Sunday, August 10, 2008

A New Olympiad: A Proposal

The Olympic Games have been a constant reality of life for almost everyone on this planet. The importance of the Games obviously varies for each individual, but I'd venture to say that no one alive remembers what life was like before there was an Olympics. It has always been there.

Consequently, it is easy to lose sight of how remarkable they really are. The concept of taking the very best athletes on the planet in multiple sports, putting them in one location for two weeks, and having them compete against each other is something that would be, if not for the fact that we see it done every couple of years, preposterous. And if not for the reality of the situation asserting itself biennially, it would sound more like a hypothetical scenario that a couple people would concoct in a bar after tipping a few too many back.

Certainly the Olympics aren't and haven't been perfect: political boycotts, interruption due to war, doping, bribery, and corruption have all been a part of its past, and there is no reason to assume problems won't arise in the future. However, given the political realities of the last 112 years, the Games probably stand as the greatest example of global cooperation and unity over that span. It is perhaps ironic that only competition can bring out cooperation, but it makes sense that given the mostly objective nature of sports, a set of rules and regulations can be more or less agreed upon by people of vastly different cultures and persuasions.

Still, if something as improbable as a global sports competition can be achieved, it gives one hope that other improbable achievements are attainable. Some hold out hope that the Olympics presage some kind of future in which wars are obsolete and the nations of this world co-exist in harmony. That would be nice, but I'd settle for another couple weeks of entertainment every few years. With that in mind, what are some possibilities for global events that could be scheduled during the Olympic off years?

Staying in the realm of competition, it would seem natural to balance competitions of the body with competitions of the mind. The problem with this is that intellectual contests don't make for great spectator events. Furthermore, true intellectual triumphs require weeks, months, and years of gradual progress for breakthroughs to develop. So as tempting as it would be to pit American versus Russian versus Japanese scientists in a single venue and tell them to race to develop an alternative to fossil fuels, it might be better to let the process play out naturally. And finally, the Nobel Prizes already exist as a sort of "Olympics of Science" right down to the awarding of actual medals, and the Nobel ceremonies don't get great ratings.

The next thought is a kind of artistic competition. Unfortunately, this has already been tried. Yes, at one time you could actually win an Olympic gold in sculpture. This is not a bad idea in theory, but given the subjective nature of art, and cultural variation in ideas about what makes good art, it is hard to see this ever making a comeback. Also, though the actual products of art could perhaps be enjoyed by spectators, the process of composing the works of art doesn't lend itself to great television.

But all hope is not lost. There is a relatively new invention that could be unified under a global organizing body: reality television.

I've never actually watched an episode of Survivor, but I would be tempted to tune in to see how an American would fare on an island populated by a representative of each country of the G8. I've never watched an episode of The Amazing Race, but I think the show would actually live up to its name if it had a team from every country in the world. I've never watched The Mole, but the prospect of adding international intrigue may compel me to tune in. I'm thinking you could perhaps up the ante by putting seats on the U.N. Security Council up as stakes. Though the concept of World Idol apparently fell flat a couple years back, incorporating it into an Olympiad of Reality Shows would likely revive the concept. You could also have grand versions of Wife Swap in which world leaders would trade countries for a week, or The Biggest Loser in which nations would compete to trim deficits.

However, my proposal would probably require a slight modification to the Olympic Motto ("Citius, Altius, Fortius"). One needn't be faster, higher, or stronger to compete in these games. I wonder what the Latin is for "more entertaining."


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