Friday, February 19, 2010
Olympics, Fashion Week and Westminster Dog Show: What they Have in Common
First, the people, like Judy Davis, profiled in the Wall Street Journal for her devotion to her line of Samoyed show dogs, mesmerized by the politics and competition of breeds and handlers, are unlikely to be the same crowd jockeying for seats in the front row of designers' runways, perched next to Lady Gaga or Sandra Bullock. Fans at the frigid winter Olympics are a completely separate group, valuing speed, agility and endurance...of a very different sort.
Personally, I'm not much for sports, and you couldn't say our household is on the sartorial cutting-edge. We also don't have a dog at the moment, though that doesn't keep me from being captivated by the astounding tenacity of owners, breeders and handlers investing hundreds of thousands of dollars with no payback just to see their breed or pet win. A story in the NY Times Business section Sunday detailed the "campaigns" run by champion pooches' deep-pockets owners, including magazine ads, hiring famous handlers, and extravagant indulgences, all of which brings to mind one of my favorite movies of all time, "Best in Show."
This gem, written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy, who both also star in the film, is the source of many running gags in our home. I can't recommend it too highly; each time you watch it, you'll see new sources of hilarity. (Guest, by the way, played Nigel Tufnel in the classic "This Is Spinal Tap," the only film that could lift me out of pain and distress as I suffered with pneumonia during my pregnancy with my son in 1992.) Guest does it again in "Best in Show" as Harlan Pepper, drawling owner of champion bloodhound Hubert, but he's just one of an ensemble of wildly diverse and unique contestants in the show. Movie moments memorialized in our family lore include the shrewish, braces-clad owner of a Weimaraner who demands from a petshop clerk an exact replica of a lost squeaky bee, and the misstep of Norwich terrier-owner/handler Cookie Fleck moments before the big entrance. Her two-left-footed spouse fills the breach--and "color" announcer Fred Willard (who I've loved since "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman") exclaims his notice. Rent this if you haven't guffawed lately.
And that's what these three cultural events share--they're each the climax of complex plots, of winnowing out losers and revealing winners. It's the same fascination that draws viewers to the Oscars. It's the way life imitates literary art--the denouement is riveting, the process and struggles only as fascinating as their personalities. But the people who choose to put themselves in these singular spotlights, to strive to separate themselves above all others, share a drive and industriousness that makes them inherently compelling.
They're also a reminder that we humans are social creatures; we crave the validation and inspiration of like-minded others. Also, Darwinians aside, we are not animals, who, by and large, spend their time exactly the same as others of their species, seldom in any kind of creative endeavor. We humans, made in the image of God, have the Godly spark to excel, to push toward something new and different, and we cheer each other on as we're striving.
Finally, we are reminded how blessed we are to have the leisure to choose dog-grooming, figure skating and dress-designing, rather than searching for potable water and our next meal. It's our communal enterprise, the essence of business, that not only fuels these contests, but allows us to take for granted all the basics we rely upon--from the beds in which we sleep to the airplanes that carry us across nations and oceans to come together in these most diverse and amazing competitions.