Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Happiness Olympics

In the past 12 months, I’ve heard three respected medical professionals - a GP, a psychiatrist and a psychologist- recommend that people who suffer from depression should avoid news and current affairs. What does that say about our news? Perhaps we're all nearing saturation point when it comes to bad news. We should be: it's unrelenting.

A quick browse through internet news sites on a typical day is nothing short of dismal: most days, there’s not a single good news story amongst the headlines. Not one. It’s bulletin after bulletin of politics, wars, bad news about the weather, the economy, the state of tea in China, plus murders and mayhem, refugees, redundancies, deaths, taxes…and if you watch the so-called Current Affairs programmes after the news, you’d be losing the will to live.

The situation may improve once you get to the Sports section. There are always winners, even if your team wasn't one of them. But brace yourselves. The sports news is making its regular leap from the back pages to the headlines. That’s bad news in itself if you’re not interested in the Olympics, but for those who are, prepare for sixteen days of uninterrupted thrills.

As Aussies, should we be expecting two weeks of triumphant sports headlines? Should we be begging our mental health experts to let us watch the Olympics and celebrate every win with a quiet cup of tea and a civilised ‘whoop’, or should we hide ourselves under a pile of old Buffy DVDs until the whole thing is over?

Even if the thought of 16 nights of Olympic competition brings you out in a rash, there is some incredible human competition coming up, and it will be slathered all over the headlines and social media. Resistance is futile. It’s already started with Natalie Cook’s threats to protest if the Australian flag bearer is not a woman, and has been followed by some typically tasteless comments from Eddie McGuire about Lauryn Mark’s pictorial in a mens’ magazine, to the entirely offensive comments about Leisel Jones being in less than race form. But if you’d rather watch jelly set than a moment of Olympics coverage, you will need to avoid the media from now until about 14th August.

I know what I’ll be doing. I’ll be ignoring the quasi-militaristic undercurrents of Olympic cults and cash grabs that the IPA’s Chris Berg wrote about in last weekend’s Fairfax papers, and I'll be yelling at the tellie. I love the Olympic Games. It’s the ultimate spectator festival – enough sports to satisfy just about everyone, peerless national fervour, unrivalled opportunity to perve on the kind of bodies we could have if we weren't so devoted to the couch, along with a little culture and a little cringe mixed in.

Luckily, my partner shares my love of the Olympic spectacle. We'll be studying the tv guides; including Pay TV, Australians will have ten separate Olympic broadcast channels. We'll have our viewing preferences colour-coded in the guide with fluro highlighters. My alarm is already set to go off at 5:30am on Saturday in preparation for the live telecast of the Opening Ceremony, accompanied by something appropriately British for breakfast. (Probably not kippers - other suggestions welcome.) For two weeks, we'll sit up all night, and sleep during the day - yes, both of us are on leave for the Olympics.

It’s a tragedy that there’s no non-sporting equivalent for the rest of us who can’t run like the wind or leap tall crossbars in a single bound (preceded by a decent runup). With the notable exception of artistic sports like gymnastics, synchronised swimming and some equestrian events, sport tends to be measurable and absolute. We could convene a world Cooking Olympics or Drama Olympics or Haiku Olympics or Customer Service Olympics or Landscape Oil Painting but how would you judge it?

The great thing about being a fan of the Olympics – and I suppose a fan of sports in general – is that it celebrates achievement. Traditionally, Australian Olympians are strong in Swimming, Hockey, Cycling, Rowing, Sailing and Equestrian, and these are all great spectator sports. Of course we want to see Australia win, but when we don’t, we see our Aussies try. We get to celebrate, and regardless of how many or how few medals Australia wins in London, we will be proud.

And in between the news of Aussie triumphs, personal bests and inspiring performances, there'll be more of the usual. In Queensland, Premier Newman will continue to wield his axe, hoping the Games will wipe his bad news off the front pages. In America, Obama and Romney will continue their campaigns for the Presidency. Prime Minister Gillard's rivals might just be able to keep their powder dry until after the Games. In Syria, revolt will continue and in Afghanistan, so will the war. Asylum Seekers will continue to board rickety ferries in search of a better life in the Land Down Under. Life and death go on, but probably not on the front pages.

That sounds like something that mental health practitioners would support.

Note: This blog is not medical advice. If you are being treated for depression, don't stop your medication and watch the tellie, okay? Equally, if you think you might be depressed, please see your GP as soon as you can. You're not alone.

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