Guy Brandon Posted: 3 August 2012
Keywords: Worldviews & Culture,
It will come as no surprise that an event that showcases the best of the best from around the world should be subject to such high expectations. Olympic athletes have trained rigorously for many hours a day, week in, week out, for many years: a quest for perfection that culminates in a four-yearly opportunity to showcase their talent. A minor mistake can mean the difference between a gold medal and missing out - as Tom Daley found on Monday's 10m synchronised platform diving.
These expectations stretch far beyond the performances of the athletes themselves. Long before the games there were concerns that the venue would not be finished in time. Problems with security threw the spotlight on ministers as well as G4S, fuelled by Mitt Romney's unwelcome comments, and the opening ceremony was subject to intense speculation as to whether director Danny Boyle could create a spectacle to rival Beijing's opening.
At times, the criticism has been justified. On Wednesday, four pairs of badminton players were charged with 'not using one's best efforts to win a match' - of attempting to lose in order to manipulate the draw and secure easier matches in the final rounds. But it is not just poor performances that have attracted attention. Sixteen year-old Ye Shiwen's exceptional time in the 400m individual medley immediately raised questions about doping - despite a rigorous drug-testing regime and the fact that there was no evidence against her. Ye's offence was simply to be too good at what she did.
What the reactions to these events have in common is a cynicism that borders on Shadenfreude. World-weary wariness of others' motives, reflected in the recent banking and political scandals as well as in the Olympics, is fast becoming our national sport. More than that, it is becoming a form of entertainment. Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk writes about our culture's need to create and destroy idols out of a need for spectacle. Particularly in a time of national uncertainty, expectations of the worst are commodities that need to be delivered upon: a projection of our own insecurities about status.
The challenge remains to be 'as wise as serpents, innocent as doves' (Matt. 10:16), discerning where wrongdoing has occurred without adopting cynicism as a default state of mind: a hardness of heart that is contagious to our relationships with those around us and closes us off to God. Faced with Ye Shiwen's outstanding performance, do we assume foul play or allow ourselves to contemplate that something 'unbelievable' has happened anyway? And, more importantly, does the same state of heart and mind behind that reaction apply to our faith?
Image: Flickr (e-basak)