So, here's to Rio 2016 ... and that new Gaming Pentathlon
I read the other week a notice - as newspaper hacks of old, like the late Con Houlihan, that colossus of a man and iconic figure of Irish journalism, used to call reviews - of an exhibition running until November at The British Museum on the work and world of William Shakespeare.
The exhibition, the notice noted, is a rare insight into the emerging role of London as a world city, seen through the innovative perspective of Shakespeare's plays.
London as it was around 400 years ago is brought to life through contemporary performance and amazing objects drawn from the museum's collection and across Europe. Maps, prints, drawings and paintings, arms and armour, coins, medals and other intriguing bric-a-brac all examined through the lens of Shakespeare's plays.
All of which had me thinking ...
If the Olympics are all about bringing the world together in one place to play, then old Wills could be credited with holding the first London Olympics all the way back when.
If any British artist belongs on Mount Olympus with the rest of ye gods, it's the Bard himself. Love of Shakespeare, which my late Father gave me at his knee and he a man who left school at 14 for work, blossomed into what you might call 'Bardolatry' sometime in the 18th century and has been going strong ever since, weaving its way into every language and culture on earth. (Was Wills the first contemporary celebrity before Simon What'sit? Discuss.)
But before that globalisation of The Globe's in-house pen, Shakespeare himself spanned the globe through his imaginative reach and interaction with the troupe of travelers and traders that came to London. Just as Britannia began to rule the waves, and colonising much of the world, Shakespeare's plays ruled the stage and reflected that reach of empire, but with the eyes and the soul of a poet.
Many of the objects in the exhibition most likely were never seen by Shakespeare himself. The 'Ides of March coin' from 43BC that commemorates the assassination of Julius Caesar (which Shakespeare dramatised, of course) brings, I read in this notice, the play alive in a way most school English classes cannot. There's also a portrait of one Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun, Moroccan Ambassador to Queen Elizabeth 1, known as Your Excellency for short. The ambassador came to London in 1600 on a state visit - a stranger in a strange land and possibly the source for Othello, the noble Moorish soldier and tragic character.
Now here's another thing when considering the Olympics: consider how certain ancient Greek competitions involved skills directly tied to the practical demands of what was then an agrarian economy. Today we work more with our minds than with our hands. We don't need to run from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens in order to deliver the news of a great victory - we have the Belfast Telegraph for that. We no longer worship Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire, metalworking, stonemasonry and sculpture. Stonemasonry is simply not valued any more as a divine gift. Programming computers might be.
It seems these days we glorify the geeks, not the Greeks or their gods.
Many sports are excluded from the Olympics: squash, baseball, softball, karate, rugby, the list goes on ...
But if we are now a people who work more with our minds than our bodies- well, some of us anyway - how about a few 'cerebral sports' for inclusion in Olympics 2016 in Rio de Janeiro?
Different times, as it were, require a different set of skills. Steering a 10-horse chariot, like Charlton Heston did, is not something that one needs to master to be successful today. And so if we wish to honour our 21st century gods and geeks, we could do worse than hold a competition that shows the greatest prowess in, say, programming or data visualisation, both achievements of the mind, not the body.
Here's two suggestions for starters. If watching many hours of TV rewires your brain - and we are inveterate watchers of the box - what are the effects of watching a seven-season marathon of Criminal Minds, that current cult classic that so captivates the warped minds of Unsubs everywhere - and the rest of us law-abiding mortals? The theories and dedicated approach to hard science by Kotch and Co. - they never seem to take a day off - makes us labour the finer points of forensic science as well as the nature of morality. To get through all 162 episodes - I've just about watched them all, believe me - wouldn't require a lot of cardio but a lot of patience and boosted volume, so as not to miss the analytical bits, and so achieve that gold.
If this activity seems somewhat slothful and/or sinful, bear in mind that the old Greeks were considerate couch potatoes: they thought nothing of honouring Dionysus by sitting through 15 plays over three days. Research suggests that playing video games improves creativity, perception, short-term memory and decision-making. (And you worried for your kids' state of mental well-being!).
So, I suggest a Gaming Pentathlon in Rio 2016.
Think of your pride and joy when your wee one brings home the gold for agility and prowess in Mass Effect 2.
Meantime, I'm polishing up on my marbles manoeuvres.