Saturday, August 16, 2008

Let the Games End!

I can’t wait until the Olympics are over.

When I was little, the movie that scared me the most was The Exorcist, which came out the same year I was born, so it seemed like my entire childhood was spent trying hard to avoid catching a glimpse of the movie when it aired on regular television late at night. The voice, her face, the stairway, the priest, they were all highly recognizable flashes of the movie that gave me nightmares for most of my early life. Sometimes just the brief sight of her green face would cause me to leap off my bed, slam the television off, and cry for what felt like hours, until I felt some peace again. It plagued me, and to this day, I’ve never watched the movie all the way through.

I’m having a similar reaction to the Olympics this year, minus the crying and nightmares. What doesn’t help is how late the coverage runs, and since I’m typically up until well after 1 a.m., I accidentally come across a lot of Olympic coverage as I’m flipping through the channels. It upsets me greatly and I will be so happy when the obsession has ended.

Part of why I hate the Olympics is I just don’t understand the competitive spirit. It’s both self-deprecating and self-centered, to extremes that make me ashamed to be part of the human race. Nothing turns me off more than competition. I grew up with a mother who always was comparing herself to me, always competing with me for the attention of others, and always taking turns putting herself down when she couldn’t beat me or putting me down when she could. I’ve had friends throughout my life who have done similar things, and those friendships never lasted long. Nothing will make me walk away from someone quicker than if they start playing games of competition. If there is a tie-in between competition and flattery, I don’t see it. I just wish people would strive to be the best they can be without having to have someone else to fight with to get there. Why do we so adore the idea coming out on top of something that leaves the most people behind in the dust? It’s not enough to be the best at something, but to fuck up someone else’s dream of being the best seems to fuel the fire, and to me that’s just despicable.

The other part of the Olympics that I hate is the force-fed national pride that is somehow attached to something as stupid and useless as being able to sweep your legs around a pummel horse. Oh, yay! That’s really something to be proud of as a nation! Are these athletes using their skills and grace fighting in our wars or champions of saving lives? Oh no. They’re on cereal boxes and commercials, promoting random products. Um, that’s awesome? That’s something to go to your grave holding high? I just don’t get it. But it’s not just a case of you picking your favorite athlete and cheering him/her on. It’s the epitome of patriotism, and you must support your country’s teams, because this competition means so much to the fate of the world. Right? Doesn’t it mean something? Like the country that has the most gold medals gets to rule the globe until the next Olympics, right? No? Seriously? So, we do realize that winning the Olympics doesn’t mean dick, but yet it’s expected that you’re going to watch it, encourage it, support it, and go there if at all possible, but mostly, perpetuate the myth that it actually matters, and make it all about your pride in the country you’re from.

Sports in general piss me off for many of the same reasons, but when you factor in the exorbitant salaries, the celebrity status of athletes, the steroid abuse, and human growth hormone use, what is actually left of the game? When did sports become less about playing and more about beating others?

When I was in high school, I probably played more baseball than my entire high school baseball team combined. However, I was not good. None of the kids I played with were good. And we ranged in age from 8 to 18, so the teams were lopsided and almost comical. But let me tell you how we played and why we loved it.

We would start out by collecting the neighborhood kids and their equipment. You must understand that my family was poor growing up, and most of my friends were in the same boat, so often there would be 20 kids on the field and only 5 baseball mitts, two bats, and makeshift bases that we would actually move around for each player, depending on their abilities. We would then divide the teams according to age and ability, trying to keep things as even as possible. Then we’d iron out the perimeter of our playing field, which was not a baseball diamond, but a grassy field next to my house. If the ball bounced into Mrs. Evans’ yard, it was a ground-rule double. If you hit the siding or roof of any of the outlying houses on the edge of the grassy area, it was an automatic homerun. Anything else was playable. Swearing or any kind of unsportsmanlike conduct was an automatic out for your team. A cussing spree or fighting would mean automatic three outs and changing of the team at bat. Do-overs were reasonable solutions to debates. Pitchers could pitch overhand or underhand, but you had to move in halfway whenever any of the little kids were up to bat, and lob the pitch at them. Often we would move the bases closer for the little ones as well. Some days we would play two games of 30 innings in a day, and on the hotter summer days we’d play maybe 4 innings and then quit. This was 7 days a week, and often on weekends you would see some of the dads on the field with us. And no matter what we never kept score. We only counted outs to know when to switch sides, and if one team was clobbering the other, we would trade players and reorganize so that everyone had a fair amount of time in the field and at bat. When we were too tired to play any more, we would pool all our pocket money, walk to 7-Eleven, and buy snacks for everyone.

It sounds unreal. It sounds like neighborhood behavior that existed many generations before my own, but when you don’t have much, the last thing you want to do is make others feel bad about it. I swear, poor kids are super special because they seem to get it more than anyone else that life isn’t fair, but it’s still worth living. Sure, there were fights, and often it resulted in black eyes, bloody noses, and times when some of our players would be grounded for weeks at a time for doing shit that their parents found out about, but by and large, we just wanted to play. It seems like a lost art these days.

I have nothing against playing games of the sporty type, but competition feels like the vicious murder of fun.

And so, the hype over the Olympics just makes me sick. First there is the battle over where it will be held. Then there is the investment of making that area suitable to the influx of such an event. Let’s not even consider the soulless commercial marketing of products that want to align themselves with the games to sell more of their crap. The ridiculous amount of media coverage is nauseating. Then we deify someone for doing something as pointless as diving into a pool with as little splash as possible. And even when it’s all over, there is the post-Olympic whoring of the winners to sell yet more stuff. It’s just disgusting to me and I can only be grateful that it doesn’t occur every year.

Why don’t we have competitions where people build homes for the homeless using donated goods and services? Why don’t we compete in games where we aren’t encouraged to crush someone else? Why aren’t there international events where our best minds get together and try to help other nations that need assistance? Why is it always about taking something futile, elevating it to an event of godlike magnitude, all just to defeat others?

We are not as civilized as we like to think.

Unless you spend a lot of time at TED, and then maybe there’s some hope for the human race.


librarian nervosa said...

Hear hear! So over it. What a waste of money and all that damn chest-beating. Why don't we rebuild New Orleans instead?

BeckEye said...

I am SO with you. I think it's hilarious that millions of Americans are sitting on their asses on the couch, inhaling Doritos yelling, "USA! USA!" As if the athletic prowess of some person they don't even know somehow makes their own lives better. Weird.

That said, I do enjoy sports and I'll occasionally check out the Olympics. As far as the summer ones go though, they're pretty boring. I might catch some volleyball and maybe a little soccer (depending on how hot the guys are), and I like the crazy-ass pole vault but I somehow always miss that. I like the winter Olympics much better, because I love to watch the pairs skating. Of course, the figure skating scoring system is so fucking fixed it's unreal.

Dances With Books said...

Hear ya as well. I can't stand the coverage. And if you are in the U.S., forget about seeing any other country do anything. It's all about how the Americans will do, and as soon as they get eliminated from something, coverage for that event is gone. For me, the fragmented, short attention span type coverage is just unbearable. And don't get me started on the sappy, "feel good" stories of the athlete who comes from Podunk Farm town whose mommy died of cancer, daddy's barely making a living on the farm, but they mortgaged everything so junior go to the Olympics in spite of his asthma (feel free to keep piling up the bad circumstances).

Your other points are good as well. What happens to all those facilities? And yes, I think it would be wonderful to get people with skills to build homes, or compete to come up with a cure for cancer or something like that. Rebuild New Orleans. In the end, there are so much more meaningful things if you wanted to get "competitive." Oh well, hang in there, the Olympics will be over soon.

Gardenbuzzy said...

I happen to live near and work in a city that has big-city envy big-time. And now a nutjob has been elected mayor of our city who has the most grandiose ideas I have ever seen. He now has decided that we need to try to be the site of the next summer Olympics. Now picture this: this city has no mass transit to speak of (buses that break down on a regular basis, that's it), way too few hotels, a soaring crime rate, underpaid police, corrupt city and county government, a sewer system that, trust me, NEEDS to go into bankruptcy, and lots of derelict buildings and neighborhoods. Now what, on God's green Earth, would make this place attractive to the Olympic Committee? But he is likely to forge ahead and throw vast amounts of money away chasing his dream, at the expense of the city and its reputation.

I am so looking forward to being able to retire and move to another state.

Rachel said...

I like to try to play devil's advocate and I tried to think of a good defense for the olympics... but I failed. I cannot understand sports competition.

Mme.G said...

THANK YOU for this post!! This is exactly how I feel. I think the ridiculousness of it all is epitomized in the need of the cameramen to focus on the lone tear streaming down a failed gymnast's face and project it around the world. How is that inspiring again?

Anonymous said...

I read something in a forum the other day that addresses this, perhaps. One poster said that she loved watching races, which are judged solely on speed, which is measurable. She hates the subjective events, like gymnastics, where one judge can completely wreck a career.
But I think the reason that you may not like competition is that you have experienced it in the wrong places. Your mother should not be competing with you, or friends. The most important competition is against our last performance, task, etc. I think that is what most of the athletes are really doing.