Spectacle & Pageantry Always Trump Ethics
[ No, this post isn’t about the current state of Politics in the “greatest nation that’s ever existed”, or The Vatican. But it is me being, as usual, angry and amused, reductive, pessimistic, excited, juiced up, judgmental, and making sweeping generalizations about humanity, our plight, our collective cultural soul, blah, blah — note: I am a big fan of the Tour de France, absolutely care and absolute also do not care about the cheating. And I will be following as much of this year’s Tour as I can.
I think, really, that I care more about the Tour de France than I do about humanity ]
In less than 48 hours the 100th edition of the Tour de France will begin with huge fanfare. Does it matter that Lance Armstrong finally came clean (in his way), admitting he’d cheated his way, coldly and methodically (Armstrong headed up, according to USADA, “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen”), to his record 7 consecutive tour titles? Does it matter that one of his greatest rivals, Jan Ullrich, has finally admitted to blood doping? Does it matter that the great Alberto Contador was stripped of his 2010 Tour title because he tested positive for clenbuterol? (he’s back this year, by the way). Does it matter that Floyd Landis won the 2006 Tour de France but was stripped of it and banned for life? Does it matter that a look at recent Tours suggest almost everyone’s been doping?
No it doesn’t matter. And riders, really, have been cheating for each and every one of the hundred years of the Tour de France. Wikipedia reports the following accusations from 1904: “Stories spread of riders spreading tacks on the road to delay rivals with punctures, of riders being poisoned by each other or by rival fans. Lucien Petit-Breton said he complained to an official that he had seen a rival hanging on to a motorcycle, only to have the cheating rider pull out a revolver.” Good stuff, huh? And the winner of the first Tour De France (1903), Maurice Garin, was stripped of his second title (1904) for, you guessed it, cheating. (I guess people are just natural-born cheaters. But that’s another matter, really).
And no (sigh and surge) it doesn’t matter. Winning is everything (well, almost.) And heroes, in our corrupt and diseased culture, are disposable. We need heroes, sure, but in our unstable, crumbling society we can trash and replace them with astonishing speed. What matters more than winning even is the overall spectacle. The overall pageantry. For this it what sustains our greedy and needy little brains (think American Idol and our real gem and genius, Jerry Springer, blah, blah). Yeah, the show must go on. And it doesn’t just go on. It flourishes. Doesn’t matter how many scandals hit and the same old language gets trotted out (“dealt a huge blow,” “reeling,” “permanent stain,” blah, blah).
In fact, this year, I am sure, more people will watch the Tour de France than ever before. And as well they should. Because it’s a big deal. A hundred editions of it! Wow! And isn’t it awesome to have such a chance to marvel and feel good about ourselves as we revel in the spectacle of riders cruising through Idyllic French (and other National) countrysides (what a coup for French tourism!). Marvel as the riders (mere mortals, but supermen, really) crawl, heroically suffering, up the coiled tracks of monster mountains in rain, mist, in the freezing cold. And marvel again as those same riders descend back down into the valleys at dizzying speeds.
And-Hallelujah!-the news will shine and beautiful trophy girls will kiss the winners on the cheeks each and every day in long drawn out ceremonies. O, God, why can’t it last forever?
And, yes, I know, riders will fall, break bones, bleed and even die in the Tour. Remember the great Marco “il Pirata” Pantani who won the 1998 Tour and was dogged by doping allegations and died of a cocaine overdose barricaded in a hotel room at the age of 34?
Well, it just doesn’t matter. In fact I guess all this death, cheating, accusation, etc, just adds to the drama, the mystique, the complicated awe and beauty of this mind-boggling event. And it’s the hundredth now, for crying out loud!
The 2013 Tour de France, according to Wikipedia, will be comprised of “seven flat stages, five hilly stages, six mountain stages (with four summit finishes), two individual time trial stages and one team time trial stage covering a total of 3,403 kilometers (2,115 mi). The Tour will finish at dusk in Paris.” How epic! What an incredible feat to even finish! And finish, on the The Avenue des Champs-Élysées with massive outpourings of champagne and tears: tears of spectacle and pageant joy, for this indeed, indeed, of course, of course, is something really special.
Like Plato, Aristotle and Socrates (I’ve got to make this post more than just cycling, right? Got to throw in a few old dead intellectuals?), we are living, of course, in a doomed, ruined civilization. And I can see those famous and wise Greeks even, glued to their TVs, cheering on all these cheats, with tears in their old, wise Greek eyes.