Highland Games and the Oympics – are skills learned in shot-putting and caber tossing a waste of time? Picture by Bill Heaney
By Kyle Smith
You say the Olympics are a benign form of nationalism, but I don’t need a display of American prowess in a swimming race or badminton match to reassure me that my country is the best in the world. When you’re married to Kate Upton, you don’t brag about her when you’re having dinner with Mr. Joy Behar. It might even be a bit rude to bring the matter up. I’ll save my screaming “USA! USA!” for when the per-capita GDP figures come out, or when the Nobel prizes in hard sciences are announced.
Stripped of any strong impulse to scream, “USA! USA!” — or whatever wannabe-American land you’re from, Johnny Foreigner — what exactly is the point of the Olympics? Am I supposed to be on the edge of my seat because it’s time to find out who rules the world of handball or kayaking? I don’t watch those sports between Olympiads, and I’ll be damned if the marketers will dupe me into watching them now. If 396 of the S&P 500 members were blowing most of their ad budget for the year pumping up the international stamp-licking championship or trans-galactic bow tie–tying contest, would I pretend to care about that? Maybe you would, sucker.
Modern societies waste far too much time, energy, and worst of all, hope on sports. If it’s the hope that kills you (and it is), sports must be the leading cause of spiritual death for American youth. For every minute of awestruck television coverage of football or basketball, another 10,000 talentless clods waste another million hours practicing for an imaginary professional future they will never come close to realizing. But enough about my childhood. At least football and basketball are sports. Each game is a fully developed drama with its own arc, and moreover each team and each individual athlete has his own underlying drama. The narrative weight behind what we know about Tom Brady or LeBron James can’t be approached by anything in the Olympics. (Yes, I realize NBA stars also compete in the Olympics, but the drama level of their contests basically amounts to Godzilla vs. Bambi. And how does it feel to root for a team that, to every other nation on earth, is like the Soviets in the 1980 hockey game?) Even some of the actual sports in the Olympics are unwatchable: As long as Megan Rapinoe — the Hillary Clinton of soccer — is in uniform, it’s impossible to care about how her team does.
The Olympics can’t create real drama by playing up the athletic history of people we’ve never heard of displaying mastery of skills we do not care about, so they fake it with canned little mini-biographies that are to sports what Celine Dion power ballads are to music. We learn that Katrina Longshanks lost her mom to hair cancer, her dad to an asteroid strike, and her little sister to a kiln explosion, all on the same day, and then she loses the slalom-canoeing race to a Finn who was training while Katrina was busy filming her little movie.
If the Olympics actually told you anything about a nation’s quality, the commies would finish last every time. Instead, the red bastards used to win all the time. (Take the 1984 Winter Olympics: East Germany and the USSR were first and second in gold medals, second and first in overall medals.) To the extent the Olympics provide honor and glory for the nastiest regimes, they’re just an outside PR shop for Evil, Inc. These days any institution that exults and glorifies China should not only be shut down, everyone involved in it should be loaded on a rocket with the hatchet-faced commie leaders of Maoland and fired directly into the sun.
Highland Games or Olympic Games – Shot putters and caber tossers – “a senseless hype of useless skills.” Picturesby Bill Heaney
Sure, some events — notably, diving and the floor exercise in gymnastics — are beautiful in themselves, but the dead rat in the punch bowl here is that with no direct competitive mechanism, the resolution depends on subjective ratings that can be influenced by corruption or bad judgment or reflexive underdogism (they all hate us because we rule). And even in these spellbinding displays of human possibility, the dazzle is insidious: Across the country, little girls and their moms are dragging themselves out of bed at 3 a.m. to train to win a contest all but one of them will not win. They’d be better off reading, or learning a musical instrument, or even sleeping, than being placed in a five-year boot camp under the mustachioed guidance of a sweatshirt Stalin who probably isn’t a child molester, but is also probably more likely to be a child molester than anyone else you’ll ever entrust your child to. If you’re lucky, your girl will emerge from the game with nothing worse than a severe eating disorder, and it all started because she mistakenly thought she could be the next Simone Biles.
Is it even possible to get wrapped up in an event that begins and ends in less than 15 seconds? Where is the drama in the 110 meter hurdles? If each hurdle were tripwired with explosives, or balanced over an alligator pit, you might gain my interest. Moreover, the conclusion of each contest is more bitter than sweet because the gap between the winner and the rest of the athletes is a crueler resolution than in any other human endeavor. If you’re the second-best comedian or investment banker on the planet, or if you’re the second-best-looking woman, you may rightly consider yourself a fairly massive success. Hell, judging by my life, you can be 493rd best at something that is almost completely useless, such as film criticism, and still make a nice living. But what are you supposed to do if you don’t win at the Olympics? There aren’t any ads on Craigslist stating, “Help wanted: Pole Vaulter, competitive pay, 401(k).”
Face it, if you compete in the Olympics and don’t win, unless you look like a model, you’re looking at spending the rest of your life as a gym teacher. Win a silver medal and you’re just the “No. 1 loser,” as Jerry Seinfeld once put it. Win the gold medal? You’re the greatest guy ever. Second place, one one-hundredth of a second behind? “Never heard of you.”
Kyle Smith works for the US National Review