How the Sochi Olympics Illustrate the Value of Books

The big news when this set of Olympics started in Sochi was how much the whole thing cost – fifty billion dollars! – and cue predictions of how these fancy Olympics venues would all fall apart in a decade or so from lack of use. Okay, okay, I can definitely get in line with the thought that, however good for the ‘human spirit’ athletic competitions are, Olympics costs are ballooning to an unreasonable amount. I mean, couldn’t humanity find something better to do with fifty billions dollars than build some amazing venues that might be only fully used for a month?

But… humanity spends an insane amount of money on a lot of ‘useless’ things. The Olympics, at its heart, is entertainment for the masses. And don’t other forms of entertainment – movies, music, video games – need a gigantic amount of time and money to make too?

Watch a couple of those YouTube videos on the making of The Hobbit movie… there’s practically a city’s worth of people, making practically a city’s worth of sets and costumes, to create a world that doesn’t actually exist and doesn’t benefit anyone except those who got a few hours of entertainment out of it. I can think back to the days of old Hollywood, when they built an actual Roman racetrack for Ben Hur, and put an actual chariot race in it to film. And then I compare it to today, where they don’t need to actually build every little thing they film. The special effects far surpass what was possible in Ben Hur, but everything else about movies have ballooned as well – actors’ salaries, production budget, number of people involved…

On one hand, previous generations of humanity would probably look at us like we were touched in the head to spend such enormous amounts of time and money on such fleeting experiences. Fifty billion to host the Olympic Games. Six hundred million to make The Hobbit. We can pour time and money and immense amounts of effort into fleeting experiences. Have you ever thought about how much actually went into your two hours of enjoyment in the theatre? How many thousands of people were involved in getting the product to you?

I’m not going to start ranting about how we should stop this and start using all these billions of dollars, and billions of hours of manpower, to go out and solve world poverty or something. Of course it’s more complicated than that. Of course all this money and effort drives the economy. Maybe it’s just our modern world is more complicated, and more interconnected, and everything we do tends to be on a massive and complicated scale (think the Internet… or the cellphone network… or global corporations…)

I’m just going to say – all of this makes me appreciate the simplicity of a novel all the more. At its heart, a novel is just one writer with a vision he scribbles on paper. Once the printing press was invented, and books were able to be mass-produced, the writer’s message could reach more people. But there’s something to be said for one person’s ability to create a whole new world inside the pages of a book, without hiring an orchestra to play the soundtrack, and without actually constructing something pretty to look at in the background of the action scenes.

Someone will come at me next and protest there’s editors, and copyeditors, and cover designers, and marketers, and distributors involved in book-making too. And there is, of course. But you can cut back the book industry to a writer, and maybe a printing press. The simplest form of a movie is still far more complicated.

Or think about it this way. If our modern world disappeared tomorrow, would you rather have a book with you, or a copy of your favourite DVD?

And the nice thing about our modern world still existing is that we DO have choice… we do have the amazing ability to entertain ourselves with expensive-to-make movies, or expensive-to-host Olympic Games. But I’d like to call for a moment to appreciate the simpler things in life – and appreciate them for being simple.

Simplicity is something our world lacks. It’s something overlooked and taken for granted. But it will never lose its value.

And, therefore, neither will the writers among us, who create these magical things known as ‘books.’

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Filed under Bookish Thoughts, Randoms & My Life

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