In the Believer's January issue, Sarah Marshall delved deep into the story of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding in the 1994 Olympics with an eye on femininity, celebrity, and the prevailing media narrative of the time. This week we asked her to share her thoughts on ESPN’s latest 30 for 30 documentary, The Price of Gold (now streaming on Netflix) which revisits the same characters and issues.
Are you ready for the Olympics?
The Sochi Games start in two weeks, and if you think you can escape them, you should probably give up that charade right now. Even if you can stay away from Twitter and Facebook and all other social media for sixteen days, even if you can avoid chatty coworkers and emails from friends, even if you can convince yourself that you just don’t care about even the smallest aspect of the Olympics—not the now-inevitable doping controversies, not the ceremonial flourishes and flubs, not the artistic pinnacles reached by the great minds behind the hours’ worth of commercials for Visa and Nike and McDonald’s and Coke—the Olympics will find you. And if you can resist everything else, they will still use their greatest weapon to bring you into the fold: narrative.
Is there any venue that produces more narrative than the Olympic games? Forget all the various writing festivals and conferences that take up the bulk of the calendar year; forget all the graduates of all the MFA programs in the country; forget even the publishing houses. If you want a story, or better yet want to find out what story is, you’ll get a far greater education by spending the night watching the Olympics than you would after a weekend in the library stacks. When it comes to narrative, the Games have it all: the poised young prodigy living her most outrageous dreams; the athlete returning for a second Olympics, determined to prove himself after tragedy, injury, or past failure; and, of course, the rivalry.
“You get this sense that the most valuable you can be as a girl or woman in American society is as a victim. When you are raped and still alive, you are problematic. When you are raped and murdered, they can’t say that something didn’t happen to you and obviously justice needs to be brought. That’s when you are least troublesome as a woman… I think David Lynch is a smart guy. Basing a whole soap opera, what was to be an epic narrative, around the death of a girl… That’s the kind of engine that a big narrative needs. What would the show have been like if it was about Laura Palmer when she was alive? We find it pretty repellant to see her walking and talking and being a troubled prostitute. Laura Palmer alive is this strange, very troubled, very alienating woman who is not too dissimilar from Tonya Harding, really. She has a history of family abuse and sexual abuse. She has been raped. As a living woman, she is very troublesome to encounter. As a dead girl, she has this unifying power to motivate an entire community and entrance a nation.”—
Hi Sarah, my name is Michael Hobbes, I'm a writer too. I thought your Tonya Harding essay was the best thing I've read in ages, and I am going to buy the hell out of your book when it's finished. I don't want to ask anything, I just wanted to let you know that. So now you know!
Having one reader guaranteed takes a load off! I’m so glad you liked it.
“You can see a billboard for TaB and think: Nancy Regan drinks TaB, Gloria Vanderbilt drinks TaB. Jackie Onassis drinks TaB, and just think, you can drink TaB too. TaB is TaB and no matter how rich you are, you can’t get a better one than the homeless woman on the corner is drinking. All the TaBs are the same. And all the TaBs are good. Nancy Regan knows it, Gloria Vanderbilt knows it, Jackie Onassis knows it, Katharine Hepburn knows it, the baglady knows it, and you know it.”—