Monday, February 10, 2014

Olympic-size extravaganza

Unless you have your head in the sand (or snow) and don't do social media, you are now overwhelmed with the Olympics. We seem to spend every moment in Sochi, from watching athletic events to listening to the Russian Men's Police Chorus. How far we've come from the intent of the games, which was to showcase athletic talents. That goal was formulated in ancient Greek days and reinstituted in the late nineteenth century. Today, the Olympics are an extravaganza, with every country trying to outdo the other in spirit, costume, and entertainment.
Wait a minute! Hasn't this gotten out of hand? I heard the other day a PBS clip about the previous Olympic sites--Montreal, New York City, London and others--that are slowly rusting and deteriorating. What does a country do with such grand facilities after the games are over? It's like the great expositions of the past. The 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago featured white pavilions made of a temporary plaster-like substance which wasn't meant to last--those grand buildings gradually decayed and disappeared. Even the giant Ferris wheel finally rusted and was dismantled. All that remains today of that extravagant glory is the city's famed Museum of Science and Industry. The White City is a thing of history books. So, I imagine, it will be with Sochi.
It seems particularly sad to me that in Sochi many single-family homes were demolished to make way for the Olympic compound. Not only were families relocated to apartments, they lost their pets because the apartments didn't allow them. As a result, countless stray dogs and cats roam Sochi and are being systematically put to death. As most people know, I'm an animal lover and that upsets me a lot. But beyond that, think of the families who were displaced from homes they no doubt treasured and lost loved pets. It's extravaganza at human and animal expense.
Is that really how we want to recognize and applaud extreme athletic achievement? With 24-hour TV and glorious fairgrounds that will disintegrate from neglect? Is that the best we can do in our synthetic world? I think not. I think the Olympics, like the SuperBowl and the NBA championship, are areas where we should rethink our national and international values. Athletic accomplishment is a thing to be greatly admired--but with glitz and bling? Surely we can do better.

No comments: