Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Schlock & Awe

The Olympics has become as much a cliche as it has become obsolete and above all, decadent. Manufacturing and giving 60,000 ponchos to the stadium crowd to enable projecting images onto the audience seems on the face of it to be vibrantly non-green. If they were made of corn plastic, it would’ve been naturally plastered all over the internet!  And the creation of a Woodstock of plenty to celebrate athletes who practice sports that invoke permanent damage to their very human anatomy through simple routine boggles my mind. So what if the marathon used to kill the runners. That was then, this is now. I have a pretty firm belief that knees shouldn’t be sacrificed during normal pursuit of a sport.

The pull of the Olympics is as straightforward as it is hidden. One of the fundamental ideas of the Olympics as a peaceful celebration of the power of human beings from the world’s countries is a very appealing and an extremely honourable one.  Coupled with the fact that the four year cycle makes it rare and ephemeral makes the Olympics very hard to ignore for most people with a TV and a pulse.

It is the Olympics’ very rarity that has elevated it into an event that triggers ancient and deeply embedded cues that prompt awe and wonder, albeit on a rather low frequency. The call of ritual and tradition are an inherent part of the human brain’s makeup. That’s why people like the idea of Christmas, Easter, or Canada Day -so much so that they implemented them in the first place. Stonehenge – they sure knew what they were doing, and it wasn’t just crop insurance. On the loom of life, ritual gives pattern to the fabric.

Our parents have answered the siren song of the Olympics, and as children we watch and learn and then follow in their well-modeled footsteps. Organized religion is no slouch at maximizing the operating systems that we humans have and our preference for rituals and memes, and people rarely veer from their parents choice of religion (if they continue to adhere to the one they were raised with, that is!). The Olympics are rather more like a religion, one that glorifies ‘amateurs’ who wear down parts of their very human bodies in their single minded pursuit of ‘excellence’ in sport. The irony is of the painfully delicious variety. The Olympics has become a genuine Greek tragedy.

Its worth debating how worthwhile the Olympics are.