miss the great announcement in Sunday’s paper, by the nominal lead character, Michael Doonesbury, that he was handing over the reins of his daughter Alex (July 29); immediately, Alex has talked about the changes she’ll be making in the strip. The focus of the series has been more on her and her new husband Leo – check out the wedding sequence, from June 11 to 23 – than the previous generation for a couple years now. I should note that I think the daily strips are greatly enhanced by color, and I should just remember to read it online, even if it’s a day later.
When I heard that writer Gore Vidal had died, I flashed back, not to anything he wrote, though I’m sure I read some of his essays. Rather, I remember these series of vigorous debates between him, presumably on the left politically, and William F. Buckley on the right, e.g., doing commentary at the 1968 Democratic convention. These discussions, often on the Dick Cavett Show, which aired against The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and therefore underwatched, were almost always lively, occasionally nasty affairs, but amazingly entertaining television. Go to YouTube and search for Gore Vidal William Buckley.

Once upon a time, I was an avid Olympic watcher, but all the dustups this year has vaguely soured me on it all. There’s whatever Mitt Romney said about preparedness, which was similar to what the British media had said; it’s DIFFERENT when THEY say it, rather than a foreigner on their soil pronouncing it. At least, the US opening ceremony garb that was Made in China got Democrats and Republicans to agree on something. NBC’s tape-delay, and their handling of those who don’t keep in line, not to mention its somewhat jingoistic coverage, starting with the opening ceremony coverage, was annoying; How an American Can Stream the BBC’s Official Olympics Coverage and Overcome #NBCFail. Note also the controversies once the competition actually began, which happen regularly, but seem somehow magnified by so much instant media.

I HAVE caught random events- England v Canada women’s basketball when I was at the barbershop; a couple swimming events – but I haven’t sat down with the intention of watching.

Second picture from @tompsk.

0 thoughts on “Past perfect: Gore Vidal, Mike Doonesbury and the Olympics”

  1. I’m afraid that Mitt forgot the golden rule of diplomacy: do not intrude on private grief. Sadly that has been American foreign policy since WWII!

    Regarding Michael Phelps and whether he is the greatest Olympian or not, Michael Johnson made the point that had the 200 metres had variations such as running backwards, hopping on one leg or waving your arms in the air then he too might have won more medals.

    That isn’t to decry Phelps’ achievements, but he has had many more opportunities to win medals.

    I’ve always felt that truly great Olympians are those that win medals in physical events at consecutive games. Phelps winning gold at three Olympics is what puts him in the great category rather than the number he has won.

    We are having a similar debate about who is the greatest British Olympian after cyclist Bradley Wiggins won gold in the time trials yesterday. He overtook rower Steve Redgrave for the number of medals won, but for me Redgraves five gold medals at five different games in one of the most physically demanding events means he remains one of the all-time greats.


  2. Having mentioned Michael Johnson, I meant to ask what his profile is like in the US. He has appeared on the BBC for some years now and is highly regarded as a pundit, and not just athletics. (He was down at the rowing yesterday) I heard him say that he doesn’t appear on tv in the US because athletics is something of a poor relation behind American football, baseball, basketball etc and wondered if that was correct.


    1. SP- I claim no expertise on this, but my sense is that Michael Johnson, except when he’s competing, is all but invisible in the US. He appeared on a dreadful show called Celebrity Apprentice, Donald Trump’s show, and he did not do well. He’s clearly used more as a sports commentator by the BBC than by any American network, but why this is so, I have no idea.


  3. I tended to agree with Gore Vidal’s positions, but I was very repelled by his snobbery. Match him up with a righteous snob like the radical William F Buckley and, well, I had better things to do then watch them expel snot.

    As for Milton “Mitt” Romney, I find it hilarious that this social climbing anglophile was summarily rejected by the Anglos both high and low. I wonder how that’s playing out in his social circles.


  4. That makes sense. From what Michael Johnson has said, he is happy to do commentary etc in the UK, but not at home. We must pay more!


  5. Great roundup.

    The “how to get the Olympics from BBC online” is interesting and I’m going to check it out. 🙂

    The Vidal vs. Buckley discussion is really interesting to me. However, they’re talking about the Chicago protests, which were at the Democratic convention, not the Republican one like it says in the link.

    (Personal note: my grandfather was part of the IL national guard called up to deal with the “problem.” He took the position that “When called up, you go. They’re dirty hippies, but weren’t that big of a problem until we showed up.” Legend had it that my dad WAS one of the “dirty hippies,” but I never knew the man personally so that might have just been legend. 🙂 )


  6. The thing that has amused me most about Olympic coverage is how it’s being handled on the news. We caught the NBC national news once early on, and they were very cautious–telling folks to look away and then only posting results as an on-screen graphic(preserving their viewing audience, no doubt). The next day, we were back to our normal CBS and they just blathered the results willy-nilly, but the NEXT day, they said they got an “earful” about that, so just gave a brief warning “Olympic story coming up”. It has all seemed rather silly to me.


  7. I saw the first double amputee runner, Oscar Pistorius from South Africa, run last night and I must say, I was moved. The interview with him after the semi-round was very poignant. His accomplishment and attitude is truly Olympian material.


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