The pitfalls of comparisons

Making comparisons is a perfectly natural process. Whenever we see, taste or hear something new, we automatically compare to a similar experience of the past in order to judge which is better. The contest, of course, is rigged before it begins because the first criterion used in the comparison process is an ideal, something that has become the object of nostalgia.

The same rules apply when comparing something that is ?ours? with something that isn?t. However impartial we like to appear to be, the lead is already assigned before the process begins because sentiment inevitably prevails over any intellectual considerations.

This is happening now with the comparisons between the Opening Ceremony of the 2004 Athens Olympics and that of the London Games, which are currently taking place. After Friday?s opening ceremony, most Greeks were initially reluctant to speak badly of an impressive event, but as the days have progressed, the comparisons have become livelier and more colorful, even though the two events are non-comparable: The Greek director had one goal in mind and the British director quite another. In short, they wanted to tell a different story.

Greek organizers felt compelled to draw attention to the country?s ancient heritage, much like China did it in its opening ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Games. The only thing that made the smoke signals we sent out to the world comprehensible to so many people was the fact that many students around the globe have at least a rudimentary knowledge of ancient Greek history.

In contrast, Britain showed confidence not for its past but for the fact that the symbols of its modern culture are immediately recognized worldwide: James Bond (with Queen Elizabeth playing herself), Harry Potter, Mary Poppins, David Beckham and The Beatles.

In Greece, we had to go all the way back to Hercules, Homer and Alexander the Great to dig up iconic symbols.

But, what is the point of trying to come first in a non-competition? Or, to put the question in different words: Is the fact the we always cast Greece as beautiful and heroic when comparing it to anything contemporary, that we debase its present in order to give it an easy win based on its past, responsible for our lack of self-knowledge and self-confidence, for our resulting self-depreciation?

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