I hereby submit to the journalists, academics, sports buffs, and clammy fanboys contemplating the pleasures and problems of Lindsey Vonn’s vaunted babeliciousness that it’s all in the eyes. Her look as important as her looks, she regards the camera with a steady energized confidence—the gaze of a performer who knows that her love of attention will be requited. For an athlete to preen like this is hardly a crime, as The Champ would tell you, perhaps in rhyme, and the media circus of the past few weeks has been good fun. But yesterday, at the moment of Vonn’s celebration of her thrilling gold-medal performance, the mood shifted, and, to borrow a term of art from snowboarding, a little bit of sketchiness set in. The Vonn spectacle finally transformed into a reality show, and the slopes came to resemble The Hills.
She skied, and she won—congratulations!—and those eyes streamed with powerful tears. (Because Vonn wears more makeup than an Alabama debutante, the bon mot of the moment concerned her fitness to endorse waterproof mascara, but I’m more interested in whether ginger-tressed snowboarder Shaun White locks up a deal to promote an all-in-one shampoo-conditioner.) Vonn was simply being a professional when, during the interview that immediately followed her triumph, she took care to thank Red Bull, a sponsor. But then the interviewer reminded her to go find her husband, and things went artificial, with cameras circling as the couple performed a private moment, their feelings doubtlessly genuine and their exhibitionism indubitably choreographed, as if the audience would have been disappointed not to witness a high-quality quasi-consummation (which we probably would have). I have here an e-mail from a reader who was disgusted to notice that, when other skiers crashed, NBC privileged reaction shots of Vonn over coverage of her suffering colleagues.
To really appreciate the dynamic, consider Vonn’s subsequent handling by Matt Lauer, whose taped interview aired Thursday morning on Today. Matt brought Lindsey chocolate and flowers and a few flamboyantly disingenuous questions. It was one thing when he employed the language of cinematography in mentioning her fierce concentration at the top of the slope: “At the start, there was a great tight shot of you.” It was quite another when he begged Vonn to divulge exactly what her husband said to her during their hug. “You deserve it” is what he said, repeatedly, as Lauer and everyone else could hear perfectly well, NBC’s sound crews being top-notch. This was not a real inquiry but a theatrical contrivance meant to simulate intimacy and stimulate voyeurs: Lindsey Vonn bares all.