During the 1984 LA Olympic Games, alternative games where also held.

Nihilist Olympics

It was "Black Friday" in Los Angeles. The first day of the 1984 Olympics was to be the worst day in traffic history. People stayed home from work. The police were out in force. On the corner of Melrose and Curson in Hollywood, five oddly dressed people huddled together clutching clip boards and magic markers. A 1971 Dodge Dart stopped in the middle of the intersection, and at a break in traffic, made a tire-squealing U-turn.

Clip boards went up--7.9, 6.4, 8.1, 6.9, 5.0.

Traffic slowed and a Firebird screeched to a stop, the tires smoking as the car slammed into reverse, throwing the front end of the car swinging around the rear in a fine "Bat Turn."

Clip boards went up--8.9, 9.2, 10.0, 10.2, 9.7.

A young man, standing in front of the judges, hailed a cab and paid the driver $20 to make a careful U-turn.

8.9, 7.9, 7.6, 8.2, 8.8.

A large truck pulled up from a side street.

"How many tries do you get?"

"As many as you want."

The truck edged out into the intersection, started his U-turn and continued around and around twice before driving off down the street. Other drivers on Melrose watched in confusion.

The week before, a reporter at a press conference asked a police spokesperson, "Have you heard about the Nihilist Olympics? They plan to have a U-turn contest on Friday."

The sergeant smiled and said sternly, "The Department doesn't approve of people playing games on city streets."

Nihilist judges were stationed at four other intersections around town at different times of that day, and eighty contestants were judged. The "Bat Turn" driver in the Firebird won based on style, but the truck U-turn was a close second.

Over the two weeks of the Olympics, six other Nihilist Olympic competitions were staged, along with opening and closing ceremonies and a Nihilist Olympic Arts Festival.

Three years earlier I sat in the run-down apartment house known as the Cooperative Nihilist Housing Project my with co-conspiritors Molly, Charles and Tobi. We were having a production meeting for OK Magazine, a Xerox art quarterly. That day LA had been announced as the site for the 1984 Olympic games.

"What's that going to be like?"

"We ought to have our own Olympics. Nihilist Olympics."

"Yeah. We ought to have an art defacing competition."

"Who was that guy who smashed the Pieta?"

"Oh yeah, Lazlo Toth. The Lazlo Toth Art Defacing Marathon."

"And a shooting thing, maybe down a dark alley."

"Like the Pentathlon--you know with running, archery, discus, shooting and something else. We'll just leave out all the irrelevant stuff and keep the running and shooting."

"And there can be pop up targets, like at the Police Academy. We score on style."

"And there has to be a Freeway race."

"All around LA. You know, the 405 to the Ventura through downtown and back to the 405."

"But it's a relay race. You have to siphon gas from one car to the next. So fuel efficiency counts."

"We can have a Drop Drill competition."

"And Housework."

The Decathlon of Housework included dusting while talking on the phone, ordering the maid around, ironing while watching tv, sedating children and getting ready to go out. Then there was the U-turn competition. When I mentioned the Nihilist Olympics to performance artist Johanna Went, she asked, "Is there a vomiting competition?" Thus, "The Johanna Went Projectile Vomiting Marathon."

In my many hours of idleness at work, I wrote a press release about the formation of the Nihilist Olympic Organizing Committee.

For Immediate Release: 12-10-80

The formation of The Nihilist Olympic Organizing Committee has been announced by Elisha Shapiro, Field Marshal of the Cooperative Nihilist Housing Project. Shapiro, along with Molly Cleator, Tobi Redlich and Ellen Landress, have been organizing the quasi-annual Nihilist Festivals of the Arts since 1977. The Nihilist Olympics are planned to coincide with the opening of the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. Events will include a parade and sporting events like The Lazlo Toth Art Defacing Marathon, and a series of freeway driving relays. Also slated is a nihilist abbreviation of the Olympic Pentathlon called, "The Run and Shoot Competition."

At that time, I was a press release writer for the Inglewood Parks and Recreation Department, so I had a pretty good press list. I sent the release out to about twenty mostly local papers, radio and television stations.

A month later, I was working as an English tutor at Santa Monica College. The note in my box took me by surprise. It had a phone number, and LA Times scrawled on the "from" line. I called back right away and talked with Joy Horowitz, a staff reporter, for a half hour on the phone, and when she was satisfied that there might be a story, she made a date to meet me at my apartment with a photographer for a more extensive interview. She was a little older than I, and was both amused by my plan, and a bit confused. She was friendly, but business-like, making extensive notes on a memo pad.

"Hi Elisha. What kind of name is Elisha?...Tell me the events you have planned...Why are you doing this?...Do you not like the Olympics coming to LA?...Why Nihilist Olympics? Are you a nihilist?...Are you really going to do this?...What do you do for a living?...Where are you from?...Do you think everyone should be a nihilist?"

The front page was full of "real" Olympic news. The Nihilist Olympic article appeared with the soft news in the View Section, and it was what reporters refer to as a "side-bar" piece--a little human interest story peripherally related to a major story. When I saw the article in the Times with my picture, and "Nihilist Olympics" in the title, and the definition of nihilism just below, I knew that this was what my art was about. Even though the reporter ignored anything scary like the Run and Shoot Competition or the Projectile Vomiting Marathon, there in the main-stream press was the idea of nihilism for all to see. I imagined readers of all types reading this story and scratching their heads. I couldn't have asked for more.

LA was giddy with the Olympics, and I knew that the Nihilist Olympics' side-bar value to the press would only increase as the Olympics approached. I had to give the press something to write about, and that would require that I actually organize some kind of spectacle.

The first Nihilist Olympic Sign-up Center went up at Gorky's Cafe, an artist-oriented restaurant in downtown LA. I sent out invitations and press releases. Forty people showed up, and Fritz Colman and his camera crew from Channel 4 were among them. The sign-up center included a poster for each event, with instructions and amusing illustrations. A large poster with the Nihilist Olympic symbol, a discus thrower hurling a molotov cocktail at City Hall, hung above the whole thing. Hanging on the wall was a box of sign-up cards. The gala sign-up center opening went wonderfully. People were entertained, signed-up and, we got a great piece on the news that night.

Additional sign-up centers went into the Lhasa Club, an art cabaret, Club Lingerie, a rock and roll venue, and Oranges and Sardines, a downtown gallery.

Sixty people gathered in the parking lot at Otis Art Institute. The anticipation was high as the sun shone on the crowd standing behind the panel of the five seated judges. The spectators were dressed in summer-picnic-chic--hats, tank-top, shorts and sunglasses. Four months earlier I had asked Al Nodell if I could use the parking lot for the Nihilist Olympics. Al had just taken over as director of the Otis Art Gallery. He was about forty and had dark curly hair and a friendly smile. He seemed a little uneasy at the request, but gamely said he'd try to arrange it. The first contestant walked onto the parking lot with a large painting under his arm. He was tall, thin and about 25. He set the painting on two sawhorses and smashed it to bits with a baseball bat. Then he said, "This was my painting, and I think it's much better now." The second contestant was a teenage girl who seemed a little shy. She set a painting on the ground and proceeded to hack at it with an ax. Then she silently walked away. Another competitor, a husky biker with a shaven head, used a sledge hammer on a statue. A young man in a sport shirt and slacks spent fifteen minutes repainting, cutting, intricately decorating and otherwise improving a small framed canvas. One competitor turned his back on the audience and urinated on a painting of a sink while another poured gasoline over an American flag draped over a statue and set them both afire. When the flames shot twenty feet in the air, and thick black smoke billowed into the sky, and neighbors started leaning out of their apartment windows, Nodell started getting nervous about losing his job. But the best was already over. Eighteen contestants, sixty spectators and five judges--and a good time was had by all.

I mailed out a Nihilist Olympic Instruction Pamphlet to the hundreds who signed up at the sign-up centers. Between the pamphlet and the regular coverage in the LA Weekly, everyone who was interested knew the times, dates and locations of each event.

But what would the Olympics be without an arts festival? In the Nihilist Olympic Arts Festival, there were poetry readings, performance art, rock and roll shows and "Fashion Without Rules," a nihilist fashion show at Club Lingerie. Some of the models wore shards of pottery, scraps of movie film, beach balls and lawn furniture. It was a cultural pinnacle of the decade.

The day before the LA Olympic Opening Ceremonies, on the corner of Olympic Boulevard and Grand Avenue, a handful of Nihilist Olympians grew into a group of twenty people, six cars, a motorcycle and a bike. As we decorated our vehicles with crepe paper, nihilist bumperstickers, spraypaint and balloons, the reporters started showing up to witness the Nihilist Olympic Opening Parade through downtown. A couple of cameras and tape recorders quickly grew into a press feeding frenzy of forty. For the next couple of days, the Nihilist Olympics would entertain and disgust media consumers around the world.

If that was the end of the Nihilist Olympics, I would have been satisfied. The press had been desperate for a story on the day before the Olympics, and Nihilism was the story. But that wasn't the end of the Olympics, it was the beginning.

Five hundred people attended the Nihilist Arts Festival events. Seven Nihilist Olympic competitions were planned, and five actually turned out well. One hundred and thirty four people competed, three hundred people observed. More than one hundred press stories, print, radio and tv, covered the Nihilist Olympics over the year leading up to the event.

With the success of the LA Olympics, people started talking about Peter Uberoth as a Presidential candidate. Of course that started me thinking.

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Nihilist Olympic Events
The following is the text of the participant instruction pamphlet

July 27, 1984

The Opening Ceremonies for the Nihilist Olympics will consist of a short ad-hoc caravan or parade through downtown Los Angeles. We suggest you decorate your car appropriately if you want to be invovlved in this. The starting point for this parade will be at the corner of Olympic and Grand. Be at this corner at 1:15 pm. The parade will procede up Grand to First. It will turn right on First and end at the corner of First and Central, in front of MOCA. Then park your car and meet back at this corner for the beginning of the Freeway Relay Race.

July 27, 1984

In this event, seven-car teams will compete on a forty mile course which starts near Los Angeles City Hall on the opening day of the Nihilist Olympic Games. The first car in each team will be allotted five gallons of gasoline. The remaining six cars in each team will be left abandoned by freeway off-ramps at intervals. Their gas will be drained. The first car will race to the second car where the reminder of its fuel will be siphoned, by the team, to the next car. This process will be repeated until the last car in the team completes the course, returning to the First and Central in front of MOCA.

July 29, 1984

In honor of the "true" winner of the Boston Marathon several years ago, this marathon has a starting line and a finish line. The rest is up to the personal aesthetics of the competitor. The starting line will be in front of the Greek Theater in Griffith Park. The finish line will be beneath the Theme Restaurant at Los Angeles International Airport. Meet at the Greek at 1:00 pm.

August 3, 1984

An at-large event, the U-Turn Contest will be conducted at several announced, and one unannounced, intersections around Los Angeles. When a willing, or unwilling contestant completes a U-Turn, five judges will hold up score cards with numbers from one to ten. This event is judged on style, the definition of which will be left up to the judges.

To participate, here are the locations:

2:00 pm at St. Jullian and Eighth (downtown)
3:00 pm at Westwood and Santa Monica (WLA)
4:00 pm at Lake and California (Pasadena)
5:00 at a secret location
6:00 at Melrose and Curson (Hollywood)

August 4, 1984

In this simple endurance contest, competitors must remain in an enclosed room with the other competitors while vomiting regularly. Though endurance is heavily weighted in judging, style will be considered very important as always.

Everyone participating in this event is asked to bring an appropriate sack lunch or dinner--and beverages for his or her own consumption. Spectators will do the same. This event will be held at 2823 Ocean Park Blvd. in Santa Monica. Festivities begin at 8:30 pm.

August 9

This event combines fire-arm accuracy with speed sprinting. The contestant dashes down a dark alley with a gun. As he or she runs, human shaped targets pop up. The contestant is expected to shoot, with accuracy, without stopping. This is a modern abbreviation of the Olympic Pentathlon.

August 10

The object of this event is for a large group of people to assume a protective position (on knees and elbows, hands clasped behind the neck) in as short a time as possible. This at-large group speed event may involve any large gathering of people in Los Angeles. Without warning, a Nihilist Olympic official will start the competition by shouting ,"Drop!" That's when the timing starts. When the official sees that the group is in the correct position, the time will be called.

Times and locations for this event are:

between 2:00 and 3:00 pm at Venice Beach
between 3:00 and 4:00 pm at MOCA
during the GoGos at the Greek Theater
during Diana Ross at the Amphitheater
at one surprise time and location

August 11

Each athlete, furnishing his or her own choice of an implement-of-destruction (i.e. little sledge hammer, ax, steam roller), is given ten seconds to destroy a piece of artwork. After the allotted time, game officials will remove the contestant. This event is judged on style, as well as the degree of damage to the art object.

This event will begin at 2:00 pm in the parking lot of Otis Art Institute, 2401 Wilshire Blvd. Please bring artwork suitable for defacing, whether you're coming to participate or just watch.

August 12

The Decathlon of Housework is a series of ten competitive household events. The scores for each athlete's series of events will be added together to determine the best overall domestic competitor. The events are as follows: Ironing while watching television, Dusting while talking on the phone, Appliance tinkering, Shipping, Concealing Dirt, Vacuuming while Reading People Magazine, Sedating Children, Ordering the Maid Around, Getting Ready to Go Out.

This event will start at 2:00 pm at 439 N. Plymouth Blvd., north of Beverly, east of Larchmont. Competitors must bring their own appliances with which to tinker, magazines, children and sedatives, make up and any special props to help in competition.


July 16
"Mira El Mundo" by Kerry McBride
Wong's East, 8:30 pm

July 22
"Fashion Without Rules" a fashion show, and
"Linda Albertano Sells Out" by Linda Albertano
Club Lingerie, 6507 W. Sunset, 8:30 pm

July 29
The Cutting Edge, Nihilist Olympic piece
MTV 8:00 pm

August 1
Nihilist Olympic Arts Festival Night at Lhasa
1110 Hudson, 8:30 pm
featuring: Brendan DeVallance & Jerry, Michael Mollet/Agent,
Charles Duncan, J.M.Reva and Lisa Weger, Peter Yates and
Mathew Elgart.

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Los Angeles Times Saturday, July 28, 1984 / part II 3

Rosie Ruiz Marathon and a Decathlon of Housework

Nihilist Olympics: Nothing Special

By Douglas Jehl, Times Staff Writer

With considerable fanfare but scant participation, the Nihilist Olympics opened Friday afternoon as an ad hoc caravan of horn-honking, beat-up cars chugged its way through downtown streets.

Heads turned as the ragtag parade, which included eight cars, a motorcycle and a bicycle, made its way up Grand Avenue preceded by camera crew and pursued by a horde of out-of-town journalists with little else to cover on the eve of the Olympic Games.

Los Angeles artist Elisha Shapiro, who conceived of the games and calls himself the chairman of the Nihilist Olympic Organizing Committee, had billed the ceremonies as a parade of decorated automobiles.

But, aside from the crepe paper streamers on Shapiro's '62 Rambler [actually a Ranchero], there was little ornamentation to be seen.

"In the spirit of nihilism, we didn't decorate," said Elliot Shwartz, a Los Angeles writer who was one of about 20 participants.

"In the spirit of nihilism," added his friend, who called himself Madhur, "We almost didn't show up."

Nihilism is the belief that there is no meaning in existence, and the events slated for the Olympics, nihilist style, seem mostly meaningless.

Among the eight events planned for the next two weeks are a U-turn contest and the decathlon of housework (with scores given in categories including concealing dirt and vacuuming while reading People magazine).

Another, named for the woman found to have taken a shortcut to win the Boston Marathon, is the Rosie Ruiz Marathon. Racers will leave the starting line and cross the finish line on foot; in between, mode of transportation is left to "the personal aesthetics of the contestant."

Shapiro said he decided to organize his own Olympics when he found out that the Olympic Games would come to Los Angeles. "I started realizing that people like Tom Bradley and Peter Ueberroth wouldn't take into account, the people on the edge, non-mainstream people.

"You have to realize that Los Angeles is made up mostly of non-mainstream people," he said.

More than 700 people, most of them artists, have signed up for the event, which was advertised at street festivals, in downtown cafes and in a Hollywood nightclub.

Contestants, speaking to reporters before the opening ceremonies, kept tongues planted firmly in cheeks. Asked how he had been training for the marathon, one man listed "filling out forms, talking to organizers . . . and drinking."

Minutes later, the ceremonies over, Shapiro gathered participants together in a parking lot to make ready for the first event: a freeway relay, with racers required to siphon gasoline from gas tank to gas tank as they switch vehicles seven times while proceeding on the 40-mile course.

He asked if anyone was ready to participate. Seven are needed to form a team, but only one man raised his hand.

Shapiro shrugged, grinned, and then, in the true nihilist spirit, promptly declared the event canceled.

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for the 1984 Nihilist Olympics at Los Angeles


Los Angeles Times (& Times Wire)
1-7-81, 4-5-84, 7-28-84

Los Angeles Reader
9-25-81, 3-16-84

Los Angeles Herald Examiner
11-8-81, 10-16-83, 3-2-84, 8-3-84, 8-11-84

USC Chronicle

1984 Mail Artist Olympic & Orwellian Calendar

Los Angeles Weekly
1-20-84, 7-27-84, 8-3-84, 8-11-84

Santa Monica Evening Outlook
2-29-84, 8-11-84

Associated Press
4-1-84, 7-27-84

San Jose Mercury News (& Knight News Wire)
4-1-84, 6-21-84

Long Beach Press Telegram
4-22-84, 7-25-84

San Francisco Examiner

Los Angeles Downtown News

Unidentified Dutch Newspaper

Los Angeles Magazine

Sport Magazine

Survival Guide to the 1984 Summer Games

High Performance Magazine
#25, #27

Santa Monica College Corsair

Red FlagSummer '84

Bam Magazine

San Francisco Chronicle

Washington Post

San Diego Union

Los Angeles Daily News

United Press International

Detroit Free Press
7-28-84, 7-30-84

Fresno Bee (McCarthy Newspapers)

Reuters Wire Service

City Sports Magazine (LA)
8-84, 10-84


Journal Liberation(France)

Sacramento Bee (McCarthy Newspapers)

Revolutionary Worker
8-3-84, 8-10-84, 8-17-84

Oakland Tribune

Woman's Wear Daily

City News Service
(through July through August 1984)

Zig Zag Magazine (England)


8-16-83, 5-27-84


ABC Radio News
4-84, 7-30-84



NBC Radio News






KPFA (Berkeley)

RKO Radio

KTOK (Oklahoma City)

Canadian Radio Network (Montreal)






Games for Angels and Other Backers

OLYMPIC GOLD (syndicated)
German TV 6-29-84

KTTV (LA & Metromedia)
7-7-84 , 7-27-84



Canadian Broadcasting Co.

MTV Cutting Edge

The Last Show (Westinghouse, Pasadensa)

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