Watching (collecting data for the boycott) men’s Olympic water polo, it occurred to me that the little tiny bathing suits the men wear were absurd. Why not just skip the bathing suit and get on with it? As I was thinking this, the commentators on the TV were learnin’ me something new closely related to these thoughts … regarding Terry Schroeder’s body. Schroeder is the team coach, and I’ll tell you about his body below the fold.
For some reason this all made me think of the National Anthem. You see, today, part of the Olympic scene is the often forced voyeurism of nationalistic pride re-enacted at each medal ceremony with the playing of each country’s National Anthem. I imagine that most people watching the Olympics today assume that national pride has always been part of the Olympics, that it has always been played out in this particular ceremonial way, and, indeed, that all the nations have always had these national anthems. Since the beginning of time.
[UPDATE: George Bush and the OBBVT]
But there are a few misconceptions here.
Certainly, the national pride component has always been there since the first Neo Olympics in 1896, though certainly to different degrees. Also, some years have been more intense, or more strange, than others. Like the year that Hitler hosted the games, or the year that many members of the Israeli team were murdered in an act of political violence. Despite these dramatic moments, the usual trope has been to count medals, listen again and again to the anthems, and watch while the athletes stand for their medals and act appropriately.
And remember, athletes: Proper voyeurism produces visceral, not intellectual results. No Black Power fists, no peace signs, no other screwing around, please.
So, what of the voyeurism? First, not all countries have always had these (often annoying) national anthems. They did play ‘anthems’ at the 1896 Olympics, but many, perhaps most, were unofficial. In many cases, no one official (from a given country) was even involved in deciding what the song to be played would be.
The United States did not have a national anthem at that time. It is said that the band practiced a couple of different songs in the event of a US athlete winning a gold medal, with a British Drinking song that had been linked to a jingoistic poem written about the battle at Ft. William Henry being one of the tunes. The story, apocryphal or not but immortalized in the 1980s film on the origin of the modern Olympics, is that the decision as to which song to play was made at the very last moment. It is said that the choice was made as the conductor raised his wand at the first US medal event, quizzical look on his face (“OK, guys, which song do we play???”) with the implication that this decision ultimately influenced the choice later on of the Star Spangled Erstwhile Drinking Song to be the National Anthem of the USA.
Some countries got their anthems much later. The Australian National Anthem was not set until the 1950s, for instance, and this in connection with the Olympics as well.
The other trend is that of voyeurism of the more usual kind. Everyone knows that the original Olympics … the games played in “Ancient Greece” (which was not really a place, but that is another story) … were all about watching naked men. Sure, it was a sporting event, but it was also a softly pornographic group voyeuristic tournament. We know this because of the way athletics, generally, were depicted in contemporary public art and on semi-utilitarian and decorative objects.
But just men? Well, yes, actually. Women seem to have been involved in early Greek athletics as well, as both trainers and athletes in various sports. But as far as I know depictions of such women generally, or at least usually, show them clothed unless swimming. Do not assume that this was because of some sort of Victorian proprietary sense. Maybe, but I suspect not. More likely, the fans were just more interested in the naked men and boys.
So, this year the US water polo team is apparently kicking the barely covered butts of the other teams and have a shot at a medal (the US usually does not medal in this sport).
And the current coach, Terry Schroeder, was many years ago the team captain. In fact, he was team captain the last time the US medaled in water polo. During the interval between then and now, the artist commissioned to produce appropriately styled naked man athlete bronze statues for the Olympic stadium in Los Angeles used Schroeder’s body as a model because it was thought Schroeder’s physique represented the ideal male athlete.
How many people have bronze copies of their bodies planted in front of a major stadium? I mean, I know one guy who has a bronze of his naked body in the bathroom, but not in front of the stadium…
Will we see Naked Olympics some time in the future? I don’t know. But even if not, is voyeurism … of the human form in all its fit and muscular glory … creeping back into the event in emulation of the practice of the ancients? To this, I say only three words:
Women’s Beach Volleyball.