Monday, August 6, 2012

How I’d Make the Summer Olympics Something Worth Watching…

Why don’t we use the opportunity to turn all of the brotherly love and respectful solidarity into something that’s actually constructive for humanity?


A few days ago, one of my colleagues asked me if I was watching the Olympics. My response, I suppose, was a very predictable one: “who has time for that crap?”

Verily, this year’s Olympics have been marred by all sorts of off-stage shenanigans: Chinese-manufactured Team USA apparel, real-life Chun Li’s swimming up a storm while high on HGH, Michael Phelps and that one guy that isn’t Michael Phelps finding ways to alternately fail our county/make our country proud, legally blind Koreans posting record archery scores…well, OK, that last one is sorta’ cool, I suppose. The gist of the matter, I guess, is that the Olympics suck, and I don’t like them. For several reasons.

First off, the Olympics is nothing more than a celebration of brazen nationalism, and it’s not even the good kind, like at the World Cup. Forgive me if my heart doesn’t swell with patriotic splendor when some guy I’ve never heard of defeats some other guy from a country I’ve never heard of in a sport I couldn’t care less about. Hooray, we bested the Maldivians in snooker! That’s way better than having an economy and shit.

It looks like, for the foreseeable future, the Olympics are going to be a symbolic “battle” between the U.S. and China - you know, the world’s two biggest economic super-powers, duking it out in judo and badminton as an allegory for bilateral trade angst. That sort of claptrap was cool during the days of the Cold War, but then again, that was a point in time were we all could have been killed by irradiated fire at any minute. Those games mattered, damn it, and had Sylvester Stallone not introduced perestroika to the Ruskies back in ‘84, we’d probably still be seeing “Red Dawn”-quality agitprop in theaters on a nigh weekly basis. Thank goodness overly-paranoid, half-assed entertainment/propaganda of the like went out of vogue, huh?

Admittedly, there is a jingoistic, hardcore American sports fan buried somewhere in the ugliest recesses of my subconscious, and perhaps that vile, pathetic individual gets a few jollies reading about the yanks besting the Chinese in something. Shortly thereafter, my mammalian brain takes over and I realize that I’m celebrating a table tennis victory as if it had any bearings on the world at large - a notion that, in many ways, summarizes the pointlessness of the Olympics as a concept.

Yes, you can say that the spirit of competition brings people together, and that for a few days, at least, it gives everybody from Trinidad and Tobago to Mali something to be distracted by. The thing is, that whole “spirit of brotherhood” nonsense really shows the International Olympic Committee as the hucksters and hypocrites they are. For a moment, allow me to elucidate.

In case you were wondering, the Olympics costs a lot of money. In fact, it costs billions, presumably generating billions more for the host country. My hometown hosted the Summer Games in 1996; my advice to future Olympic cities? SAVE AS MUCH AS THAT REVENUE AS YOU CAN.

Alas, a lot of money goes into the Olympics, and a lot of money, allegedly, gets pumped out of it. The kooky thing here is, a lot of host cities do seem quasi-illegal things (like, I don’t know, bring in scores of undocumented workers to build infrastructure on the cheap, or imprison homeless people simply for the sake of beautification programs) in preparation for the festivities. The Olympic Games, therefore, are a celebration of humanity and the spirit of brotherhood, built upon the exploitation of non-indigenous labor and the occasional blatant civil rights violation. And in case you forgot, a couple of unfortunate souls actually lost their lives for the sake of making China look all flamboyant and spectacular a few years back. Where I come from, brazen disregard for human rights isn’t necessarily viewed as the best means of engendering brotherhood, but what the hell do I know? I thought the Dallas Cowboys were going to win the Super Bowl in 2011, after all.

If we really wanted to celebrate unity and brotherhood and all of that other fluffy stuff, then how about taking all of that money that would’ve been spent on television rights and stadium renovation costs and using it to, I don’t know, actually do something charitable and worthwhile for the downtrodden?

But clearly, Zambians would prefer fireworks and ribbon dancers!

According to the World Hunger Education Service, about 925 million people the world over are starving, and half of the world’s inhabitants live on less than $2.50 USD a day. All in all, an estimated 1.7 billion people live in poverty, and according to the CIA, places like Haiti, Chad and Liberia have populations in excess of 80 percent of the total country living underneath the national poverty line - our gold, silver and bronze recipients in the field of mind-numbing destitution.

A while back, this guy named David Gordon published a paper called “Indicators of Poverty & Hunger,” which describes eight fundamental aspects of absolute poverty. My idea is, why don’t we make an international, Olympics-like contest to see which country can do the most to improve those eight areas of poverty across the globe? Hell, I’ll settle for an event of the like occurring once every four years - even if it means, ugh, watching the Winter Olympics, too.

I think Gordon’s list of human needs would make a fine competition set list for the Olympiads. If Old Jimbo was the head of the IOC, this is what the Summer Olympics would consist of:

FOOD DIVISION GAMES - A really easy one here. We get all of the nations in the world to round up their absolute best chefs, and for a solid month, we have a competition to see who can whip up the most delectable dishes for the world’s starving. Kids in Somalia can enjoy gourmet Italian, the finest sushi chefs in Japan can dream up some dishes for the impoverished in the Sudan and even Gordon Ramsay could keep his yap shut long enough to bake some brownies for the huddled, hungry masses in mainland China. There’s a lot of potential here; freestyle competitions, mass production competitions, speed drills, etc. The grand finale could be a massive smorgasbord showdown where competing nations try to raise the average BMI of a Sub-Saharan nation to at least 16. And dear lord, the product placement potential for this one!

WATER DIVISION GAMES - Do you ever think about how much water is WASTED during the Olympics? The amount of H20 needed to fill up one Olympic-sized pool could keep an entire Sri Lankan village from dying of thirst for a solid month, and we’re using it JUST to watch anorexic teenagers do cannonballs and shit. How about a new competitive field were developed nations try to bring as much potable water to countries facing aqua deficits as humanly possible? I’m sure the kids in Ghana would love to see Michael Phelps deliver them some Aquafina. Or hell, anybody delivering them some Aquafina, for that matter.

SANITATION DIVISION GAMES - We tend to overlook this one, but a good 40 percent of the world's population doesn’t have access to adequate waste disposal facilities. In case you haven’t heard, pooping in your drinking water can lead to some health issues, and since many developing countries lack the infrastructure and technology to build up their own sanitation facilities, why not make it an international game to see who can bring modern waste disposal units to the third world? As before, we can make it artistic, go by quantity or even arrange a few timed trails. International conglomerates like Wal-Mart and Home Depot would surely love to supply competitors with tools and other apparatuses. And what about those potential mega-profits for caulk gun manufacturers!

HEALTH DIVISION GAMES - Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are considered among the most noble of citizens, so why not stage a contest in which the world’s best health service providers get together and help out the impoverished to see which HMO is the finest of them all? So much potential here: baby-delivering, disease-eradication, life-expectancy increases, etc. The first nation to completely wipe out cholera outbreaks in select nations wins.

SHELTER DIVISION GAMES - We live in a world where mile high skyscrapers are a reality and private enterprises have so much extra money laying around that the build giant, phallic buildings just to spite each other (see China and the United Arab Emirates for validation of this claim.) Which country has the best architects, electricians, foremen, construction workers and welders? How about we round up the best of the best and send them to places horribly lacking in infrastructure, or have drills to see who can reconstruct and safeguard cities following natural disasters? The freestyle competitions here would be, really, really awesome, no?

EDUCATION DIVISION GAMES - People will spend absurd amounts of money to attend prestigious institutions like Cambridge and Harvard, so why don’t we have a competition to see which nation has the best instructors and professors? We’ll send the Western world’s best to places where public education is either seriously marred or flat out non-existent. The first country to bring the adult literacy level to at least 95 percent wins gold in this one.

INFORMATION DIVISION GAMES - We have so much media that we don’t know what to do with it, and in many parts of the world, access to even the most basic of information is impossible, either because electric information is censored or such instruments are just too hard to come by at all. The telecommunications industry is one of the most lucrative in the world, and who wouldn’t want to see which country had the quickest disseminators and relay-ers of accurate, socially relevant information? Competitors would battle to see who could establish lag-free Wi-Fi connections the quickest, as well as overcome government instituted firewalls that keep citizens from Googling things like “democracy” and “did something happen in Tienanmen Square back in 1989?” The “4x4 Twitter Relay” would make for some riveting television, wouldn’t it?

SERVICES DIVISION GAMES - Every now and then, people require certain social services, like legal protection and access to public resources. The problem is, in many, many countries, things like “legitimate” legal services and “non-corrupt” public officials is sort of like finding a unicorn or even rarer, a real-life Cleveland Browns fan. Since most of the developed worlds are such experts in the field of bureaucracy and city planning, why not make a contest to see which brain trust could build the most just, most equitable social system the fastest? The same way Olympic hopefuls spend the off-years training in Denver, I think a lot of aspiring social-developers will be practicing around the Detroit-Flint area in the off-season.

America: always placing first in awkward ass photo ops...

So yeah, it may not be AS exciting as watching Croatians pole-vault or Jamaicans bob-sled, but I think my vision of the Olympiads does a way, way better job of emboldening the human spirit and promoting  civility and encouraging brotherhood and all of that jazz than any of the crap you’re watching in London this year. That, and I’d rather watch people install toilets than watch whatever the hell a “canoe slalom” is, any day…

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