Blog Archive

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Olympics:

The Olympics are just around the bend, so like usual a crowd of haters have got to hate on it.  Using tired arguments we've all heard before, they try to discredit and discontinue the Olympics every two years, even though it's the world's greatest festival and billions of people watch and celebrate it every time it airs.

So let's try and explain the allure of the Olympics and why they should continue, despite all the haters who have got to hate on anyone who seems to be having fun simply because they're having fun.

First off, the sports themselves are interesting and worth watching.  Not so much as spectator sports, but enough that they're enjoyable once every four years.

Spectator sports rely on fluid and dynamic situations that never repeat themselves in order to keep viewer attention throughout the game and from game to game.  Whether it's football, soccer, ice hockey, baseball or basketball, the ball is always rapidly moving about in an unpredictable fashion from play to play, and goals come suddenly after long breaks where it looked like nothing could break through.  This constant excitement and unpredictability is perfect for spectators to watch endlessly.  No two games are alike, and no two possessions are alike, there's always some twist going on that you haven't seen before.

Olympic sports usually aren't like that.  They try to rote memorize a particular motion and then execute it as perfectly as possible by doing it over and over again.  Watching a sport like that gets dull quickly, no matter how good these athletes are at perfectly executing their score-winning moves.  However, if you wait four years between watching these events, there's enough variety and change going on that the sport no longer suffers.  The athletes change or improve, and as a result new moves and new styles move to the fore since last time we watched the sport.  The courses also change, creating new and greater challenges for the competitors.  Sometimes even the technology changes, leading to faster world records than we've ever seen before.

Due to there being so many different sports on offer, the novelty and curiosity of what's going on won't wear out even for a strictly inferior sport to the known classic spectator sports.  For people who have never seen a handball game before in their life, watching a single game of handball can be a lot more fun than their millionth game of football.  The Olympics offers people the opportunity to explore what the rest of the world of sports has to offer.

In particular, women's figure skating during the Winter Olympics and Gymnastics during the Summer Olympics features so many beautiful women in beautiful costumes moving themselves with such grace and vibrancy that we're being treated, free of charge, to a spectacle that previously only emperors of giant harems could ever dream of.  Shouldn't we at least be thankful to these girls who train all their lives to be the epitome of beauty for us for just one brief moment on stage, generally just one Olympics in their whole life, before they're replaced by an entirely new lineup of young blossoming girls?  Do even Chinese Emperors get this many skilled performers during their lifetimes?  Why on Earth would any man want to shut this pipeline down?

There's plenty to say in favor of the Olympics simply as a host of all the world's less popular sports that gather together and show off their finest athletes and performances like a school fair to those who normally aren't watching but are fine with at least skimming off the top of the best of the best for one month out of every four years.  But that's not all the Olympics are about.  There's a second leg to this stool that's just as vital to our love of the Games.

Pomp, Pageantry and Patriotism.  The Olympics aren't just about athletes competing in sports, they're about nations competing for glory.  The host nations create beautiful architecture, opening and closing ceremonies, and infrastructure to showcase themselves during the games.  The Russian Opening ceremony in Sochi, for instance, was a work of powerful artistry, as was the Beijing opening ceremony, and the Barcelona opening ceremony.  We remember these festivities long after the sports themselves are forgotten.  Cameras zoom over all of the most beautiful cityscapes, beaches, mountains, monuments, and other features of the host nation like the Parthenon during the Athens Olympics.  In detail reporting covers in depth the interesting lives of the athletes working up to this point, the food and dances and customs and out of the way tourist attractions and rituals of the people living in the area.  You get to see the best of everything, not just the sports but the host nations and the life stories of the athletes from all over the world.

The Olympics begins with the Parade of Nations, where all the athletes come out wearing a distinctive national uniform together, waving their own flags with pride and joy.  This chance for a nation to assert itself as a real existence in front of the world stage is a unique point of pride for the countries that don't win anything.  And for those nations that do win medals, a single medal of any type can bring the whole country into a frenzy so long as it's small and obscure enough.  For big nations, the medal count competition is just as frenzy inducing and emotional.  Striving for first place is always a big deal, but so is just beating your rivals who you expect to be in fierce even competition with due to size and wealth and historical achievement rates, like England getting more medals than France or Australia getting more medals than Canada.  Every time an athlete wins a gold medal, they stand on a podium which shows their flag rising to the heavens while their national anthem plays.  The whole nation stands breathlessly as they savor the taste of victory.

People come to the Olympics to represent their countries and win renown and honor for their countries.  It is a selfless and collective experience.  If they just wanted to be individually great, they would be like Golf or Tennis playing their own constant tournaments that only golf and tennis fans care about.  They come to the Olympics to play as a champion of their nation, just like the Greeks competed as city states to win honor to their homelands in the original Games.  It means a lot to them to be playing for something more than just the sport, and it means a lot to us when we watch them win, even if the sport itself doesn't matter to us at all.

There is very little pomp and pageantry left in the world.  Once the aristocracies fell across the world, dressing up, holding lavish parties and performances, or striving for excellence and beauty itself fell into ill repute.  But at the Olympics, the aristocratic style is briefly reborn.  We spend billions on silly things just to look good, host lavish festivities and parties, and assemble all of the most beautiful and strong and skillful people of the world together to be hosted on reality's greatest reality show.  People yearn for special events like this, which is why prom is still popular even after all the royal balls have long since died out.  We don't want them all the time, we don't want to waste as much money as the aristocrats did on these things, but enjoying them once in a while isn't too much to ask.  There's still an instinct for excessive spending, lavishness, and exceptional beauty that comes out during royal British weddings that normally only the Olympics satisfies anymore.  Man does not live by bread alone.  Even the poor every once in a while want to do something really tremendous just for the sheer exhilaration of its size and scale.  We once built cathedrals off the backs of poor starving peasants.  And they were delighted to see them.  They wanted to build them.  It was something special and unique to their lives, much better than just another loaf of bread.  It was something big and grand, a once in a lifetime experience.

Sometimes you need to let loose and spend like a drunken sailor.  Miserliness eventually leads to a cramped and unimaginative spirit that's just producing for production's sake.  These big festivals of conspicuous consumption remind us all that we are, in fact, alive, and not everything about this world is plodding drudgery.

It doesn't matter if corruption meant a lot of the money was wasted.  I'm sure that's true of all things across all time.  So long as the festival goes off with a bang it was money well spent.  Nor does it matter if a lot of athletes are caught doping or rumored to be doping during the games.  So long as the events are fun to watch the Games served their purpose, who cares if it was all technically legal or not?  Sure, we should try to stop doping whenever we can, because it leads to an arms race of unhealthy behavior that we don't want to condemn our best and brightest to, but ultimately the Games are about spectacle and if the spectacle sparkles than the athletes have served their purpose, doped or not.  No one says we should cancel Major League Baseball despite all the doping scandals they've been through.  The game is too important to lose over some stupid nitpicking, and everyone knows it.  What's true of Baseball is true of any other Olympic Sport.  It's much bigger than the cheaters and the corruption.  So long as it's beautiful, fun and interesting, no scandal can take away from that initial joyous first impression.  If someone somewhere has cheated their way to a tenth of a second faster bobsled run, that doesn't mean that it isn't awesome to see people shoot like missiles down treacherous courses that try to fling them out of the icy cylinder at every turn.  The innate appeal of the sport isn't diminished by cheaters on the fringes, the central skillset that makes the sport so interesting and unique remains the same whether your blood is more oxygenated than usual or not.

Also, the Zyka virus is a lame excuse to cancel a once-in-four-years event.  Is sport worth dying for?  Of course it is.  There are seven billion people on Earth, billions of whom die prematurely due to easily fixable things.  If we cared about life we'd never get to spend anything on entertainment, it would all go to health care and preventing air pollution and traffic accidents and on and on and on.  The Olympic Games aren't the only time we prefer entertainment over people's lives, we do that every time we go to see a movie instead of donate to charity.  Every time we eat out instead of donate to food aid.  Every time we do anything except slave away for the poor.  Some people will die from the Zika virus because we held these Olympic games.  Who cares?  People die for all sorts of reasons every day, that doesn't mean the rest of us have to live in eternal paralysis and never enjoy anything about life the entire time we're alive.  A person's utility is measured by the quality of their life multiplied by the quantity of their life.  People would gladly wager an infinitesimal chance of dying from Zika virus for a 100% chance at a high quality entertainment.  Spiritual misers who don't care about anything but scraping out a few extra years of life expectancy don't get to dictate to the rest of us what we should value most in life.

We want thrills.  We want enchantment.  We don't want to huddle in bunkers all our lives to avoid the damage from UV rays from the sun.  We can't live if all we ever worry about is what could kill us.  So there's a new disease spreading around.  Bring it on.  We defeated small pox and polio, and we'll defeat Zika too.  We can't let the terrorists win.  The best way to fight Zika is to go about our lives as normal and not care about it.  Just like it's impossible to win a chess or go game without making sacrifices, it's impossible to win a war if you aren't willing to take casualties, it's impossible to host a sporting event if all we ever care about is avoiding pandemics.  Every worthwhile thing comes at a cost.  It would be odd if we could achieve great gains through no effort and no risk, because you would think that such a no-brainer would have been implemented long ago.  The fact that the Olympics carry costs and risks with them is something so obvious that it's not even worth talking about.  Of course there are costs and risks.  That's the price of greatness in every field.  Do you think the athletes haven't had their share of injuries and deaths leading up to this point?  If they're brave enough to fight through all of that, who are we as spectators to clamor about the risk of freaking Zika virus to us?  Just how god damn cowardly can someone be?

This year the excuse is Zika virus, and two years ago it was the human rights of gays, two years from now there will be some new lame excuse for why we should cancel the games.  The only thing that doesn't change is that journalists around the world always want to cancel the games no matter where it is held or what is going on in the world at the time.  It's obvious they're just seizing upon any excuse they think might persuade others, at their core they hated the games from the very beginning, because they think they're too good for sports, pomp, pageantry or patriotism, so they sniff at all of it, and want to impose their elitist disdain on our joys and take it all away from us too, because it offends their taste that anyone anywhere could enjoy these things.

As of yet the world does not totally belong to the top 1% and their elitist proclivities and ideals, however.  The rest of us still get a say in what we want to watch and consume.  And we want to watch the Olympics.  The ratings speak for themselves.  This is one of if not the biggest event in the world, and that's not going to change for centuries to come, because the appeal of the Olympics is a part of the 99%'s human nature.  So screw the opinion makers and just enjoy the Games like any normal, natural, healthy person would.  We are the normal people.  We are everywhere.  And we will get our way on this, even if we lose out to the oligarchs on everything else.  There may be transgenders in all our bathrooms, but at least the Olympic torch will burn on, despite its wastefulness and awful contribution to global warming, simply because eternal flames are pretty and cool.  They can't take everything from all of us, so it's important to stand up and fight for everything we can.

No comments: