Luge, I have learned in my 24 hours of fandom, is very scary. You have a sled that you steer with your calves. You hold tiny handles that help you steer—but only a little. Your gloves are covered in tiny spikes that allow you to slap the ice and help you go fast. You zip across the ice at 80 mph, and sometimes you bump into the wall, and this is very bad and very scary.
I am too scared to even walk across a sheet of ice. What if I slip and fall? I once did an alpine slide as a child, and the terror of it still lives in my brain. I am from a state routinely warmed by the sun until it is almost unbearable, so I do not understand this inclination to zip down the icy slide. Which is to say, I am very impressed by the luge athletes.
I watched all four rounds of the men’s singles competition in luge on Sunday. Luge, I learned, is about consistency. All four of your scores are added together to determine the placements. You must be perfect, or as close as you can get to that, four times. I watched Johannes Ludwig of Germany wipe the slippery ice with his opponents, breaking the track record twice! I watched Austria’s Wolfgang Kindl win silver, and Italy’s Dominik Fischnaller take bronze. And on every single run I screamed “NO!” at the very beginning because the NBC camera operators insisted on reminding me about death.
This is what a nice picture of an athlete zipping down the luge should look like:
That’s nice, isn’t it? It looks calming, beautiful, soothing. Sure, he is going so fast but also he looks so long with plenty of space on either side of him! This makes sense to me.
But on TV, I also saw this. There is one camera, right at the end of the entrance to the slide, that foreshortens the athletes, turning them into terrifying, disproportionate, doll-size versions of themselves about to hurl themselves into peril! Here. Look at this, if you dare.
Look how short his torso looks! Look how GIANT HIS HEAD seems. I hate this!!!! Here’s another one:
Why must we see this??? Why must I be tortured with these images?
Every single one of them reminds me of the painting Lamentation of the Dead Christ painted by Andrea Mantegna sometime between 1490 and 1508. Here. Look at it.
Every art history teacher loves to talk about this painting because it is upsetting. The intense foreshortening is uncomfortable The focus is not on Christ as a person but on the elements of his death: the holes in his feet and hands, his rock hard six-pack abs, his thorax, his breathless nose. I personally believe that this painting is bad, and I believe that the reason it was found in Mantegna’s studio after he died is not because it was “saved for personal use”—as many museums argue—but because he knew it was bad. He was waiting to paint over it.
This angle, this viewpoint for looking at a person is perhaps the most unflattering and most unsettling one that exists! So why then must I see this:
Luge is dangerous already. People die! An athlete died before the opening ceremony in Vancouver in 2010!
Luckily, there are many days left to resolve this problem. Women’s luge begins tomorrow, followed by doubles and team luge. Please, I am begging the videographers, do not make me look at the foreshortened luge athletes. They scare me. They remind me of death.