Bread and circuses

Bread and circuses

In essence, the Olympic Games are just an elite sport carnival.

Or, as William Oddie puts it so scathingly, the Olympics celebrate “a large number of self-confident and mostly illiterate young people running, leaping and otherwise cavorting around the Olympic Park and elsewhere.” Bah! Humbug!

But of course, the Olympics are also much more than that. A friend asked me on Monday if I had weaved the Olympics into my homily on Sunday. To be honest, it had never even occurred to me. But upon reflection, I could have. The “Olympic Spirit” provides plenty of material. It’s a bit late now though.

Another friend told me Monday that the Mr Bean video I had embedded in a previous post had been removed. The IOC has been vociferous in enforcing its copyright. It amazes me how hard it is to locate mere snippets of the Opening Ceremony on the Internet. There must be a lesson in that on the rampant commercialisation of the Olympics.

Still, a little bit of Google research has recovered the buried treasure. Here’s hoping these videos last a little longer.

Mr Bean:

Her Majesty and Mr Bond:

For what it’s worth, I liked the Opening Ceremony. It wasn’t perfect, and the critics have been quick to point out its deficiencies. Nobody’s done that better, I think, than Andrew Bolt, whose recognition of the Ceremony’s strengths is as compelling as his critique of its omissions:

THANKS for the lecture, London. I’ve never seen such a political opening ceremony for the Olympics since, er, Beijing.

But there’s politics and there’s politics. What director Danny Boyle served up on Saturday made me choke at times, but put his hotpot next to what China fed us four years ago and you can only think, thank God.

Thank God for humour, and even more for compassion.

Read it via Google. (You’ll get around the paywall.)

On a different tack — and more in keeping with William Oddie’s channelling of Ebenezer Scrooge — Joanna Bogle turns her attention to the dire straits which the UK is sailing towards, from which the Olympics are providing a momentary distraction:

So here we are facing what promises to be the biggest crisis of European history. We are dying. There aren’t enough children being born. People are living longer – and expect to live reasonably well, with some health care and social welfare provision, some heating in winter and enough food all year round.  Providing this is not too difficult with a normal healthy birthrate. But we don’t have one. We are in minus-births, or to put it more poetically, we have a birth-dearth.

Refreshingly, she hasn’t shaped the impending crisis into a stick with which to beat the Olympics. Rather, she proposes to shape the Olympics into a torch to lead Europe out of its mess.

I think she is too optimistic. Who knows? Boris Johnson might make a great Prime Minister. But the demographic and economic crises bearing down on Europe and America and “the West,” can’t be fixed by good government. Any solution requires a massive cultural shift comparable to the 1960s sexual revolution which gots us into this mess.

Whatever of that. In the meantime we can pray and love and — yes — enjoy the Olympics for the authentic good they showcase.

  • MuMu

    Thanks so much Fr John, for these 2 vids. Bean was hilarious and I couldn’t help but notice that HM wore a similar Bean-like expression on her face. Perhaps she really wanted to leap down from the helicopter and they wouldn’t let her!

  • Stephen K

    I’d be interested, Father John, to read your explanation for that part of your statement that read “…the 1960s sexual revolution that got us into this mess”. Specifically, what you see as “this mess”, and what you mean by the “1960s sexual revolution”, and why you think there’s a causal relationship.

    • Joel

      The Jack and Jill.

    • The mess being the demographic crisis which Bogle so memorably calls a “birth dearth.” I think the causal relationship between the birth dearth and the sexual revolution is self-evident.

      If “Western civilization” (as we popularly understand that non-monolith) is going to “save itself,” Westerners need to breed at replacement level.

      Increasing a society’s fertility is not something that policy wonks alone can fix. It’s comparable to, and related to, the challenge of reducing the abortion rate. Progress demands a cultural shift.

      • PS. The “sexual revolution” is not an easy thing to define — any more than “Western civilization.” But given that both terms are popularly used, I don’t think a scientific definition is all that warranted.

      • Stephen K

        Thanks, Father John. Now I’m interested in what you envisage has to happen, sexually speaking, to attain “breeding at replacement level” without exceeding it. (The arithmetics of counterbalancing the average 3 generation life span in the West against the average 1 generation time span required for two people to reach the fecundity capacity to have children springs to mind.) Do you think, say, that to reach replacement breeding level, each generation, each couple, must breed two, or one or four, or six? Or more?

      • I believe the replacement fertility rate for Western couples is 2.1 children. In other words, every ten couples need to produce 21 children to achieve zero population growth. The replacement fertility rate is higher in the developing world because infant mortality is much higher. I think it might be 3.0 children per couple.

        So that’s what has to happen biologically. But the cultural requirements are much greater. For starters, a lot of people seem to think that negative fertility rates are a desirable goal — which of course they are, in the ideological terms of environmentalism. But in economic and sociological terms (and I would add moral terms), negative fertility rates are very bad. But that’s where cultural change kicks in.

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