The enigma that was Prince Rogers Nelson, whose African-American family hailed from Lousiana originally burst onto the pop scene as a 17-year-old teenager, in the late 1970s. Aged just 20, in 1979, he performed his first gig with his band, who became, ‘The Revolution‘. His death, this week, leaves behind dozens of songs, lyrics, statements, and beliefs, that not everyone understood.
His own path navigated 3 engagements, 2 marriages and divorces, and the death of his only child. In 2001, he became a Jehovah Witness and said he was turning to monogamy after prior romantic links to Kim Basinger, Madonna, Sheila E., Carmen Electra, Anna Fantastic, Sherilyn Fenn, Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles, Susan Moonsie of Vanity 6, and Vanity, herself, another singer who underwent a Christian conversion and also died this year.
Prince, the Genderbending Rule-breaker
“A strong spirit transcends rules”, Prince said in a 1999 interview.
Steven W Thrasher, writing in the Guardian, writes of Prince’s genderbending and gender-busting allure:
Prince broke all the rules about what black American men should be. The musical genius captivated both men and women with his high heels, tight butt and playful sexuality – and he refused to be anyone’s slave…
…letting go of all those rules he seemed to have dispensed with? That purple clothing, those high heels and ruffled shirts: was he proudly feminine, or so secure in his masculinity he didn’t mind others questioning it? That small frame and that tight, small butt that seemed to leave him “shaking that ass, shaking that ass” for men and women alike?
Prince was a paradox in that he expanded the concept of what it meant to be a man while also deconstructing the entire idea of gender.
It was, in retrospect, the first time I experienced someone refusing to live under the oppressive binary regime of gender, or to submit to the dominant power’s rules.”
In 1982, Prince said that “What’s missing from pop music is danger – there’s no excitement and mystery”. Well, he certainly provided that mystery, much as David Bowie did.
I wanna be your lover
Wanna be your mother and your sister too
“Prince brazenly blended rock, R&B, funk, pop and jazz like few artists before or since. He pushed the envelope on sexuality and androgyny in music, dared to take on the corporate music industry…” – Star Tribune
Freedom and Fascination
From a rare interview in 1996 with, among others, NME, on the release of his ‘Emancipation’ triple album comes these quotes from Prince on freedom, life, experience and people:
“I find freedom sexy. I find freedom so sexy I can’t even explain it to you. You wake up every day and feel like you can do anything.”
“Everyone has their own experience. That’s why we are here, to go through our experience, to learn, to go down those paths and eventually you may have gone down so many paths and learned so much that you don’t have to come back again.”
“I’m no different to anyone. Yes, I have fame and wealth and talent, but I certainly don’t consider myself any better than anyone who has no fame, wealth or talent. People fascinate me. They’re amazing! Life fascinates me! And I’m no more fascinated by my own life than by anyone else’s.”
Prince, Mystery or Madness?
“America still believes Prince to be mildly insane…’Why does everyone think I’m mad?’ he once asked his British press person. ‘Because,’ the PR replied, ‘you do weird things and you don’t explain them.’ Prince does do weird things, but he also performs live with a stage presence and a charisma that’s unrivalled in American entertainment.” – Guardian(2006)
His refusal to bow to the corporate line of either the music industry or journalists meant that he came across as ‘odd’, but his response was that he didn’t care:
“I don’t really care so much what people say about me because it usually is a reflection of who they are.”
“Despite everything, no one can dictate who you are to other people.”
Being yourself and not worrying about what others thought was one of the ways he inspired others to break out.
“Cool means being able to hang with yourself. All you have to ask yourself is ‘Is there anybody I’m afraid of? Is there anybody who if I walked into a room and saw, I’d get nervous?’ If not, then you’re cool.” – Rolling Stone Magazine
Prince, Song Lyrics
Stand up everybody/This is your life
Let me take you to another world, let me take you tonight
You don’t need no money, you don’t need no clothes
The second coming, anything goes
Sexuality is all you’ll ever need
Sexuality, let your body be free…
I’m talking about a revolution we gotta organize
We don’t need no segregation, we don’t need no race
New age revelation, I think we got a case…
No child is bad from the beginning, they only imitate their atmosphere…
Stand up, organize
We need a new breed, leaders, stand up, organize
– “Sexuality” (1981)
Whenever I feel like givin’ up
Whenever my sunshine turns to rain
Whenever my hopes and dreams
Are aimed in the wrong direction
She’s always there
Tellin’ me how much she cares
She’s always in my hair
The Queen’s Birthday & the other Queen: Freddie Mercury
Royalty is trending, no not the 90-year-old Queen, nor the pop star Prince, who died today aged 57, but the great entertainer Freddie Mercury, who died at half the Queen’s age, 25 years ago. He spoke only days before his death of his contracting of HIV/AIDS back in 1991. The reason Freddie is also trending on the Queen’s birthday is that a scientific study into his renowned three-to-four-octave vocal range, far from merely a “little high, little low”, was published this week. The “acoustic analysis of speaking fundamental frequency, vibrato, and subharmonics” appeared in the ‘popular’ journal, Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology.
In a 2005 poll organised by Blender and MTV2 Freddie was voted best male singer of all time, and in 2009 was selected as the best rock singer of all time by Classic Rock. AllMusic described him as having “one of the greatest voices in all of music.”
“Mercury’s voice was a force of nature with the velocity of a hurricane.” – Guardian
The range of Freddie’s voice, whether the study demonstrated 37 semitones – approximately 3 octaves, or other sources that suggested nearly 4 octaves, was immense either way. His vocal tremors and “vibratory pattern of vocal folds and ventricular folds” were similar to Mongolian “throat singing”.
One song that exhibited Freddie’s talents was Bohemian Rhapsody (1975), written by him with even the guitar parts being first planned and played on the piano by him. It was also responsible for one of the first music videos, created to avoid actually appearing on Top of the Pops.
“the piano Freddie recorded with was the same one Paul McCartney played when the Beatles recorded “Hey Jude.”“
“Too late, my time has come
Sends shivers down my spine
Body’s aching all the time
Goodbye everybody – I’ve got to go
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth
Mama, ooo – (anyway the wind blows)
I don’t want to die
I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all”
So much lies hidden in the mock opera and rock anthem lyrics that entertained us but sometimes tortured Freddie. The last line above, “I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all” certainly tortured me, when I was at a low point.
Today is the 4th anniversary of one such low point in my life and music brings back so many memories. Friends once told me you shouldn’t have a suicide playlist on your iPod. Life can be cruel and people taken or take themselves from us, earlier than we’d wish, without saying goodbye or finishing what might have seemed to be their life’s work.I have no answers, only songs.
I was lucky enough to be at Queen’s last ever full line-up concert, at Knebworth, in 1986, along with 120,000 other fans. Status Quo were merely a support act.
God Save The Queen
Whilst the Queen continues to reign, Freddie’s reign ended 25 years ago, and Prince’s ended today. Their music left many indelible rock anthems on our playlists. Indeed, in 1974/5 they covered a version of THE National Anthem, “God Save The Queen” and sang it as an outro at most concert finales. Brian May did a solo live version from the roof top of Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002.
Who want to live forever?
We keep losing Rock legends like Lemmy and David Bowie, but their voices and magic will last forever. Music and celebrity mean more to current generations that tradition or royalty. Many will mourn the passing of Prince, as if he were a monarch, and many more still miss his highness Freddie Mercury.
It’s a generation since the death of author, feminist, and existentialist, Simone de Beauvoir on 14 April 1986. A lover of Sartre – in both senses of the word, she was a sexually liberated bisexual whose disregard for sexual convention – including age of consent laws, caused her to lose her right to teach in France. Her 1949 defining work on the oppression of women, Le Deuxième Sexe – “The Second Sex“, is widely considered a groundbreaking treatise on sex and gender for 20th-century feminism.
As to her sexual liberation, her “erotic liberty“, and open relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, she saw any sexual categorisation as restrictive:
“In itself, homosexuality is as limiting as heterosexuality: the ideal should be to be capable of loving a woman or a man; either, a human being, without feeling fear, restraint, or obligation.” – Simone de Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir Quotes
I recently quoted, knowingly totally out of context, this from de Beauvoir:
“One is not born a woman, but becomes one.”
I was quite promptly, and perhaps rightly, accused of ‘quote mining’. Contextomy or the unjustified use of an uprooted, and in this case anachronous, quote, to prove a point it was never intended to address, is a fair criticism.
My use of the quote was because it resonated with the idea that people can be born female, raised a girl, but become a woman. A woman is as much experience, as nature. I’m not jumping in and suggesting, for example, that post-operative trans women are thus women, the same as those who were born with a uterus and raised as girls. Indeed, is anyone any less of a woman after uterine cancer (affecting 8,500 women in the UK a year) and removal of the womb via hysterectomy? Similarly, women can have various difficulties in reproduction due to infertility, or any number of intersex medical differences that may cause an XX or indeed other chromosomal combination such as XXY etc to present a body that defies the defined binary female stereotype. Women should not be defined by their ability to procreate and bear children – that much I am sure de Beauvoir would agree with.
My question is, though, whether de Beauvoir would have condemned or supported the rights of some to pursue a gender trajectory that more matches their inner feelings and psyche than their binary-born bodies. In other words, transgender, non-binary and other forms of gender fluidity or transition.
Simone de Beauvoir on Woman, Femininity, the Other, and maybe a Third Sex
So to add insult to injury, to compound my contextomy crime, here are some further Beauvoirisms that might shed light on what might have been her attitude to “The Third Sex”. A phrase which I use, advisedly, for the main purpose of echoing her “Second Sex”, rather than for the purpose of defining all trans and/or gender non-conforming people as a “Third Sex” even though that is a way which some, especially in Asian and Indian cultures, do define.
Does ‘Woman’ even exist?
Beauvoir existentially questioned whether woman would always exist, suggesting that ‘she’ is an ephemeral concept ,driven by culture and construct as much as conception:
“Are there women, really? Most assuredly the theory of the eternal feminine still has its adherents who will whisper in your ear: ‘Even in Russia women still are women’; and other erudite persons – sometimes the very same – say with a sigh: ‘Woman is losing her way, woman is lost.’ One wonders if women still exist, if they will always exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should…” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)
One can be female but not a woman
As to femininity, she saw it as something esoteric, and that female ≠ woman ≠ femininity:
“It would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries? Or is it a Platonic essence, a product of the philosophic imagination?” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)
If female equals the “female of the species” reproductively, and feminine a cultural construct if not oppression, then woman need not be feminine and feminism a path to throwing off that oppression. But does ‘woman’ need to be female? If one can be female but not a woman, can one be woman but not a female?
What is woman?
If much previous philosophical, and biblical-theological enquiry, stemmed around “What is man?” and the nature of man, then de Beauvoir helpfully examines, what is woman:
If her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to explain her through ‘the eternal feminine’, and if nevertheless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then we must face the question “what is a woman”?
Yet would it not be more helpful to discuss what it means to be human, or are we still stuck seeing woman as something less than a man, and hence neither equal nor fully human since, as in the Bible, Adam stands for man and humankind as the first point of reference?
“Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)
On BBC Woman’s Hour today, British Army Captain Rosie Hamilton was interviewed about how female recruits are trained, but it was then made all about how many of them made the ‘male’ standard.
Woman as the ‘Other’
Beauvoir rebelled against the patriarchal concept that man is human and woman is defined only in relation to being man’s so-called opposite pole, that she is ‘othered’ in reference to him. Not that we have achieved gender parity yet, but I wonder how she would see trans, non-binary, intersex people now, as perhaps the new (however ancient a group of people they are) ‘other’?
“No subject will readily volunteer to become the object, the inessential; it is not the Other who, in defining himself as the Other, establishes the One. The Other is posed as such by the One in defining himself as the One.” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)
Trans, Non-Binary and Intersex people are ‘othered’ by the default biologically and socially essentialist binary. In the same way, de Beauvoir saw woman as othered by man. Thus, gender non-conforming people, whether assigned male or female at birth, should have some solidarity with the feminist struggle to assert the equality of women with men, and their common core identity as human beings absolutely, not relatively. Sadly, that is not always the case and some folk do not see a common struggle between feminism and gender identity. As de Beauvoir said:
“Enough ink has been spilled in quarrelling over feminism” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)
Some radical feminists, such as Julie Bindel, Germaine Greer, Sheila Jeffries and others, are well known for exclusionary attitudes to trans people. Indeed, de Beauvoir others intersex people, formerly termed ‘hermaphrodite’, in her seeking to find an independent voice on ‘what is woman?’:
“What we need is an angel – neither man nor woman – but where shall we find one? Still, the angel would be poorly qualified to speak, for an angel is ignorant of all the basic facts involved in the problem. With a hermaphrodite we should be no better off, for here the situation is most peculiar; the hermaphrodite is not really the combination of a whole man and a whole woman, but consists of parts of each and thus is neither.” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)
In a 1976 interview, when asked about excluding men from some aspects of the feminist struggle and female gatherings, she opined that sometimes it was necessary. So she may have argued against the full and unfettered access of some transwomen (e.g., pre-operative) to women-only safe spaces. She did also say, however:
“The battle of the sexes is not implicit in the anatomy of man and woman.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)
Similarly, she spoke of some lesbian women, in particular, being male-exclusionary:
“There are other women who have become lesbian out of a sort of political commitment: that is, they feel that it is a political act to be lesbian, the equivalent somewhat within the sex struggle of the black power advocates within the racial struggle. And, true, these women tend to be more dogmatic about the exclusion of men from their struggle.” – interview (1976)
Anyone, who is oppressed has the right to gather in safe spaces – whether other oppressed minorities should have rights of access to the safe spaces of other groups who have been ‘othered’ is another matter. That siad, shared oppression is sometimes more important than shared hormones.
“Woman is determined not by her hormones or by mysterious instincts, but by the manner in which her body and her relation to the world are modified through the action of others than herself.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)
It was Audre Lorde that said, whilst “any woman is not free”, then “no woman is”. Being the one oppressed is sadly part of a common humanity, and a common responsibility:
“Each of us is responsible – to every human being.” – Simone de Beauvoir
In some matters, if not most – except the most basic biological differences, “men and women” and anyone that is defined or identified outside that binary need to” unequivocally affirm their brotherhood”, as de Beauvoir concluded in The Second Sex.
So, could every Human be a Woman?
“I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom.”
Beauvoir speaks of every human being, every human life, less of the categorisation that in a class-distinctive way oppresses all of us, even the men. For, in defining men and not women, as not soft or empathic, or similar stereotypes, we trap them in conventional masculinity, we oppress gay men, drag queens and transvestites who may still identify as male.
“…man, like woman, is flesh, therefore passive, the plaything of his hormones and of the species, the restless prey of his desires.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)
We no longer accept feminism as the sole regard of women. True women’s liberation also liberates men from roles and rules of sex and gender.
“…the woman of today is [not] a creation of nature; it must be repeated once more that in human society nothing is natural and that woman, like much else, is a product elaborated by civilisation.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)
If a feminist need not be a woman, and a female need not be a ‘woman’, and the ‘feminine’ just as possessable by males, then, perhaps too, a ‘woman’ need not be female, at least not assigned one at birth. In other words, is the very term ‘woman’ as much a social construct as gender itself, and the so-called masculine and feminine ideals?
“No single educator could fashion a female human being today who would be the exact homologue of the male human being; if she is brought up like a boy, the young girl feels she is an oddity and thereby she is given a new kind of sex specification.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)
Only in an androgynous (but not uniform) utopia, where all human beings were raised without class or gender specificity, could true equality perhaps be found.
After two years in the making, the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Francis‘ publishing of a “landmark papal document“, Amoris Laetitia – “Joy of Love“, actually says a lot (around 260 pages) but very little that’s new. How could it, when innovation or theological development is anathema to tradition, dogma, and infallibility? The exhortation seeks to be compassionate, merciful and pragmatic, rather than legalistic or judgmental, yet in reality is no less rigidly orthodox in terms of doctrine and offers little prospect or hope of change for LGBT inclusivity or other alternative relationship realities.
Positive vision of Sexuality
The document fails to be the “positive vision of sexuality” that it purports to be and is critical of the so-called “obscure need to
‘find oneself'” (#153). Unless churches acclimate and accelerate, in their acceptance of modern love, their message of love and finding oneself (“in Christ”) will be increasingly left behind and irrelevant.
Theology of the Body
The current Pope reaffirms John Paul II’s ‘theology of the body’ (1980) teaching that sexual differentiation leads to both reproduction and the “capacity of expressing love” (#151). By continuing to root the expression of love in both reproductive capacity and dimorphic bodies, he rules out same-sex love and families.
Cultural vs Fundamental Truths
It is a shame that the Pope, in relegating some of Paul’s teaching to the cultural matrix and context of patriarchy and female submission (#154-156), does not use the opportunity to recognise the cultural moving on of society on sexuality, despite overtures to feminism and sex equality.
“I certainly value feminism, but one that does not demand uniformity” (#173)
Although placed in the context of parenthood, he says, attitudes to gender roles remain traditional – men, particularly fathers, should be:
“possessed of a clear and serene masculine identity” (#175)
“the clear and well-defined presence of both figures, female and male, creates the environment best suited to the growth of the child…children need to find a father waiting for them when they return home with their problems.” (#175-177)
No room for same-sex parenthood or adoption, then. Nor of alternative masculinities – female, transmasculine or effeminate.
In a section on the foetal child he writes that:
“all the somatic traits of the person are written in his or her genetic code already in the embryonic stage.” (#170)
That being the case, why continue to reject people on the basis of their probably mostly genetic sexuality? Why fail to condemn reparative therapy for homosexuality (‘unwanted same-sex attraction’) or gender identity? As if the genesis of our innate coded lives can be rewritten by prayer, healing and therapy, to undo that which seems to go against doctrine, but which, in fact, to do so would be to go against nature. The nature of our selves, rather than a nature seemingly defined by ancient laws.
Respected but Discriminated
On “persons who experience same-sex attraction” Pope Francis described the situation as not easy for either the parents or the children:
“We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence…” (#250)
… but not discrimination in sex, love or marriage, then, that would be presumably be justified discrimination. Marriage and intimacy remain strictly heterosexual and for non-divorcees, since divorce remains “evil” and gay relationships “intrinsically disordered”.
“Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.” (#250)
I wonder whether “assistance” includes the psychologically deprecated reparative therapy? It’s certainly not been condemned, whereas most international psychological, psychiatric and psychotherapeutic bodies have banned it.
Same-sex Marriage or Civil Unions
“In discussing the dignity and mission of the family, the Synod Fathers observed that, “as for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.” (#251)
Furthermore, the Pope argues that international poverty aid should not be dependent upon countries introducing LGBT equality laws.
Curiously, at (#121) in the Papal document, he cites the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as an example of conjugal loving unity – hardly the best analogy if you want to avoid references to threesomes, same-sex relationships, or children born outside of wedlock!
Furthermore, at (#122), his concept of marriage mirroring the love of Christ for the Church fails in portraying only a narrow heterosexual conjugal union rather than that put forth in St John’s Gospel:
“For God so loved the world” (John 3:16)
The world includes all people, not only married straight people who’ve never divorced.
I still find it incongruous that a celibate and single Pontiff can preach to others about marriage, love and sex.
The idea that faithful marriage for life is a “natural inclination” (#123) also seems to go against scientific and social realities. That statement, from the Pope, is followed up with a barely veiled criticism that broken marriages or relationships outside of “unto death… commitment” are, by their nature, “weak or infirm”, and “ephemeral” (#124).
Modern understandings of psychology and psychotherapy might also have an issue with the idea of complete ” surrender” of “our future entirely to the one we love”, although he is critical of past expressions of patriarchal dominance within marriage.
Sex education in schools
Safe-sex education in schools remains an oxymoron to the RC Church since the only sex that should take place is that within marriage and for the “natural procreative finality of sexuality”. Despite devoting space to the erotic dimension of love, reproduction is still seen as the end goal, not love itself – which would, of course, open up LGBT and non-marital variants.
As a result, contraception and abortion remain absolute wrongs, leaving women not in charge of their own bodies.
“No alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life.” (#83)
This puts the Pope firmly in US Republican Donald Trump’s, Poland’s, and Irish/Northern Ireland Catholic camp on the illegality of abortion at all stages of foetal growth – all places that have recently featured calls to keep or extend anti-abortion laws. Despite Pope Francis saying Donald Trump is ‘not a Christian’.
In summary, however forward thinking the Pope may seem, the language compassionate and merciful, the tone accepting and gracious, the theology remains stuck, rigid, intransigent. The words may change, the attitudes may soften, but the laws remain as seemingly writ on stone as ever before. No good news for LGBT Christians. Read the full text of Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia – “Joy of Love” for yourselves.
On April 6, 120 years ago, the Olympic Games, its spirit, and modern ideals, were reborn in Athens, Greece. They were not the first attempt, nor born overnight, and came some 1600 years after the last ancient Greek games which had run for nearly 1200 years every 4th year or olympiad. In 394 AD the Roman Christian emperor Theodosius banned all pagan festivals including the Olympics, despite New Testament metaphors drawing inspiration from athletics. It took a Frenchman, inspired by the traditions of several English towns and cities, in combination with the philanthropy of two Greek brothers – who rebuilt an all-marble sports facility on the site of an ancient Athenian stadium, to restore the Olympic Games that we know today.
History of pre-Modern Olympics Games
Several attempts to bring back the Olympic Games were made during the nineteenth century and earlier. Some were local and just used the Olympic name. These included theCotswold Olimpick Games, near Chipping Campden in England, first organised by Robert Dover between 1612 and 1642.
220 years ago, revolutionary France launched L’Olympiade de la République, between 1796 and 1798 in front of 300,000 spectators in Paris. These games included a chariot race and were dedicated to la paix et à la fécondité – “peace and fertility”. The 1798 Games introduced metric distances and measurements for the first time.
In 1850 Dr William Penny Brookes founded an Olympic event at Much Wenlock, Shropshire, which, in 1859, became known as the Wenlock Olympian Games. Still continuing to this day, its aim was:
“to promote the moral, physical and intellectual improvement of the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood of Wenlock, and especially of the working classes, by the encouragement of outdoor recreation and by the award of a prize…”
Not to be left out, Liverpool held an annual Grand Olympic Festival between 1862 and 1867, including events in Llandudno 1965-1966. They were founded by John Hulley and Charles Melly, and were open to all local and international ‘gentlemen amateurs’, although the first truly national Olympic Games were held at Crystal Palace Park Cricket Ground and on the River Thames at Teddington, 31 July 1866. In 1869, Hulley also organised Britain’s first velocipede and bicycle races, at which the UK now excels.
Leicester, in 1866, also held a Grand Olympic Festival, on the site of the current University of Leicester, Fielding Johnson Building, but which was formerly the Leicestershire and Rutland Lunatic Asylum.
The forerunner to the British Olympic Association was the Liverpool-founded National Olympian Association, in 1865, which went on to inspire the International Olympic Charter. The OC outlines the “fundamental principles of Olympism” and rules of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Olympic Games, Athens
The 1820s and 30s had seen interest in a revival of the Olympic Games gathering momentum. In 1856 the sponsorship of Evangelos and Konstantinos Zappas was accepted by the Greek king to fund the restoration of the Panathenaiko Stadio, or “Panathenaic Stadium“, in Athens. This was not, in fact, the original ancient Games location, since the older panhellenic Games were held at Olympia, but instead, part of the Athenian Games tradition. 1859, 1870 and 1875, then saw the first modern Greek Olympics held.
In 1890, Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was inspired to found the International Olympic Committee after visiting the Wenlock Olympian Games. This led to the first international Games, of 1896, also at Athens. The top prize was actually a Silver Medal, rather than Gold.
There were just 9 sports and 43 events over 10 days, but, significantly, the marathon, actually run from Marathon, was won by Greek athlete Spyridon “Spyro” Louis in front of 100,000 spectators.
Women’s Olympic Games
Although Athens, was not dissimilar to the Games of Liverpool and Wenlock, it was still unlike our truly modern Games, in that women were excluded from their late-nineteenth century revivals.
De Coubertin was opposed to women competing, although in 1900 they were allowed to enter tennis and gold, and London in 1908 added the Figure Skating event for women, gradually women became involved. This was not fast enough for another French national, and rower, Alice Milliat, who founded the independent Women’s Olympics in Paris in 1922, continuing through to 1934, owing to the refusal of the IOC to allow women to enter track and field events. The IOC forced a name change in 1928 to the Women’s World Games, in exchange for grudgingly admitting more events for women at the Olympics.
Even in ancient Olympics, although separate, there were some female Games, such as those of Hera at Olympia which included a separate racing competition for women. Spartan women used to take part in sports and exercises, semi-clothed – with one breast exposed, like Amazon archers, leading to a “remarkable conjunction of homosexuality, feminism, and athletics” at Sparta. Plutarch suggests that younger Spartan girls and boys would compete and exercise in the nude alongside each other.
Ancient Olympic Traditions
Most of the ancient Olympics were competed in, naked – and only by Greek-speaking freemen. For a while, women were able to enter chariot horse teams, but not enter themselves. Furthermore, they could not spectate if they were married women. Stories tell of one chariot team owner being caught crossdressing as a man to enter the trainers area and watch her team which led to even trainers having to be in the nude. Even the word ‘gymnasium’, comes from the Greek gymnos, “naked”.
“The modern Olympic ideal is completely alien to the spirit of the Greek original, which despised women, slaves and foreigners and celebrated sectarian religion, nudity, pain and winning at any cost.” – Christopher Howse,Daily Telegraph, Athens 2004
Early-on, loincloths were outlawed among the competitors and the only thing allowed was a kunodesme, “putting the dog on the lead”, penis-strap, to stop it getting in the way. Many events involved the athletes covering themselves in olive oil – the mind boggles at the wrestling events!
“The attempt to link modern athletes and ancient athletes inevitably runs up against major cultural differences…we must never lose sight of the popular savagery of the pankration. Even in more conventional events, antiquity showed a tolerance, or perhaps a taste, that is utterly alien to the modern world.” – New Republic, 2004
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2016
The ancient Games included sacrifices to the gods, the effective wearing of knuckle-dusters in the boxing, and opportunities for music and the arts alongside the body-worship and savagery. The next Games in Rio, this summer, may omit the sacrifices and savagery, and the nudity, but will still put athletic bodies centre-stage. The modern Olympic ideal of the taking part being more important than the winning, is long gone. Instead, we have doping and bribery scandals, not to mention long-running issues over the place of intersex athletes and how to include and ‘define’ them, given that the Games now includes women in most of its events rather than the original’s men-only events. The IOC can’t make up its mind on the definition of male and female athletes (like Caster Semenya and Dutee Chand), leaving many intersex athletes out in the cold, censured, or even facing compulsory surgeries to conform to standardised sex ideals.
“build a peaceful and better world in the Olympic Spirit which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play – Olympic Spirit strives to inspire and motivate the youth of the world to be the best they can be through educational and entertaining interactive challenges. Olympic Spirit seeks to instill and develop the values and ideals of Olympism in those who visit and to promote tolerance and understanding in these increasingly troubled times in which we live, to make our world a more peaceful place.”
Spoilers are okay after midday, but sadly it was no April Fools Day joke that the biggest little man of comedy, Ronnie Corbett, to whom even Miranda Hart “looked up to”, died at 85, yesterday – if only he’d held out another day the Internet would have been awash with April Fools lingering doubts. It seems appropriate to light four candles (aka ‘fork handles’) in tribute and say with him:
“It’s good night from me – and it’s good night from him.”
He was all about double entendres, misconstrued meanings, and great comic timing:
“West Mersea police announced tonight that they wish to interview a man wearing high heels and frilly knickers, but the Chief Constable said they must wear their normal uniforms.”
“We’ve just heard that in the English Channel, a ship carrying red paint has collided with a ship carrying purple paint. It is believed that both crews have been marooned.”
“There was a fire at the main Inland Revenue office in London today, but it was put out before any serious good was done.”
A History of Pranking
The job of kingship has historically been a stressful one, and alongside advisers and seers, royalty often had court jesters around to lower the tone and raise the mood.
In the late 14th century Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is set on March 32nd, a nonsense date, i.e., 1 April. Whilst this may be a copyist’s error, the tale itself is full of comic irony.
April 1st jesting is attested throughout the early 16th century in French and Flemish customs and several origin stories suggest it was due an end March to 1 January calendar change in Britain or France.
The first British reference is in 1686, and in 1698 people were tricked into going to the Tower of London for the annual “washing the lions” – a fake event that was still conning people as late as 1857!
On the eve of April Fool’s 1864, the Evening Star of Islington, London, announced that a “grand exhibition of donkeys” would be held the next morning at the Agricultural Hall. Next day, a large crowd gathered outside the hall until they realised that they themselves were the donkeys on display!
While it goes by the name of All Fools, April Fools’ or April Fool’s Day, as well as Poisson d’Avril “April Fish” in French, it’s been around much longer. In earlier times and different calendars, our current 1st April would still have coincided with the advent of Spring and the end to the darkness of winter. So it is a season to be celebrated and it seems from of old to have attracted festivities, pranks and jokes.
Ancient Persian Sizdah Bedar
Nowruz, the 13th day of the Persian New Year falls on April 1/2 and in Iran this is still a day for jests going back over 2500 years, possibly the oldest pranking tradition in the world. It is called Sizdah Bedar “13 Bedar” and may be part of the origin of April Fools but it is uncertain how it may have spread from ancient Persia. The 13th of the month Farvardin is celebrated as a day to “go out”, be-dar in Persian, and have fun outdoors and pray for spring rains, indeed at midday the defeat of the Demon of Drought by the Angel of Rain was celebrated. Zoroastrian beliefs that “laughter and joy symbolize the throwing away of all bad thoughts” account for some of the merriment on Sizdah Bedar. There are also some beliefs that Sizdah Bedar meant “13 going out/getting rid of” and unlucky 13 and all its bad luck was disposed of on this day.
The Roman festival of Hilaria, held on March 25, also had similar themes of joy and jest. March 25, until a few centuries ago (the French moved their calendar and year-end in 1564) was New Year’s Day and part of a week-long festival until April 1. “The Day of Joy” (Hilaria) celebrated the resurrection of Attis, Cybele’s consort – Cybele was mother of the gods. The whole Agdistis, Attis, Cybele, Galli mythology and worship is full of interesting gender asides…
Back in 1957, before the British were so accustomed to pasta, the BBC’s Panorama programme broadcast a documentary hoax showing spaghetti growing on trees which convinced many, especially with the serious authority lent it by anchorman Richard Dimbleby!
The great spaghetti spoof harvest joke ranks no#1 in the Museum of Hoaxes top 100! Other hoaxes have included Alabama changing the value of Pi to a biblical value of “3” or Burger King making a “Left-handed Whopper”.
In 1976 National Humor Month was founded by comedian and author of 53 books on humour, Larry Wilde, Director of The Carmel Institute of Humor. “It is designed to heighten public awareness on how the joy and therapeutic value of laughter can improve health, boost morale, increase communication skills and enrich the quality of one’s life.”
Most newspapers carry at least one April Fool’s story buried somewhere in the paper and it is fun to guess which it is. Sadly, our crazy world means that many real stories appear to be jokes but are not.
Last year saw organic giraffe milk being offered at Paignton Zoo, Dodo and chips being eaten in 18th century Bristol leading to their extinction, and Yoyo the macaroni penguin laying a golden egg – and, no, its name wasn’t the April Fool, Eudyptes chrysolophus is a yellow crested penguin drawing its name from an 18th century Dandy fashion dubbed Maccaronism, a “flamboyant or excessive ornamentation”.
In modern times, there are comedians everywhere, including and especially in politics, well jokes anyway. There seem to be more fools trying to lead countries and even some comedians considering election, e.g., Sandi Toksvig, Eddie Izzard and in Italy, Giuseppe Piero “Beppe” Grillo.
If only Donald Trump’s views on abortion, women, Muslims, Mexicans, immigration, equal marriage, etc, were an April Fools Day joke, as it is he and his views are the joke that Democrats and rational people worldwide must hope fall flat rather than get elected.