Olympic Voyeurism: The Naked, the Nearly Naked, The Prideful, and The Annoyed.

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.

i-49f04b28112ca96ed7ccf3470a2dfc1f-Greek_athletes_naked_runners.jpgCertainly, 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.

i-c8d0c9ab5f315a36ae354205bd063edf-naked_greek_athlete_clothed_official.jpgSo, 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.

i-0634829321205c47221c23203d76db4c-greek_girl_runner_not_naked.jpgSome 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.

i-43287c9a86d51f04a0096f52cbd0e659-ancient_greek_totally_gay_sport_wrestling.jpgBut 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).

i-d0bd8771ed3bf58e8cf7dac8a392427a-Terry_Schroeder_body_statue_LA.jpgAnd 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.


Naked Water Polo Team: Time Life
Ancient Greek Art pictures

More like this

a little out of the topic, but what a strange abdominal muscle they have, all of them ! Must be related to their sport, I've never notice that before. Thanks for the photo

I could see where nudity wouldn't bother me in most of the summer sports, but racewalking??? not so much.

This might be a little off the topic as well, but I really don't get why beach volleyball is in the Olympics anyways. Nudity? Pretty girls? Maybe... I am not gonna speculate since I don't really know the history of this game, but to me, the presence of beach volley in Olympics is weird. (though I know Bush likes it)

but what a strange abdominal muscle they have, all of them

Good point, eric; my guess is that they are well-developed external oblique muscles.

I've given up trying to understand why certain sports are included in the Olympics. Shooting is the one I'd dispense with, if I had any say; it seems like a game of skill, rather than an athletic endeavor. Might as well have Olympic pinball or skeeball then.


Indeed. I spent considerable effort picking the photo to show beach volleyball. (By the way, some of the photos have a hidden message. in the form of the filename. Right click, pick "save as" or "properties" to see the hidden message)

The most common and/or top ranked photos on the internet are depict two women (and for those who don't know, each team has two members on the field at one time) embracing, often in what looks like an erotic arrangement, sometimes on the ground. These photos are, of course, taken from sequences where the athletes are either hugging each other (because they did good) or have run into each other and fallen down.

So, yea, like that blog post says .....

I was obviously looking for something different. I wanted one or two women in an action pose worthy of a Greek pot. Think "Ancient Greek Pot" and go back and look. You'll see I did well.

I also did not mention this: You know, for the second Olympics and onward (of the new era) for several rounds, women were not in track and field at all. They were slowly let in. But they were in some running events in the first neoOlympics. But, all the ladies fainted before they reached the finish line.

Of course, ladies fainted more often back then. And they didn't train. And they wore corsets and dresses.

The long and the short of it is that this is a very interesting topic!

Of course, you can watch the Olympics just to hear the well thought out comments by the announcers.

During a Men's Beach Volleyball match, my wife was interested, the announcer described the impending retirement of one of the players. Then discussing the remaining athlete, the announcer said, "He'll just have to play with himself."

And they went on...

Betul: As I say, I chose, and named, the graphics files very carefully....

Greg said: "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?"

Because the penis can create a lot of drag. I can't speak for anyone else, but it's a real problem for me.

But Martin, drag isn't much of an issue in water polo. Competitive swimming, yes, but this is a whole different animal. That's why these guys still have body hair and, therefore, why water polo is so much more fun to watch.

Now the keep-out-of-all-the-flailing argument for suits? That I'll give you.

Greg - I love that joke about women of yore being too delicate and swoony to finish a race; corsets and ankle-skimming robes were a very poor, er, choice of uniform...talk about drag...and oxygen depletion!

I find myself wondering over the historical shift away from naked men athletes (excepting the water polo babes...splashing around - LOVE that sport! ;)toward that of nearly naked women today and the difference (at least I see a difference - consider how it might feel to approach that LA stadium if the statue were of a female athlete) between how we regard the nakedness of the sexes. Would that statue of a woman be seen as a brilliant example of athletic form, potential, etc? What would the ideal female athlete's body look like? And how shiny would the breasts be from all the fondling hands?

Well, I'm inclined to think the official uniform for women's beach volleyball ought to be a sports bra and board shorts, but let me play devil's advocate for a minute.

At its most basic, isn't competitive sports a highly sexualized activity to begin with? I mean, a lot of sports do downplay it, but I can think of four off the top of my head where sexuality is inherent in either the uniform designs, the gameplay, or both -- baseball (tight pants), American football (tight pants and explosive aggression), wrestling (self-explanatory), and modern rollerderby (which seems to revel in its BDSM overtones). And I'm sure the very first competitive sports were about attracting dates anyway.

So while a very good case could be made that womens' sports uniforms are oversexualized, one could also make the argument that in many sports, mens' uniforms (due to background homophobia, perhaps) are actually undersexualized -- the ridiculously overlong shorts used in contemporary NBA uniforms, for example. (I think the NHL's shift to more form-fitting uniform jerseys shows that at least some people are thinking in this direction.)

WOW Brian X - I'm so impressed by the ease with which you equate aggression and sexuality. You busy later?

Otherwise, baseball pants are just about the most unsexy articles of clothing in the modern age. And NHLers just want to show off their pads. And yes, early on, some competitions did lead to "dates", if that's what you want to call a man's winning a woman as a prize.

You might be on to something though with homophobia being part of what has been making men's uniforms so, uh, modest. On the other hand, if NBAers were dressed in tights it would be hard to concentrate on the baskets.

Honestly, I was thinking of it in terms of the female making the selection, not just fighting for a piece of human chattel; you're looking at my answer on a cultural level, but sexuality is really a lizard-brain quality, and all the patriarchal garbage we've slathered over it is nothing more than a thin veneer of misaimed civilization attempting to put the lid on some very powerful animal instincts -- really, it's denial in action.

As for equating sex and violence, again, it's a lizard brain thing. My knowledge of sexual biology is a layman's, but sex and violence are strongly intertwined throughout the animal kingdom. The fact that humans have found ways to sublimate that into other forms of competition is a great adaptive advantage that has probably done wonders to build civilization and innovation around the world, but it's still sexual in origin if not necessarily by nature. Hell, if you read some books, even cooperation is a form of sexual competition in some contexts -- even if you don't get laid yourself, you can help one of your buddies get some action.

/hopes he didn't mutilate Olivia Judson's writing too badly

Oh, and Ana -- you obviously haven't taken too close a look at the NBA uniform shorts in the 70s and early 80s. Tight, not necessarily. But absurdly short. If that's not a sexualized piece of clothing, I don't know what is.

I was saving the butt signals of beach volley ball for a post on estrus signaling in primates.

Ana, for both males and females, the ideal body is different by sport, right? This is one of the main arguments against racially defined innate sports ability. There is not a racial morphotype that provides for the best football player AND the best basketball player. in fact, there is probably a disjuncture between prevailing (or codominant) social preferences for body form and some subset of body shapes ideal in each of the sports, again, for both males and females. Male wrestlers vs. swimmers, female gymnasts vs weight lifters, etc.

So we need multiple statues.

But yes, I'm not missing your point at all. The ideal female body in a public statue has probably rarely or never been the athlete. But there are major exceptions. The ancients depicted women atheletes in statuary art now and then.

And then there is dance. Ballet could be an Olympic sport.

I was saving the butt signals of beach volley ball for a post on estrus signaling in primates.

I'm so glad I had finished my beer long before reading this... the damage to my nose and keyboard would have been incalculable...

For someone who's purportedly boycotting the Olympics, you spend an awful lot of blogging energy on it!

But isn't this particular blog irrelevant since we now have a vaccine against Polo? Or is that Polio? I can never remember which is which....

While ballet requires impressive athleticism and could be as much a sport as some others at the Olympics, you generally don't see depictions of muscly dancers until you hit modern dance photography. Look at Degas' pictures. His dancers are more sleek than his bathing nudes, but there's no hint of the knotty leg muscles ballet dancers actually build up.

I suspect that if you put up a realistic statue of a female ballet dancer, instead of one that was all gesture and grace, it would freak people out a bit.

How did I miss this great post?? Oh, yeah: I was remodelling a house night and day....

But now I understand that specific subset of suburban moms who are shuttling their six year old girls back and forth--and back and forth- to 'dance' classes, and beauty pageants all the time, instead of to math tutors, or immersion/magnate schools ....

By the real railer (not verified) on 10 Oct 2008 #permalink

Terry Schroeder had (and probably stiil has)an increbile physic. Muscled, but not muscle-bound.

Terry Schroeder had (and probably still has) an increbile physique. Muscular, but not muscle-bound.