Panic Olympics

In light of the recent hysteria concerning BALCO, Bonds and Baseball, I thought I would post a short essay from Kroker and Cook's Panic Encyclopedia (1989). (Once again, I am not sure if this journal post contravenes the copyright notice included in the book or not, so I will post the link where you can freely download the book and decide for yourself. Boldface emphasis added.)


Ben Johnson committed a big sign crime, and he is paying for it as the newest sacrificial victim of the Olympics.

If, in twenty-four hours, he could implode from a Promethean hero of classic proportions into a sacrificial scapegoat for the masses' fury at being sign-switched, it just proves that Ben Johnson's body has now a second existence: an abstract screen onto which are projected all of the inadequacies of a TV audience that is suffering a bad case of distemper. In Canada, Johnson's return from Seoul was a scene taken directly from The Day of the Locust: a raging media scrum demanding why he had betrayed his country, government leaders trumpeting "swift retribution" by banning him for life from international competition. And Johnson, himself, who began running as a stutterer found himself finally unable to speak. On ABC's Nightline, Edwin Moses, who only wins bronze medals now, is having one last media career as a cynical comic in the Reagan style, by urging that Johnson's sign crime be taken up as a challenge for the policing of the drug free body. And, in Seoul, the panic claims of Olympic officials that this is a victory for "scientific detection" of the doped body is met by all the smugness of the TV anchors who talk darkly of "tainted competitions."

So, why all the hysteria? Perhaps because it is the age of sacrificial sports now: that point where the Olympics, under the pressure of the mass media, re-enter the dark domain of mythology. No longer sports as about athletic competition, but postmodern sports now fascinating only because the athlete's body is a blank screen for playing out the darker passions of triumph and scapegoatism. Johnson's second body (his simulated body that was the focus of all the mass media attention) then, as an empty sign onto which could be projected a triple resentment: the resentment of the Olympic Committee which, having already surrendered its sovereignty on the question of money, took up with a vengeance the policing of the drug free body; the resentment of the silent mass audience that saw its psychological investment in Johnson's triumph over Carl Lewis instantly reversed by evidence of his use of anabolic steroids; and the resentment of the media at being cheated of the illusion of an "even playing field."

Just as Nietzsche predicted, there is nothing quite so dangerous as a worldwide mob, robbed of its own dream-world and thirsting for revenge at the unmasking of its own illusions. With Ben Johnson, The Day of the Locust finally goes global in the psychological form of Panic Olympics.


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