SMOKE: Get Your World Record

Originally published: 28 June 2004

I can't keep count of all the supposed records being broken these days - every week someone somewhere is building something bigger than it has ever been, or eating more cockroaches than the bloke the week before and getting their names inscribed into the multitude of record books floating around.

I was chatting to a mate the other day about this and he told me he saw the latest edition of the Guinness Book of World Records and said it was not much thicker than a magazine. The editors only include records they think people will be interested in, and the wackier the better.

I used to have an old edition of the Guinness Book from 1979, and it was a thick hardback filled with amazing but true world records.

I spent hours going through that book and memorising as many records as I could. I was a fountain of knowledge when it came to who the tallest and shortest people were, who's hit the most home runs in major league baseball (a record I was delighted to see broken by Barry Bonds a couple of seasons ago), who spent 57 years of his life sneezing and who had the longest hair.

I loved that kind of stuff.

But with the arrival of television programmes like Ripley's Believe It Or Not the whole achievement of world records has become a joke, as the producers soon discovered that their intellectually-challenged audience preferred seeing who could pull a fish hook through their nose the fastest, rather than finding out how many years the long jump record was held by Bob Beamon, and what the distance he jumped was.

To my thinking a world record is a legitimate human, scientific or sporting achievement, and to beat a record it must first exist. Ripley's turned that all around - now you can set your own world record, even though nobody has ever attempted what you are attempting.

Records are important to us because they set a benchmark for human achievement - there is something intensely thrilling about somebody running the 100 metres faster than any human has ever run it before. The reason it's thrilling is that out of four-point-however-many-billion people on the planet, that person is the fastest of them all.

And each time the record is broken our evolution as a species moves forward a tiny notch - it signifies that we are getting better, stronger and faster than ever before.

Before Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile it was an achievement previously considered to be an impossibility, yet these days the record (set in 1999 by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco) sits at 3 minutes 43.13 seconds - almost 17 seconds quicker than Bannister's record-breaking effort in 1954.

Evolution. Imagine where it will be in another 100 years.

That to me is the value of records - not seeing who can invent the most outrageous and disgusting feat and have it declared as an official world record. Guinness has definitely let their credibility slip.

In fact - you don't even have to be able to do anything really special, do you? I could put on a nappy, sit in a corner and suck my thumb for an hour while simultaneously slapping my left knee, and I doubt anyone could claim to have done that for longer.

I would therefore be a world champion knee-slapping thumb-sucker, and as worthy of the title world champion as - say - Carl Lewis.

It's ridiculous.

I think that a record should be for an achievement and not a party trick. Although things like the height of a person are not achievements, they are interesting from a human perspective.

Seeing how far you can squirt snot from your nose or how many condoms you can swallow and regurgitate are not, and although they obviously have their place in modern entertainment (there's no accounting for taste), they should never be classified as records.

I also don't go for all those group sports relays - things like breaking the record for the longest badminton match. If the game is played by the same two players throughout then sure - it's just another endurance record, and we can all be impressed at how long a human can sustain playing a continuous game of badminton.

But a group of people doing it in relays is hardly an achievement, and is no doubt covered in the stench of corporate sponsors. All it is is an exercise in time and sleep management.

When you tell me that there's some bloke in India who has been standing with arms outstretched in the same spot for 17 years, however, then I'm impressed - that's an achievement.

I see that recently some team of somebodies broke the supposed world record for making the largest taco, but that doesn't impress me either - that sort of record can be broken by anyone with enough sponsorship to buy more ingredients.

I'm just tired of it all - every week the same tired headlines. Nobody seems to do anything special anymore - it's all just freaky stuff that freaks do.

If records are a measure of how we are evolving, then you've got to conclude that things aren't going too well.

Particularly when you consider that Kevin Cole of Carlsbad, New Mexico holds the world record for the farthest spaghetti nasal ejection - he managed to squirt a strand of spaghetti 19 centimetres by blowing it out of his nose.

Believe it or not.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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