I’ve discovered or perhaps belatedly recognised something rather odd about myself. If I see five interlocking rings in the corner of a television screen, I will watch golf.
Every four years, we give up the idea of televisual choice. The Olympics are on, so we watch the Olympics, or at least have them on in the background. We expose ourselves to sports which could never conceivably engage us in any other circumstances. Shooting. Field Hockey. It’s not a non stop thrill ride, but it’s a sort of education and when it’s not an education it’s a sort of ritualised background noise.
I will miss the Olympics when they’re gone, even though I will make not the slightest effort to keep up with the sports which have surprisingly engaged me. Of course, new sports will be introduced for Tokyo 2020 – sports which will probably be chosen for their speed and violence. I predict Jousting, Rollerball and Murmillo versus Retarius. But who is to say what constitutes excitement? If you’re a Viennese aristocrat, then Dressage is a supersonic cyberpunk adrenaline rush.
I will miss the Olympics because the end of the Olympics forces me to make my own choices again, to detach myself from the global consensus that the Olympics are on and I should watch them, and retreat into the tiny world of customised reality. I will watch what I want to watch rather than what I feel I ought to watch.
Social media help the Olympics no end. Those occasions where everyone is watching the same thing are comparatively rare but are invaluable from the point of view of creating memes and (on a very good day) jokes. Olympics are of course, corrupt, expensive, ruinous – maybe even impoverishing – but they do make the world a slightly smaller place.
Or do we become bigger?