Bread & circuses

bread_and_circuses Cricket is off the airwaves but now I’m plagued by the continual broadcasting of the tennis. My favorite radio programs on  local radio – ABC 774 have been sidelined as the Australian Open takes centre stage in our lives.

It really annoys me that television, radio, and newspapers are so focussed on the current competitive sport. But then sport, according to David Icke writing in New Dawn is one of the ‘little holograms within the bigger hologram – the global economic system in which we all live and play something called ‘life’. Even so it is pretty much the only common factor that exists between the few mega-rich and the masses of struggling poor and deprived.’

Icke quotes Karl Marx who famously said that ‘religion was the opiate of the masses’ but now conventional religion competes with another opiate – that of professional sport. Sport in its place as exercise, fun and a challenge is all very well, but when it becomes such an important focus for so many of us then it’s a real concern for our critical gaze is diverted  from important global and local events.

Footballers in England and Europe earn in excess of 155,000 pounds a week and this enormous sum doesn’t include their endorsement fees. Since 1992 the pay of leading players had increased by more than 1,500 percent while the pay of the working population has only risen by 186 percent. The cost for fans to watch these splendidly renumerated players has also increased by thousands of percent.

This week the world witnessed the downfall of one of its celebrity sportsmen. Lance Armstrong, winner of seven Tour de France titles has finally admitted that he cheated and won his titles by taking performance enhancing drugs. According to Sports Illustrated’s Fortunate 50 from 2005,  Armstrong earned $17.5 million in product endorsements and speaking fees.

Another sporting hero has surely fallen. And yet the public continue to pay money for the ‘pleasure’ of watching endless hours of professional sport. Of course our media plays a huge role in fostering the public’s interest and when one of these successful sports people die, many pages of print, and hours and hours of audio and video are produced.  Since Tony Greig, cricketer and commentator died at the end of December 2012,  the tributes have kept coming and even yesterday the TV news bulletins led with Greig’s memorial service at SCG where Prime Minister Julia Gillard was met by Channel 9 chief executive David Gyngell, revealing just how central Greig had been to the promotion of cricket and its place in our economy.

Long before disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, adulterer and golfer Tiger Woods, and deceased cricketer Tony Grieg, there was Annette Kellerman, a distance swimmer, diver, theatrical performer, mermaid, feminist and later movie-star. But then, like me you probably haven’t even heard of her.

Screen shot 2013-01-21 at 3.28.47 PMAnnette was born in Sydney in 1886, and at the age of two, was diagnosed with rickets and forced to wear heavy iron braces to correct the condition. Luckily her family came across a forward-thinking doctor who suggested they remove the braces and encourage her to swim. It was a decision that would change the course of Kellerman’s life. “After I learnt, I’d go swimming anywhere, any time, at the drop of a hat,” said Kellerman. As her fitness improved she began to swim competitively and even helped out her family in hard times by performing a ‘mermaid act’ where she would dive in the local aquarium and swim with the tropical fish. By 1904 Kellerman was a local celebrity known for her mermaid tricks and her long-distance swims.

Kerrie Davis describes Kellerman as an athlete, dancer, diver, fitness expert, model and movie star, and the daring woman known as the “Australian Mermaid” who was ahead of her time in every way. In 1908 on a crowded beach in Boston while ladies strolled along the sand in bathing dresses that included sailor collars and bloomers, on the shore stood Annette Kellerman dressed in a man’s bathing costume- ‘a skin-tight one piece black suit that ended well above her knees.’ The stunned beach crowd stared, pointed and screamed, even telling their children to cover their eyes and not look at her. For her daring feat, Kellerman was charged with indecent behaviour and later explained in court that if she was to swim in the customary garb of her day then ‘she may as well be swimming in chains.’

By 1914, she’d become a movie star, playing the lead in ‘Neptune’s Daughter’, an underwater fantasy that was packed out for weeks. Kellerman believed that with exercise and diet her body would never fail her and at the age of 89 she could still bend from her waist to the floor with perfectly straight legs.

Annette Kellerman loved her sport and it kept her happy and healthy. Shouldn’t that be what sport is all about? But then that was before sport become big business. A real pity!

Categories: feminism, history, politics, popular culture, sport, womens rights

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