Sunday, 5 August 2012

Olympian dreams

I said some harsh words about the Olympic opening ceremony a week ago. But I'm not for a minute one of the disgusted moaners who were featured on the BBC Radio 4's Today programme yesterday. I'm thoroughly gusted about the Olympics, as it happens.

Neither do I think that the current love affair being conducted between the nation and several hundred mostly obscure athletes is all about the hype. Of course, some of it is about hype. The Daily Mail's campaign highlighting the 'plastic Brits' will probably be overthrown this week - if it's not already - by default jingoism about British heroism. We're accustomed to, and (I believe) rightly cynical about, the warped image of the nation which is found in those pages (not to mention the pages of many papers right and left).

But, as I say, it is not just about the hype. I could cite the traditional British interest in sports over everything else, though I dare say this only accounts for a small proportion of the current national enthusiasms. I wonder if our system of universal education (or 'edumacation', as I prefer) explains such widespread attachment to these sporting events. I don't remember the sporty people being especially popular at school. This isn't the States, for goodness' sake!

Ultimately, I'm inclined to think that the real hook drawing in the national mind and heart is the story of struggle and victory which each event tells. Maybe it's because struggle in sport is 'safe' and so we can happily afford to watch its denouement without thinking it has anything to do with us. Or maybe - to be less cynical about it - we recognise something fundamentally good about struggle which is hardly represented by our MFI-sofaed, air-conditioned, rich-on-credit lifestyles. In either case, these games are drawing us in. And we are gung-ho for sports we have never even heard of, let alone ever practised.

I suppose another factor here has to be the digitalisation of the games. I recently heard about three Birmingham men who, in 1948, rode over a hundred miles on their bicycles to London to go and watch the Games. Silly buggers! Now, not only can you watch the main events on TV, like you could in the 1990s; you can watch any event you want just by swallowing the red pill, er ... pressing the red button (except ours doesn't seem to work). It makes me wonder what this wonderful world of choice leaves unsaid and undone, not to say unsayable and undoable. We know it's a universal, unimpeachable boon. I'm just wondering what the down side is.

Anyway, must dash. I think it's the semi-finals of the Tiddlewinks in ten minutes ...  

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