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With the planet upside down, Guinness World Records has lost sight of true human achievement

With the planet upside down, Guinness World Records has lost sight of true human achievement

With the planet upside down, Guinness World Records has lost sight of true human achievement

A recent UPI story started as follows: “An Idaho man broke a Guinness World Record by running a half marathon while wearing 111 T-shirts.”

Why is this a human feat? No idea. It’s just weird to realize I could maybe put on 150 boxer shorts, skitter down a waterslide while stuffing grapes into my mouth and get my name into the Guinness World Records.

Another new record: “Man Celebrates 50 Years of Eating a Big Mac Every Day.” Since May 17, 1972, Donald Gorske has consumed more than 32,000 Big Macs. He’s been devouring them since Watergate. If you doused him with Acqua Di Gio, he’d still reek of double patties and special sauce.

Gorske is not just addicted to Big Macs — he’s addicted to documenting his addiction to Big Macs. As NBC reported: “Gorske keeps meticulous records that include collecting Big Mac cartons, receipts and a running tally on calendars. He now averages about two Big Macs per day…”

Remind me to have a heart-to-heart with my wife. After the kids arrived, she made me purge my vast magazine collection and commit to healthier eating. Meanwhile, this Gorske dude has itemized 32,000-plus Big Mac cartons by year in his basement and a proof-of-purchase notational system that would dazzle H&R Block. It’s definitely odd, don’t get me wrong.

But much like the fellow who ran in a half marathon in 40 pounds of layered cotton, I’m baffled as to why this qualifies as a human achievement.

When it started in 1955, “The Guinness Book of Records,” as it was known until 1999, which was largely about the annual publication. I recall getting the book as a kid and flipping through the pages, obsessed with the factoids. The focus was on bedrock triumphs. The oldest human, the fastest human, the human with the longest fingernails. Back then, Guinness cataloged what sociologists call the extreme of norms. We all age and we all have fingernails, but these outliers are tops. Could you go 11 days and 25 minutes without sleep? That’s what 17-year-old Randy Gardner notched in 1963.

Guinness was culturally relevant because it was documenting the marvels of our species, the qualities that bind us, the things we all do. Guinness cared about how fast someone could run a marathon — not if that person was simultaneously competing in a space suit while humming Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No 6.” The records were basic and pure.

But between 1955 and today, Guinness made a forced business decision to toggle from authoritative slide show to freakish sideshow. Now, especially if you have a few bucks to throw at the vanity name-checking, just about anything can qualify as a “world record.” To test this thesis, I started typing random words into the search field on the Guinness website and literally everything I imagined returned multiple hits.

Shovel: “Most Potatoes Cut By Jumping on a Shovel in One Minute.” Lime: “Fastest Time to Drink One Liter of Lime Juice Through a Straw.” Piano: “First Piano Concerto For Cat.” Socks: “Most Socks Put On One Foot In 30 Seconds.” Birds: “Most Birds Mimicked By A Bird.”

I don’t even know what that means! But any word that popped into my head — Marshmallow: “Most People Roasting Marshmallows” — returned a world record just waiting to get topped. Can you pull a commuter train with your teeth? Can you shoot a bow and arrow with your feet while standing on your hands? Can you grow an onion that weighs more than 18 pounds?

If so you could be a future Guinness World Records star.

You know what else is strange? Over the last few years, a lot of the new records sound dangerous. “Most Apples Held In Own Mouth And Cut By Chainsaw In One Minute” is not a sensitive pastime. I doubt your doctor would be on board after you expressed interest in breaking the record for: “Longest Metal Coil Passed Through The Nose And Out Of The Mouth.”

And this leads us to the biggest problem now facing Guinness: If anything qualifies as a record, the cultural value of record-breaking gets reduced to zero. This is what happens when there is no difference between how fast you can run a half-marathon in just one T-shirt and how many spoons you can stick to your face. This is what happens when a snake does not eat for three years and a human binges on Big Macs for 50.

My dream is that Guinness will try to make the world a better place by accentuating the consequential and ignoring the absurd. Guinness should be documenting Russian war crimes in Ukraine. It should be indexing inflation. It should be all over climate change. There should be grim records for animal extinction, if only to open our eyes. I want record-breaking data on household carcinogens, credible UFO sightings, the rise of conspiracy theories, why the Leafs will always suck. I want Guinness to turn to serious issues threatening our planet and eschew “The Most Toilet Seats Broken By Someone’s Head In One Minute” or “The Most Watermelons Chopped On The Stomach.”

Guinness World Records is now part of the problem.

It, and much of the world, has lost sight of true human achievement.


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