Saturday, August 07, 2004

The New York Times > Magazine > The Way We Live Now: What Olympic Ideal?
What ever happened to Chariots of Fire, those brave British boys sprinting around the quad at their Oxbridge college, inspired by Principles--those amateurs?

There was a PBS documentary on the Romans yesterday, describing their passive-aggressive rationale for empire building. The Romans make the case that they have to subdue the tribes at their borders to be secure, so they conquer neighboring territory, ostensibly in the interests of defense. Then the neighboring territory becomes part of the Roman empire so, recursively, territory bordering on it has to be conquered to secure what has now become Roman territory. And so on, until the empire reaches the end of its lines of communication.

So, recursively, we create leisure pursuits, turn them into businesses, then create more leisure pursuits. which themselves turn into businesses.

I was in Texas last week visiting L. whose mother has a house on the Gulf of Mexico. We rented kayaks and explored the salt marshes while jet skis and power boats buzzed us. I can understand the jet skis--I'd like to try it--but the powerboats buzzing around and around the inlet, getting nowhere fast, were a mystery. I like sailing, fiddling with the lines, continually solving puzzles. But I don't understand why anyone would want to go round and in round in warm water 4 feet deep in a powerboat, getting nowhere fast and not doing anything interesting. It seems like playing slot machines--about as interesting as working on an assembly line.

We're geared up for puzzle solving and strenuous physical work, hunting wooly mammoths. Mercifully, we don't have to hunt or gather anymore, or farm or weave. So we can garden, do fancy needlework, play games, prove theorems, test ourselves against material and intellectual constraints purely for pleasure. But we don't. We turn sports into a business, make entertainment a life and death affair, and cheat.


Anonymous said...

This is why I watch the winter games. There's no money in Curling, apparently. Or in Ski Jumping, either - which is, truly, just as stunning as anything you'll see in the summer games.

I just saw a PBS thing on the original Greek Olympics. Women were banned - of course as participants, but also as spectators. Apparently the mother of one of the competitors came to watch her son, but had to dress as a boy to do it. She was found out and thrown to the wild beasts. Or whatever they did.

Some things are much better today. You're definitely right, though, that we're wired to do all these strenuous things that don't have to be done anymore, but only a hundred years ago people were still dying like flies from starvation and diptheria. And the flu! It's all pretty new, this modern life. I think we're in a transitional phase right now.

H. E. said...

Yup. I watch the Winter Games too, and for the same reason.

In a way though I suppose the professionalization of sport is like the professionalization of "humanities." I make my living at what was, until recently, a hobby for gentlemen of independent means.

Let's face it everything is much better today. 150 years ago I'd be stirring great tubs of lye and fat to make soap.

Anonymous said...

I realized yesterday that I really like the Opening Ceremonies at the Olympic Games better than I do the actual competition. It's much more interesting these days - which is pretty sad, when you think about it.

Of course, nothing will ever beat that flaming arrow at the Barcelona Games; that was an all-time best for sure. But that crazy avante-garde stuff they did at the Albertville Winter Games was close, and I'm hoping for something zany like that this year, or something very high style. It IS Athens, after all, and they should do something great.

I will watch some of the competition, though, probably. I like the track and field, usually, even though they're all doped up. I'm very glad they're throwing folks out left and right for doping this year; this is the only solution to the problem, if one exists, that is.

After Greg Louganis retired, it was all downhill. Oh, well.

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