The New Paganism

Just as in ancient Greece, all that matters in Atlanta are hard bodies and winner-take-all Gold

Published July 22, 1996 12:32PM (EDT)

In a society that seems to care little about the notion of a pure
inner life, a perfect body must do. And there's no higher ideal of the body in America right now than the athletic, muscled, toned, hard physique we see parading around various arenas in Atlanta.

For all the rhetoric of nobility pouring forth from television commentators at the Games, historians will tell you that the ancient Greeks, who gave birth to the quadrennial spectacle, were not the idealistic athletes that we like to imagine. The ancient games were not so much a simple celebration of amateurism and sportsmanship as they were a celebration -- scandalously so, thought the barbarians -- of male nudity.

More importantly, the Greek festivals that began in the eighth century B.C. deepened the animosity between city-states, were often marred by cheating athletes and no glory ever attached to the
loser; you got the gold or you got nothing but shame. There was some similarity when I was a kid and the local newspaper would put a box score of Soviet medals versus U.S. medals on the front page -- the Olympics as the Cold War by other means.

Now we have various swimmers and track stars in magazines with not much more on their beautiful bodies than a Speedo. Once the gold gets distributed, the lucky winners' beautiful sweat-soaked bodies will be plastered on billboards, courtesy of Evian bottled water. Meanwhile, we have million-dollar basketball players impersonating "amateur athletes" and monstrous prepubescent gymnasts with pitiless eyes competing to be the new Nadia.

Who will be the new Nadia?

Agents all over Atlanta are waiting to see. Become a winner (only
the gold standard matters) and you'll get some sort of contract from Nike or Coke -- the mythical gods of commerce. But it's
all a human business. Nothing very noble about any of it. Yet the
Olympics gets clothed in fake pagan ideals, courtesy of Delta Airlines,
the official carrier. Torches; white pigeons flying over black Atlanta; Gloria Estefan singing this year's official Olympic song.

"Let the games begin!" Please, God, let's get it all over with.

) Pacific News Service

Quote of the day

Not a medal winner

"It's an amazingly ambitious goal to provide all of this information in real time to the whole world. That said, dropping your shorts in front of the entire world is significantly more embarrassing than doing it privately."

-- Roger B. McNamee, principal of Integral Capital Partners, a California high-tech investment firm, on the failure of IBM's computer systems to provide, as promised, complete and accurate Olympics information to the Internet and other media outlets.

By Richard Rodriguez

Richard Rodriguez is the author of "Brown: The Last Discovery of America."

MORE FROM Richard Rodriguez

Related Topics ------------------------------------------