Olympics, Paralympics, Menolympics

2012-09-13 00:00

NOW that the Paralympics are over, we should consider having a global sports event that celebrates the challenges and achievements of another differently abled group: women in midlife crisis.

It could be called the Menolympics. To qualify, women would have to be outstanding athletes who are challenged by two or more of the following:

• empty-nest syndrome;

• five o’clock shadow;

• inability to grasp Twitter;

• possession of one or more E.L. James novels; and/or

• irrational urge to start a cupcake company.

Qualifying athletes would be subject to dope testing for traces of Prozac and evening primrose oil.

No heats would be required as the Menolympians would arrive hot already to take part in events like the 100-metres bad backstroke, the dish-throwing discus, the 1 500 metres scream and, my personal favourite, the Pent Upathlon.

My brother-in-law, Simon, who thought up some of these events, had a good snicker about my Menolympics, even though he’s just purchased a sports car — a sure-fire sign that he’s entering MenoPorsche. As a woman in the grip of a long hot flush, I am allowed to make jokes about the things that afflict middle-aged women, because I am one of us. But is he?

My thoughts returned to the Paralympics. During the London games there was controversy about some of the jokes that made their way onto Twitter by commentators of the “Can’t wait for the dressage — I’ve never seen a horse in a wheelchair” variety.

But there was also a TV show called The Last Leg, hosted by Adam Hills, a man with one foot. This late-night Paralympics special was designed to show that disabled people have a sense of humour too, and that it’s okay to laugh about disability.

Well, yes, up to a point. Able-bodied guests on The Last Leg sat rigid with discomfort, while guests with no hands challenged them to a game of rock, paper, scissors.

The joke was on the able-bodied “other”, those of us raised, in the Age of Appropriateness, not to stare at people with lolling heads and missing body parts. But, correctly speaking, was this a case of disabled people laughing at us, not with us?

The limits of internecine disability humour were hotly tweeted, too. It was generally agreed that it was fine for blind people to make jokes about whether the referees for blind football were also blind (no, they’re all in the premier league, ha ha). But most people thought it wasn’t so cool when it was revealed that at the Beijing Paralympics, the Australian wheelchair rugby team had removed the braille buttons from the lifts. But perhaps this tells us only that rugger buggers will be rugger buggers and, one way or another, they end up legless. Then they shave off each other’s eyebrows.

So what did we learn? That even within the disabled community, laughing at your own frailties is funnier than laughing at someone else’s — in public, at least.

While wheelchair wit got a spirited airing at the London Paralympics, Channel 4’s coverage of the games was positively evangelical.Everyone was a hero. Everything was inspiring. Athletes who came first were heroic and inspiring. Athletes who came last were heroic and inspiring. It seemed the able-bodied among the Channel 4 presenters had undergone some weird pre-Paralympics happy-clappy cult training in Keeping Up Spirits.

This was the metatext: these people never let their afflictions get them down. They are winners in the game of life and a courageous example to us all. This was the subtext: when Usain Bolt swaggers about in gold shoes yelling “I am a legend”, he’s a real character.

But we prefer our Paralympians to be saints and role models. So when Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius blew his top in a post-race interview after losing gold in the 200 metes to Brazil’s Alan Oliviera, the Channel 4 presenters practically fell off their Paralympic pulpit.

The man who, a few minutes earlier, had been described reverently as one of parasport’s “true gentlemen” and “such a nice guy” and “so modest” had turned into … Usain Bolt minus the medal.

Arrogant disabled athletes were clearly not The Word Channel 4 had been anointed to spread.

Which is another great reason to have a Menolympics: weeping and screaming will be part of the fun, as my brother-in-law — who I’m convinced is laughing with me — suggests.

Oh, and women of an Uncertain Age love gold shoes, pimp jewellery and frosted hair. Bolt and Pistorius had better look over their shoulder.

— News 24.com


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