Wednesday, 15 August 2012

My Mixed Olympics

It is great that so many British nationals won so many medals at the 2012 Olympics, but I for one am relieved all the noise and hysteria which meant I found it more tolerable catching glimpses from the living room doorway rather than watching it properly, is finally over, not to mention the ruinous over-expenditure at a time when our country can ill afford it, and which may never be recouped for all the talk of how it would bring far more money to Britain than it cost (nonsense if all the half-empty hotels, eateries and attractions are any indicator). In fact the 45% drop in tourist numbers to Britain during the games was allegedly worse than the tourist drop which immediately followed the 7/7 London bombings.

Nor was it a Peoples' Olympics when so many people were denied the chance to purchase last minute tickets (affordable or otherwise) despite the obvious acres of empty seats visible on screen and small businesses who tried to join in the Olympic spirit to boost trade were swiftly stamped on by corporate concerns, no matter that these corporate concerns had actually paid very little towards the Olympics in real terms compared to the taxpayer and were in turn trying to dodge paying tax.

It might have offered up more razzmatazz than any previous Olympics but for me, momentous events should actually contain moments of gravitas, dignity and silence rather than endless shrieking and whooping, hysterical commentators and blaring pop music at every opportunity, thereby undercutting the genuinely extraordinary achievements of the athletes.

Dictionary definition of the word 'ceremony': 'The formal or ritualistic activities conducted on a solemn, important or state occasion'
(*note the words 'formal' and 'solemn'). Which, granted, you might not expect the opening and closing 'ceremonies' of the Olympics to have in spades as they are naturally more in the nature of 'celebrations' than 'ceremonies' but certainly the presentation of the medals should have been formal and solemn with no silly posing or biting the medal afterwards. As for the athletes constantly brandishing and flashing cameras and handycams as they made their way to the central enclosure during the closing ceremony - what next - a bride doing the same as she sweeps down the aisle for the biggest day of her life? It is for other people to take this kind of footage, not the principal players.

The sporting costumes were also hideous and made our athletes look like they'd been to the pound shop rather than purchasing highly expensive aerodynamic kit made employing the latest high-tech space technology, which it probably was. The women were defeminised, the men turned into alien life forms, particularly the cyclists. Mr Federer was the smartest turned-out sportsman of the lot and I was almost sorry he lost to the sartorially-challenged Andy Murray (albeit ever so slightly glad that Andy finally got his own back after such a long run of bad luck against his Swiss nemesis).

There was no classiness about this Olympics beyond the VIP Zil traffic lanes (also stolen from the British taxpayer). It was loud, vulgar and unashamedly corporate, and what THAT says about Britain to the rest of the world, I shudder to think.

The untold side of the Olympics was that a number of East Enders who were promised that their homes wouldn't be swept away to facilitate the construction of the Olympic village and stadia (as the Chinese suffered for the Beijing Olympics) saw that promise dishonoured when 425 council tenants lost their homes to be re-dispersed across London losing their community and ending up worse off financially. But hey, they were only council tenants, so who cares, right? Other losses included the treasured Manor Gardens allotment which had previously survived two world wars and lay on ground gifted to the community in perpetuity at the turn of the 20th century, so who was the 'London Development Agency' to place a compulsory purchase order on it? A listed theatre was another casualty to make way for luxury flats as part of the gentrification of the Olympic area (presumably 'listing' now stands for nothing when it comes to protecting a valuable piece of our heritage). So the character and community of the Olympic area has been irretrievably changed forever, and who is to say for the better if it is now to begin pricing its natives out? This process certainly leaves any green credentials claimed by Locog open to question. Ironic then that a celebration of the working man and England's green and pleasant land, not forgetting history, played such a pivotal role in the opening ceremony, albeit in a very twisted version of British history conveniently omitting any controversial bits.

Which leads me to another aspect of the Olympics which made me uneasy. The dishonesty of portraying our nation as a nation of absolute abundance at a time when it is anything but. Nor is it anywhere near as free as it gave the impression of being, if still free-er than all those unfortunate nations whose athletes had western freedoms somewhat unfairly rubbed into their noses by a string of undiplomatically-chosen songs in the closing ceremony. Though it also crossed my mind this might be a sneaky ploy to encourage oppressed athletes to defect to UK in order that 'Team GB' wins even more medals next Olympics!

But for all this, the whole shebang admittedly turned out better than my cynical predictions of four years ago, and it's undoubtedly served to cheer a depressed nation up (providing we don't think about the cost), but for how long? What will the real legacy be? Apart from a rather funny sitcom entitled '2012'.


Steve said...

I thought it all a weird hybrid of World of Sport and Live Aid.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Funny you should say that Steve as they are already predicting that the next Olympics will have as much to do with the promotion of human rights as sport.

Meanwhile they have apparently started evicting up to 170,000 Brazilians for home-flattening purposes to build the stadia.

Friko said...

Hey, I love this site. (Sorry for sounding all breezy and positively American here - when I'm neither.)

It's after two in the morning and I'm not quite with it, having tried a couple of large sherries to get me off to sleep and a second sleeping pill to boot. I just read your comment at The Duchess' and decided to find out who you are in spite of the late hour. I left a comment giving my thoughts there.

Still, I agree with practically everything you say, I too am glad that my adopted country did well and that, for once, i needn't feel embarrassed at staying with and in it after 30 years of frequent balls-ups.

I am not sure that this 'inspiration for a generation' phrase is going anywhere (did you see schoolkids earnestly and mechanically repeating the guff to reporters?). We'll soon sink back into a nation of sport haters who only get excited when they mention England beating Germany in 66. And now there's London 2012 to add to the glory. We'll yet rule the world again, mark my words.

I loved the shiny faces of the medal winners, their happiness and breathless excitement and I admire them hugely. At least the damn lottery has done some good, even it is the couch potato, beer-swilling and artery clogged majority who buy the tickets.

Let's just be proud of the outcome, the smooth running of the show and not worry about the expense until we have to abolish the NHS to pay for it all.

Nice to meet you. I must find out more about you at a more civilised hour.

Oh God, and you have word verification. I hope it lets me in.

Marginalia said...

As one who has blogged serially about the futility of the 2012 Olympics, I feel able to reply to your analysis.

It was corporatist, it cost a shed loads of money.Possibly not money we would have spent if we were bidding in 2008 and not 2005. It has done wonders for the middle class home owners in East London and pushed the prices up of housing well out of the reach of the ordinary joe.

It's birth was bastard, Which given that reflects wonderfully on the 2 weeks itself.

Are you saying that loads of people(including me) who found the whole thing an extremely positive experience were suckered.

Maybe we suspended disbelief: most of us know things are too great in UK Limited.However, the real sense of pleasure that has existed as a result of these two weeks of shared experience is something to cherish.

Just one instance. I remember when TV was a shared experience. When you'd get round the water cooler and talk about the previous night's episode of a TV programme. It, in a small way, brought people together. This event had 28 million people sharing one experience. The next day the way we felt about Mo's win, the tension we felt desparately hoping the next jump would be a winner echoed, reverberated throughout the country. It energised people, it made us feel special.

We were taken out of ourselves. We saw in Danny Boyle's stunning opening ceremony something of ourselves we recognised and could embrace. That's worth £9 billion in anyone's money.

Despite all the downsides you cite and I agree wholeheartedly, the Olympics was, despite its conception, an amazing re-birth of national sense of self.

I, for one, will treasure Ray Davis and "Waterloo Sunset".

Wisewebwoman said...

Laura I'm so glad you're posting again, I feared you had fallen off the edge of your page or something.

I don't have anything to add, I am completely and idiotically proud to say I am still TeeVeeLess after 20+years so caught not a whiff of Ye Olde Olympiad fever.


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Ollie said...

Excellent blog, Laura. Although I loved aspects of the Olympics, you have raised a lot of valid issues. I didn't know about the allotment. That is a disgrace!

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Thanks for dropping by Friko and for the compliments. I will be sure to return the visit. I take your point that perhaps the gain was worth the pain! 'Inspiration for a generation' will soon be yesterday's news as a buzz phrase I suspect.

Marginella I wouldn't dream of daring to suggest you were 'suckered' into finding the whole thing a positive experience in the final analysis. And you are certainly right that there is a dearth of inspirational viewing experiences to share in today's world, unlike the old days where a mere 4 or 5 TV channels ensured conversation at school or work the following day so yes, anything which brings a nation together is positive in that respect. I would draw a line at any of it making me feel 'special' personally though, any more than it makes a difference to me which side of a football team win. My supreme indifference towards all sport is a tough nut to crack I find. But I freely admit that is a problem with me, rather than the Olympics!
'Its birth was bastard' indeed - an excellent observation. But for all that won a royal seal of approval.

Hello WWW. Thanks for your lovely comment. I keep meaning to blog more frequently, but life keeps on getting in the way! Must try harder as my school reports used to say! I salute you on managing to live TV-free. I don't have time for about 95% of programming on it, must admit. The more channels we have, the less there seems to be to watch.

Thanks for your comment Oliver.