I’ve just launched my latest passion project, A graphical analysis of national anthem lyrics, with attention to religious expression, Olympic performance, and general bloodthirstiness.
Sports bring us the human body as a manifestation of nature—not just the elegant forms of athletes, but their animal ability to move through air and water. At the Olympics, these bodies are co-opted by a political culture that wants to be seen as natural, legitimate, stirring, beautiful. Beautiful bodies are just one kind of nature that nations like to claim. After all, this country invented the idea of “national” parks and claims the sublimity of the Grand Canyon (which preceded it by hundreds of millions of years) and all those purple mountains’ majesty as part of its identity. Corporations too like pristine landscapes, particularly for advertisements in which an SUV perches on some remote ledge, or a high-performance car zips along a winding road through landscape splendor. Few car commercials portray gridlock or even traffic—that your car is just a car among cars—let alone the vehicle’s impact on those pristine environments. Of course most of us have become pretty well versed in critiquing advertisements as such—we assume they are coverups if not outright lies. But the Olympics have not been subjected to the same level of critique.