World record breakers: Give us a break!
With the London Olympics just around the corner, the world's radio and TV commentators are undoubtedly brushing up on their homework on who broke which records, for what sports in which countries in what years under what conditions.
It would appear that the human race is obsessed with setting new records for just about anything – as if anybody besides the actual record breakers themselves could really care one iota.
Just this past week, a Canadian stuntwoman was apparently "flushed with pride" after setting a new land speed record for the fastest motorized toilet, reaching the dizzy heights of 75kph in Sydney - a full seven kph faster than the previous world record. You mean to tell me that someone had previously set this record that this Canadian was so intent on now beating?
To read about some of the records surely boggles the mind. China's Li Jianhua apparently broke the world record for pulling a car the longest distance using a rope attached to his ear. And the longest chain of kisses was set in Beijing on Nov 11, 2011, when 351 residents took part in a massive kiss-in.
Linda Wolfe, 68, from Indiana in the US, has been married 23 times and holds the title of the world's most married person; while C. Manoharan of India set a record for swallowing 200 earthworms in 30 seconds. He also tried to set a record by flossing two snakes through one nostril. India, in fact, is so obsessed with breaking records that the Guinness World Record company has appointed a Mumbai-based representative.
It is said that on May 4, 1951, Sir Hugh Beaver, the managing director of Guinness Breweries, went out on a shooting party in County Wexford, Ireland. He became involved in an argument over which was the fastest game bird in Europe, and this led him to realize that a book supplying the answers to this sort of question might prove popular. 1,000 copies of the very first Guinness Book of Records were printed in August 1954 to be given away as a corporate gift; but it proved to be so popular that the following year, a 197-page edition went to the top of the British bestseller lists by Christmas. When it was launched in the US, it sold 70,000 copies.
Naturally this success did not go unnoticed, and a number of copycat organizations have sprung up over the years – such as the World Records Academy, which describes itself as "the leading international organization which certifies world records." What it, and other copycats, rely on is the fact that with the advent of the Internet, one person's record breaking "achievement" can be picked up by the likes of Google News, helping the information to go viral. Everyone, it seems, can get their 15 minutes of fame, as Andy Warhol described this phenomenon.
Perhaps it is hardly surprising to learn that the Guinness Book of Records is the world's most sold copyrighted book (earning it an entry within its own pages). But fame, it appears, can still come with a price tag. If you are unwilling to wait the 4-6 weeks for a reply to a Guinness record application, you can pay around $450 to be fast-tracked. And others are jumping on that particular bandwagon, too. Well, as they say, a fool and his money are soon parted; and as we all know, there is a fool born every minute, there is a lot of cash out there waiting to be shoveled up by the world's entrepreneurs!
So why, I have to ask myself, is the world so obsessed with the prospect of seeing a sprinter shave a fraction of a fraction off a previous world record this summer in London, given that there are so many other more fun, exciting and downright weird records about to be broken on an almost daily basis around the world?
I think I will be much happier to be in Beijing during the Olympics, when I can hopefully sleep through much of the competition and just pick which reruns on TV or the Internet I actually want to see.