Sunday, August 5, 2012

Another Olympic Thought

The ancient Olympic games were not just athletic as they are today. Apart from religious ceremonies, they included artistic competitions in rhetoric, poetry and music and sculptors displayed their work at the games. It was the ambition of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, one of the founders of the modern games, to emulate this aspect, however I haven't been able to discover whether that was realized in the first of the modern games in 1896. What occurs to me though, is that the very idea would be impossible. The games are successful because they are restricted solely to athletic events where who won is easily measured with numbers. Of course, whenever there is an aesthetic or subjective judgement, such as in creative ice-skating routines, then there is always controversy as some judges are obviously biased in one way or another.

But imagine if artistic competition were to be included in the Olympics. First of all, all the prizes in popular music would be won by the US, followed distantly by the UK and with a smattering from Australia and Canada. This is where all styles of popular music have originated for the last century. If the organizers wished to compensate for this somehow the results would probably be as comic as the Eurovision Song Contest. Worse, I'm sure, because that contest is entirely national with each nation-member of the European Broadcasting Union able to submit one (1) song. No individual participants. This, plus excluding places like the US and Canada, enables something like a level playing field.

The other big issue is that while all the participants in the ancient games were Greeks, and participation was limited to Greek speakers, thereby ensuring a cultural unity, the modern games have participants from a myriad of cultures. It is impossible to imagine constructing categories that would be suitable. Poetry? Too many languages to make for anything like an actual competition. There would have to be a competition in each language and even then, the mind boggles at the complexity of the judging. No, including arts in our games would cause a reductio ad absurdum of our notions of multiculturalism. After all, all cultures are equally good, right? So Cambodians should have as fair a chance at winning a medal as the French. But if we set up the categories to enable that, and I have no idea how, then it would just reveal how ridiculous the notion that cultures are equal is.

So that's why the modern games are restricted to athletic competitions only. According to me.

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