Saturday, January 30, 2010

Make It Up As We Go Along or Break It?

At the start of the New Year, I wrote about my not so secret but very guilty pleasure- the ABC Family show, Make It Or Break It, which chronicles the travails, both athletic and romantic, of gymnasts supposedly en route to the Olympics in 2012. In that post, I acknowledged that the show was lackluster on nearly every level- from the writing to the acting and even the gymnastics, which any true gym fan knows wouldn't be rewarded with an NCAA scholarship, much less an Olympic medal.

On the International Gymnast website, Dwight Normile is similarly critical of the show. He cites not just the level of the gymnastics but the paucity of it- just 20 seconds in a recent episode- and the reliance on implausible soap opera plots to sustain the show.

Now while I don't disagree with any of Mr. Normile's critiques, I do have a bit of a bone to pick with him. He's been the editor of arguably the best gymnastics magazine in the world for several years. I received my subscription for the magazine as a bat mitzvah gift from my therapist (yes, you read that right) at the age of 12 and continued to receive it until the end of college. It was also one of the first places where my writing was published (0utside of my high school newspaper that is). Missing this monthly bulletin, I signed up for a subscription last year, which I have since let lapse a few months ago. I don't plan to renew.

Why? Because the quality of the magazine has gone down over the years. Where I once used to pore over every word, I stopped reading and just looked at the photos. The writers have remained largely the same and the way in which they present the sport and the athletes has not changed either. Perhaps it's time to invigorate the magazine with new writers and perspectives. Because it is rather rich of Mr. Normile to fault the show for trafficking in gymnastics cliches when his own magazine has been telling the same exact stories year after year. If a publication devoted to the sport can't find new stories or ideas within gymnastics, how can one possibly demand that a bunch of producers and writers, most of whom possess little knowledge the marquee Olympic event to do any better? If IG can't make life in the gym seem interesting by writing about something other than the devoted, hardworking gymnast, then why shouldn't MIOBI strain believability by sending the girls to LA. At least that adds a dash of excitement.

I know that in Ecclesiastes it is written,"There is nothing new under the sun," and that all content is derivative, etc. but it should be possible to tell tweak the formula to tell seemingly new stories or at least more interesting stories.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Many Orthodox Jews refer to God as "Hashem," which translates to "the name." One of the reasons is to keep a person from desecrating the name of GdashD or using it frivolously. But that doesn't seem to be holy enough for some people. A friend of mine recently came across a more pious spelling albeit incomplete spelling. It has been reduced to one vowel and written sans "e."

Here are a couple of examples of this new, exciting form of silliness:

In a eulogy on Aish's website: Rosh Yeshivat Slabodka, said that Rav Noach walked in the ways of Avraham Avinu to bring close to HaSh-m, Torah learning and Mitzvah observance, multitudes of Jews.

From a Talmud study site: (a) Successive messengers came telling Iyov of the loss of his property and children; Iyov accepted it and blessed Hash-m. The Satan still praised Avraham, and Hash-m praised Iyov.
(b) (R. Yochanan): "Va'Tesiseni" - if the verse did not say that Hash-m was enticed, it would be forbidden to say this.

This is ridiculous on many different levels. First of all, "Hashem" is not even the name of God. It's a fence designed so you don't actually say "God" when you are referring to Him/Her. So now they've put a fence around the fence.

And what made them decide to drop the"e"? There are six letters in "Hashem," any one of them could've been deleted to avoid sacrilege. Why the vowel? Why that vowel? And if this had been written in Hebrew, then there would've been no vowel to drop since all the letters are consonants and the vowel sounds are represented by symbols above and below the letters that are rarely written.

And how will pious Israelis tell people their names if this term is now verboten?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Too True

A friend told me this joke. Her brother had heard on a date.

Question: What's the difference between a Jewish mother and a terrorist?

Answer: Sometimes you can negotiate with a terrorist.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Birthday Wish, Sort of Fulfilled

Today is my 27th birthday but yesterday my niece celebrated turning 6. Whereas I have been slightly dreading this day for months, she had been counting down excitedly for weeks. What a difference 21 years makes.

But I was also excited (though not to the point of exploding as Tali was) because my older sister had decided throw her youngest daughter a gymnastics birthday party, which for all you doubters out there, I hadn't suggested. No, seriously. Just because I like to hold her upside down and show her how to do a forward roll, doesn't mean that I was slipping her subliminal messages so that she would ask for such a party. I would never do that.

Salute the judges!

I never had a gymnastics birthday party and I don't think I ever attended one. Not that I would've wanted to have a party at the gym I attended- it was held in the basement of a Jewish center and the equipment was so old, it hearkened back to Olga Korbut's heyday in the early 70s.

So Tali's was the first gymnastics birthday party I had ever been invited to. I wore my stretchy jeans so I would have sufficient mobility to do flips and jump on the trampoline but when I arrived the gym staff informed me that I would not be able to participate. Only the children would be allowed on the equipment. My mother tried explaining to them that I was a child in a 27 year old's body but to no avail. I would have to watch from the sidelines.

Which I did until the very end. I had been taking pictures and through my digital camera saw that one of the children, my niece's first cousin in fact, had pressed into a front support on the low bar. He was in the perfect position to flip.s, a 7 year old boy, press into a support on the low bar. Hey kid, wanna do a flip over the bar? I asked, like I was offering him illicit drugs. He, a seven year old boy, explained that he didn't know how. Well I could spot you. This one is free but the next one will cost you.

Moving in closer to the apparatus, I told him to tuck his head and roll forward and that I would support his back. He rolled to the mat easily and then proceeded to do it over and over again until he was shepherded from the gym for birthday cake, which was quite excellent if you were able to eat around the Hannah Montana frosting.

I suppose that coaching wasn't the intervention I had had in mind before I got to the gym, but it was the best this former gymnast could do. Besides, I'm 27. I'm way too old to do gymnastics.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Gymnastics and Figure Skating Go Together Like Peas and Carrots?

When I was younger I was obsessed with gymnastics (which should be plain to even those readers who never get beyond the blog's name) but I was also quite the figure skating aficionado. When my mother yelled at me for practicing back handsprings in the living room on Shabbat, I would would start doing single axels. I could already do a 540 degree straight body jump in the gym. How much harder could it be to take off from one leg and from the forward outside edge of my pretend skate blade? Of course, the carpeting was easier to imagine as a mat than as a sheet of ice and I landed the jump as gracefully as I did my back flips, which is to say with the aplomb of a tipped cow. I was inelegant at gymnastics as I was at living room ice skating.

Anyway, I tell this story to demonstrate how closely linked the two sports are, at least in the minds of fans, and in the minds of the advertisers of this upcoming event, The Progressive Skating & Gymnastics Spectacular. In this so-called "spectacular" gymnasts and figure skaters perform side by side as though this is perfectly- two creatures in a shared ecosystem- even if cold and hard frigid surfaces are anathema to one (the gymnast) and absolutely necessary to the other. Which begs the question, Are these two really as closely related as Progressive and NBC would have us believe?

Gymnastics and figure skating. Twins separated at birth?

Now, it is true that corporate sponsorship from an insurance company is apt for the two sports since they are both rife with injuries. But risk aside, how much do they have in common? I googled in search of answers and found this page on which compares the two disciplines. Some of the best similarities noted:

"Both gymnastics and figure skating involve much dedication, sacrifice, and hard work."

"Both gymnasts and figure skaters must be slim and trim."

"Both sports have progressively become more athletic."

"Gymnasts and figure skaters must make sure their hair is pulled back and away from their faces. "
The last one is my personal favorite, another way of saying that both gymnastics and figure skating are best performed when nothing obstructs the athlete's field of vision. Indeed, that's a similarity worth noting. Cause it is easy to think of sports where eyesight is unnecessary, perhaps even a hindrance. Like baseball. No need for eyesight there.

And if they are indeed so similar or linked, why have we never seen a skater successfully cross over into gymnastics or vice versa, like Ashley Tisdale has made the jump from tween pop to hard edged rocker? (I totally kept a straight face as I typed that. Seriously. But in the interest of full disclosure, I did take an Ambien not too long ago and am feeling a bit too sleepy to laugh.)

Speaking of Ashley Tisdale, here is a snippet from the ice and flip tackular, set to a number performed by Ms. Tisdale. You be the judge as to whether gym and skating belong to each other.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Make It or Break It

Now for those of you who think that the title of this blog post is some sort of reference to break dancing or a New Year's Resolution or a motivating mantra, you clearly don't know me. The only thing I've resolved to do this year is buy more baked goods and chocolate, a promise I've thus far kept. How many of you out there can say that about your plans to go to the gym every day?

No, the title of this post refers to the ABC Family television show, Make It or Break It. It has been a long time since I've honored the "gymnastics" part of this blog's name so the start of a new year seemed like a good time to do it.

This show, set in Colorado, is about a group of Olympic hopefuls training at the Rock- not Alcatraz (but wouldn't it be cool to set a gymnastics movie or event on the other Rock? I would very much like to literalize the mainstream's media notions that young gymnasts are forced laborers for their Romanian overlords. C'mon ABC Family or USA Gymnastics- get on this!)

I know I should've written about this show sooner. After all, the series is now in its second season, or midway through the first but I was too ashamed. The show, especially the early episodes, is bad. It's riddled with terrible acting and unreal sounding dialogue. And the worst part is the gymnastics. When you go to see a "dance" movie you don't expect to be wowed by the script or the line delivery but you do expect to see mind blowing dance sequences. I think the same should apply to movies about gymnastics. I think the gymnastics needs to be more impressive than the acting/story by a factor of at least a hundred. That we were hearing the gymnasts/characters speak about the Olympics with a belief that they would be there and yet seeing them perform routines that would get beaten at any NCAA gymnastics meet- well that was a lot of disbelief to suspend. But maybe the gymnastics looks good from a lay person perspective.

Anyway, though I'm still ashamed that I watched every episode of the "first" season and will probably watch the second in it's entirety, admitting this pales when you consider my pre-New Year's blog post where I admit to having James Blunt's Beautiful somewhere on my Itunes.

Though the LA Times, in its review of the second season premiere was more forgiving than I am, they did have this to say about the gymnastics:
"When actually performing gymnastics, all of the actresses look like they're fulfilling community service obligations."
But at least they're not wearing orange jumpsuits. Well, Lauren (Cassie Scerbo) is wearing a shiny orange leotard. And a healthy dose of self-tanner. So maybe she really is performing community service.

The one bright spot is Peri Gilpin from Frasier, who plays one of the gymnasts' mother. But while I'm excited to watch a skilled actress on this show, her presence does make me sad for the prospects of actresses over 40 in Hollywood.