The Olympic torch passed by Cambridge yesterday. I was walking to a pub to meet a friend when I heard the distant cheering as the torch arrived to Parker’s Piece near the center of town. I wondered to myself why I wasn’t there, all excited about the torch — after all, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see it; I wondered why I could care less about “The Games”.
The Olympics is all about entertainment. Without entertainment value, people wouldn’t want to see it, so it wouldn’t be profitable to broadcast, and so it wouldn’t exist. And why do most people watch The Games? They watch for the opportunity to see extreme failure — drama — and/or extreme success — breaking records. Extreme failure doesn’t need help — athletes fall, fail, break down and cry naturally; it is without a doubt a stressful occupation. Guaranteeing the breaking of records requires technology and chemicals.
Records are being broken all the time. If we assume that the human body hasn’t evolved dramatically in the past 50 years (it hasn’t) we can attribute performance improvements to technology and science. Our understanding of the human body, nutrition, and advances in materials helped extract better performance out of athletes. Performance can also be enhanced through the use of chemicals. Technology is allowed, but some chemicals are not.
I find the demand for entertainment value and the prohibition of what could provide it hypocritical to both athletes and viewers. Let’s be clear: I think that performance enhancing chemicals are categorically bad all around, and I wish they — legal or illegal — have never existed. But it’s too late now; chemicals already influenced the game. Pretending that the Olympic events are fair, and that the prohibition of chemicals is effective, requires suspense of disbelief. That bothers me — we shouldn’t pretend something is something when it isn’t.
Everyone knows that the WWE is fake, and that’s OK; can the Olympics follow a similar model, and stop pretending that it’s real? Should it? Would people watch a genuinely fair Olympic games — where records are rarely broken — if that was physically and practically possible? Have the Olympic games become sport’s equivalent to TV’s “reality shows”?
In any case, I won’t be watching; I never watch sports anyway.