Unfortunately—despite all the excitement involving female gymnasts, women’s beach volleyball, and an American sweep of the women’s 100 meter hurdles—the big news coming out of the Rio Olympic this week involves a quartet of American swimmers. Yes, their competition is over, but that hasn’t stopped them from making waves.
I admit I only know what I read in the papers, or hear from the lips of the unflappable Bob Costas. But it seems that medal-winner Ryan Lochte and three of his buddies went to a party hosted by French athletes. They had a lot to drink, then grabbed a cab at about 4 a.m. to return to their quarters. At some point the cab was accosted by fake Rio cops who pointed weapons at the athletes and robbed them of their wallets and valuables before fleeing into the night. That’s the story Lochte told his mom in the U.S., by phone, and soon it was all over the news media, serving as a reflection of the dangerous streets of Rio during the Olympic games.
No question that Rio can be dangerous. There’ve been several disturbing incidents in the last few weeks, including the mugging of the games’ head of security by men with knives immediately after the opening ceremonies. But this robbery of gold-medal American athletes caused a major headache for the Rio de Janeiro police force, which became determined to investigate. When they looked into the swimmers’ allegation, discrepancies began to appear. A security video that captured the foursome’s return to the Olympic Village called into question the timing of their taxi adventure. Not only that: they appeared to have on their persons some items they’d claimed were stolen hours earlier. Now three swimmers have been detained in Rio (two were pulled off an airline flight just before its departure) for questioning by the cops. And Lochte, already back home, also has some serious ‘splaining to do.
I feel sorry—for the swimmers, for the Rio police, for sports fans everywhere—that the excitement of the games has been marred by whatever is going on. Are the U.S. athletes liars? Contemplating this possibility, my movie-besotted brain latched onto several movies in which small lies have big consequences. There is, for instance, 1961’s The Children’s Hour, in which a young troublemaker at a girls’ school hints at a lesbian relationship between two teachers (played by Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine), leading to tragedy. In 2007’s Atonement, another young girl (remarkably played by 12-year-old Saiorse Ronan) is drawn by her own jealousy and sexual confusion to accuse an innocent man of attacking her sister.
I don’t know, of course, if the four American men are liars. And their behavior, thank goodness, doesn’t seem to be leading to tragedy so much as embarrassment. They do admit they’d had too much to drink at that party. So I should probably be thinking about movies of a different sort. Like those of the last twenty years that feature overgrown male adolescents acting badly. Like Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in Wedding Crashers. Or the guys in The Hangover. Or Seth Rogen in anything he had a hand in writing, like Superbad or This is the End. Or that circle of slackers (Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, and company) in Knocked Up. Such movies—especially those overseen by Judd Apatow—can be really, truly funny. But the portrait they paint of young men with too much booze on their brains has some disturbing implications for our culture. At the movies we find them lovable. But in real life? Maybe not so much.
Since this was written, of course, the world has learned that this was indeed a case of American boys behaving badly, and then blaming others for their own misdeeds. Not exactly a proud moment for our nation.