I used to think that Melbourne Cup day is one authentic Australian public holiday that is superior to most of the other holidays: Unlike the others, which are based on pretty bullshit religious premises (e.g., Easter), this one is an authentic holiday.
But I don't know now. The more I get myself familiar with this holiday, the more my appreciation for it fades.
Basically, Melbourne Cup day is supposed to be the holiday celebrating the culmination of the horse racing season. On paper, that can sound like a nice and innocent sports thing where one can get closer to nature (horses).
But it's not like that at all. It's mostly a celebration of gambling, of people going to the race track to get stupidly drunk, and of people dressing up in pretty abnormal clothing to say the least so they would look good (as in better than the people next to them).
It's a celebration alright, but not a celebration of things I would consider to be positive.
Let's have a look at them one by one.
Horse racing might be entertaining; but from time to time a horse falls down and gets shot. When a footballer gets injured he gets treated; when it's a horse he/she gets shot because now they're not worthwhile to anyone. Although they're just as intelligent as the footballer, they are just a commodity.
I don't think there's much of a need to discuss the virtues of gambling, the engine behind horse racing. Australian gambling companies make hundreds of millions of dollars of profit during the horse racing season, money that could have easily solved tons of poverty problems in Africa.
Getting drunk is yet another noble cause for most Australians (but not a bloody immigrant like me), and it reaches obscene heights at those races. People get so drunk that on the train after work they're shaking all over - women have to take their high heeled shoes off - and smell like a rotten sewer.
Which brings me to the clothing issue. They're drunk, and they're clad in particularly weird clothing (check the photo): women dress up in stupid dresses they would never wear elsewhere, and put on hats that look totally ridiculous. Men wear suits, which is fine - until you start thinking about the why. I still don't understand why a sane person would want to wear a suit in the first place - it's so uncomfortable.
So it's all some sort of a weird celebration of trying to catch people's eyes. The women dress like trumps to catch the men's eyes, and the men like it because it's a feast for the eyes, yet to me it all looks like a mad circus - none of it makes sense. The values it represents are all values I despise: The clothes are bought especially for the event and are worn only once, killing the environment (but expanding the economy, I'm sure); the whole circumstances stink of old chauvinistic values; and most of all, it's all a celebration of form over function.
I talked to a friend from work who went to one of those races and asked him what he would be wearing. He said a suit, and pointed out that while he hates suits he would feel uncomfortable being the only one not wearing a suit. Which is exactly my point: Melbourne Cup an occasion where one tries to "outlook" the other.
All people are somewhere between the edges of the scale that measures how much they value others' opinions when they appreciate their own self esteem. Personally, I'm close to the side that doesn't really care what others think than most others; Melbourne Cup is a celebration for those who are close to the other edge of those scales, the edge I don't really appreciate.
It's an edge that to me stands for decadence. For a set of values that can never satisfy.
I'm pretty annoyed with secularity - the kind of culture I preach for - managing to give us holidays like the Melbourne Cup as a cultural celebration. I'm annoyed because it makes religion look good in comparison, but I'm even more annoyed with the infinite wasted potential on display here. Is this all that modern day secularity can come up with? A festivity of gambling, drinking and wasting?
We celebrated the Melbourne Cup day off with a drive to Warburton and a walk by the Yarra river (check the photos on my Flickr page - it's under the "Travel" set; don't expect much, though). It was great and we really enjoyed it.
I was wearing a track suit, by the way. Not that I like track suits that much, it's just that since my operation I really learned to appreciate their finer qualities.