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Marks: Olympics wrestle with profitability

BY GUEST COLUMN | FEBRUARY 15, 2013 5:00 AM

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Our university finds itself in the midst of shattering trauma, a snide and tumultuous loss of identity, a disastrous crisis so severe that our own Daily Iowan has labeled it a fate “worse than death”: wrestling will soon be an ex-Olympic event.

The outpouring of emotion, depression, and anger, across the state and across the sporting world, in this paper and in other media, is well deserved and appropriately delivered.

However, though the actual decision is abrupt and shocking, the rationale to do so should come as no surprise to anyone; it’s the same line of thought that plagues nearly every aspect of human existence. The sole purpose of American television is the selling of airspace for advertisements; actual programming, crass or sophisticated or trivial or unfathomably amazing as it may be, exists only to get you to watch commercials.

The least important part of “Super Bowl Sunday” is the actual game, demonstrated rather spectacularly by the fact that roughly 108 million Americans spent 31 minutes watching grown men stretching interspaced by commercials that aired precisely when they were supposed to. An enormous portion of those 108 million people watch the game because of the commercials, which by the fabricated myth of the “Super Bowl Ad,” supposedly “better” than “normal” ads due to liberties taken with sexual and flatulatory content, are exalted as conceptually daring pieces of corporate art, as widely discussed and hyped as the game itself.

So, when the IOC submitted an explanation for dropping wrestling with a list of 39 criteria, there was really only one that mattered: It’s difficult to fit a wrestling match into a conventional format of 22 minutes of programming and 38 minutes of ads.

It doesn’t matter that wrestling was at the first Olympics, its rules and customs embodying the traditional essence of the games; it doesn’t even matter that its depicted on all those old Grecian urns, that Jacob’s wrestling match with God is the biblical basis of Israel: it isn’t profitable — or at least, isn’t as profitable as other events. The entire 100-meter dash fits into a highlight clip, and let’s be honest: “Aleksandr Karelin” doesn’t have near the zest or ring to it as “Usain Bolt.”

But are we really so surprised by this decision amid corporate sloganeering that appears to be crude adaptations of Gordon Gekko monologues or mercifully shorter versions of John Galt diatribes?

Shouldn’t we be lauding the IOC for taking steps to increase its profitability, getting rid of old programs that don’t work and are, relatively speaking, too expensive to maintain, exploiting emerging markets and capturing key demographics? Wouldn’t increasing the attractiveness and thus profitability of the Olympics mean a more beneficial impact for the municipalities that host the games, more people going to see them and spending their money, creating wealth and jobs? Right? I wasn’t a business major, so I’m speaking from ignorance — but isn’t that the gist of those arguments? “Trim the fat? Trickle-down? Tighten the belt? Buzz word, buzz word, buzz word?”

So why are we so upset, really? How is this any different from other businesses and their actions over the last 30 to 40 years? Why are wrestling fans acting as the Luddites of athletics?

It’s because the mantra of profitability at the expense of everything else is in fact a repugnant way to go about business. It’s that the abstraction of economic analytics devalues tradition and any other quaint ethic, forgets that people aren’t units of consumption and cost but are in fact real people who do in fact need to eat every day; further forgets that money isn’t actually real.

Watching the IOC scramble to shave off even the tiniest layer of profit for itself is unsettlingly akin to watching people eat bugs for money on television, betraying a rabid greed that discards an event with a tradition of 2,000 years as though it were an old T-shirt.

It only underscores how disgustingly calculative, short-term, and self-centered our market-driven culture has become, a straw pressed forcibly and callously upon our backs with complete disregard for our spines. The IOC is removing wrestling from the Olympics for money, but it also does so simply because it can.

Jesse Marks
UI alumnus


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