Human Flower Project
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Her Honor for a Potato Crop
Should a community garden director be free to hawk her Olympic torch?
Route of the Olympic Torch, May 26, 2012
Image: London Olympics 2012
Sarah Milner Simonds was honored by the Olympic committee to carry the Olympic torch along part of its route to the 2012 summer games. Simonds, a 38-year-old horticulturist, was chosen for her work with People’s Plot, “a community allotment in South Acton [West of London], where we can grow our own fruit and vegetables, cook and eat the food we grow together.”
But before Simonds ever trotted her segment of the Olympic relay, her honor was besmirched: she had tried to sell her torch on ebay.
According to the New York Times, the winning bidder offered 153,100 pounds, ($242,323) last Sunday, meanwhile drawing down the fury many observers – though the unnamed buyer has yet to pay up.
Simonds defended her position, saying she intended to plow all proceeds from the sale back into People’s Plot: “There are still lots of people who feel strongly that these iconic torches are somehow sacred and that trading demeans their value,” Simonds said. “To these I would ask how exactly can we plant our potatoes using a torch? They obviously didn’t understand my motives.”
Several other torchbearers likewise have tried or are now trying to sell their Olympic flame-carriers, and most of them too have designated specific charities as beneficiaries.
Are honorifics transferable commodities? There are plenty of Olympic medals up for sale on ebay right now. Does it matter that Simonds didn’t win her torch, rather that it was conferred upon her by the Olympic committee? Since she didn’t have to toss a shot put farthest or run fastest for it, does that make the object any less hers to do with as she pleases, or more so? Do her charitable motives make a difference?
The American Academy of Motion Pictures Sciences confronted the problem back in 1950, after a trade in Oscars has begun. In 1950 the Academy began binding winners to an agreement banning them or their heirs “from selling their Oscars to anyone but the Academy for the nominal sum of $1.”
Academy Awards made prior to 1950 are exempt. Michael Jackson bought the 1939 Best Picture Oscar, awarded to “Gone with the Wind,” for $1.54 million in 1999. Other less renowned statuettes, all awarded pre-1950, have sold at auction too.