Friday, February 12, 2010

Winter Olympics

Sonnet 25

Let those who are in favour with their stars

Of public honour and proud titles boast,

Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars

Unlook'd for joy in that I honour most.

Great princes' favourites their fair leaves spread

But as the marigold at the sun's eye,

And in themselves their pride lies buried,

For at a frown they in their glory die.

The painful warrior famoused for fight,

After a thousand victories once foil'd,

Is from the book of honour razed quite,

And all the rest forgot for which he toil'd:

Then happy I, that love and am belov'd,

Where I may not remove nor be remov'd.

The Vancouver Winter Olympics begin today. I haven't got anything against them really, except that I dislike the idea of government of spending our money on lavish programs while the core duties of government are largely ignored. For instance, I had the experience a few months ago of having my car broken into. An ipod and the stereo were missing. Replacement value to me of about 500 bucks. That was annoying. What was even more annoying was the sheer indifference of the police. I guess because it's a daily occurrence, that means it's trivial, as in not worth the time and expense of an actual policeman trudging to my doorstep. No, that would be too old fashioned. What the lady on the phone did do was have me answer a list of questions to be entered into a data base, presumably to pressure the government into putting more money into the police budget.
But I don't blame the police so much as the judicial system. In my lifetime the upper echelons of decision making have progressively made it more and more difficult for the police to do their jobs. Police now are expected to be social workers and fillers in of paperwork instead of law enforcers. Not too long afterward the break in I read about a habitual break and enter crook being rearrested with loads of goodies while being out on parole or something. If I remember right the judge didn't bother putting him back in jail. He was just let go. Enforcing the law is one of the core duties of government. It used to be called keeping the peace, but now that it has become an article of faith that there are no criminals, only victims of society, the actual laws of the land are regarded by judges and social workers as relics of a barbaric past.
Diverting the public's attention from deficiencies in government by providing entertainment has a long history. Ancient Roman emperors at their peril deprived the people of bread and circuses. Next to neglecting to pay the Roman Army, that was the quickest way for an emperor to lose his job... and usually his head, too.
The Olympics go back to Greek times, and they were so important to the Greeks that they measured time in terms of the Olympics. Such and such an event was dated as happening during such and such Olympiad. They had other games as well, and they all had religious significance. Greece was not so much a country as a collection of constantly quarrelling petty states bound together by a common language and mythology. During the games all wars were supposed to be in abeyance and Greeks from all over competed as individuals. Winning athletes became famous and wealthy. Combined with athletics, the games also included contests of poetry and drama. It was one of the unusual things about the Greeks that they revered the philosopher and the poet as much as the man of action, culture as much as wealth.
Not so today. This is the era of the action movie. I think Arnold S. (I won't try to spell his name) has found out that running a state is a lot tougher than living out a fantasy already scripted for him, where no matter how many bullets are flying, the ones aimed at him always go astray, while his never miss. The Greek drama was as bloody and gory as our own but they were also imbued with profound thought about our human condition. What was the nature of justice? What was honour? What duties do we owe our fellow humans? How do we cope with misfortunes? They asked hard, brutally honest questions. But for us, it's all about winning. It's a glorification of physical prowess, ironically at a time when Michelle Obama declares obesity as a national emergency.
I will spend a lot of couch time watching the Olympics, I suppose, and I wish our Canadian athletes the best. I will certainly be checking out which female figure skater has the best butt. As far as I'm concerned, Elizabeth Manley still holds the Gold Medal for best butt of all time. (I think she should have got it for her skating, too.)
Still, I can't help but wish we placed at least an equal value on other sorts of prowess- musical, dramatic, poetic, artistic, intellectual, and that the Olympics could be an occasion for celebrating the beauty of the human mind as well as of the body. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if science discovers someday that the national epidemic of obesity deplored by Michelle Obama is due more to a lassitude of the mind and spirit than of the body.

No comments:

Post a Comment