Monday, August 13, 2012

Ritual, Television, and the Olympics

I was reading the New Yorker recently (August 6, 2012 issue) and there was this great quote from a piece, titled "Glory Days: What we watch when we watch the Olympics" by Louis Menand.

If someone described to you an ancient civilization in which, every four years, at great expense, citizens convened to watch a carefully selected group perform a series of meticulously preset routines, and in which the watching was thought of not as a duty but as a hugely anticipated and unambiguously pleasurable experience, you would guess that, socially, this ritual was doing a lot of work. You would assume that it was instilling, or reinforcing, or rebooting attitudes and beliefs that this hypothetical civilization regarded—maybe correctly, maybe just superstitiously—as vital to its functioning.
I love reading about ideas about ritual described like this, especially as it is reminiscent of both Geertz and Carey. Ritual is... often? always? a communicative act, and as such is pro-community behavior (especially with its historical dimension, tying the current community together and with its embodiment in the past).