Disillusionment has been a common feeling for me of late. Having recently become involved in the sport of cycling and racing, I look up to those with enough talent and strength to compete in contests like the Tour de France. This year, two incredible athletes were removed from competition based on suspicion of their use of "banned substances."
It's unclear to me whether I am supposed to feel outrage at this. Are the truly awesome performances of these two men attributible only to their alleged pharmacologic enhancement? Would I be just as inspired to have seen them perform without having used these illicit substances? Nobody knows.
The bigger question is whether viewership would be the same if these athletes could not pull off stunning performances and blowout comebacks. Would anyone watch? Are we as a World audience so accustomed to superhuman exploits that we no longer care to be reminded of our mortality?
Another recent discovery of mine is the "reality" show Man vs. Wild, featuring Bear Gryllis, survival expert. He is dropped off in remote areas and must battle the wilderness, the elements and sometimes wild animals in order to reach safety. The show touts the fact that Bear does not receive assistance from the camera crew or from others. He is provisioned only with a canteen, a knife and a flint. He eats bugs. He wrestles fish from the ocean and eats them raw. He wards off bears. He fends off exhaustion, extremes of temperature and hunger. Or does he?
Turns out he stays in motels sometimes during his adventures. He has assistance with the building of shelters and rafts. He has more to eat than the flora and fauna of the region. The media are up in arms about this.
Do I care? Not really. Am I still entertained by his adventures? Yes. Will I continue to view the show? Of course. It's a TV show for goodness' sake! I have little interest in seeing someone freeze to death or pass out from exhaustion in the name of television.
But where do we draw the line between entertainment and sport? Is there any such thing as pure sport anymore or has our commercial interest superceded our interest in testing the limits of unenhanced human power?