The Olympic Tyranny

I sit down to write these words with legs and pelvis sheathed in Team GB tracksuit bottoms. The branding transforms these unremarkable coral blue leg warmers from £5 poverty trousers to £25 designer groin insulation.

In case you think I’ve finally lost my mind, hold that thought. I didn’t invest in these paralympic pantaloons because I wanted to associate myself with the Olympic ideal. It wasn’t about fetishising sport. You don’t swell to the weight of a gorilla, as I have, by revering exercise and the people who’ve perverted it into a career.

I look at competitive sports men and women and I can admire their athleticism, just as I admire a parrot’s plumage, but I don’t want feathers and I don’t want to be a sinewy dullard either. You only need listen to athletes of any stripe to realise that they’re devoid of personality and imagination. That’s why they turned to sport, to give their lives purpose. The poor fuckers can’t do anything else. Sure, they work hard, like the proverbial galley slave, but let’s not fool ourselves; being a sports personality, a near contradiction in terms, is life’s booby prize. And don’t talk to me about Muhammad Ali either; he was a licenced thug and a bad poet. It’s easy to have a smart mouth when the competition’s half-brain dead. He’d seen to that. Yet we’ve gleefully spunked the equivalent of 170 new hospitals on events designed to venerate these losers: £9.3b for a fortnight of blanks trying to best each other in meaningless competition.

With our resources funnelled into tendons and muscles, the nation’s brain has been left to shrink. Those in search of the arts during Olympic fortnight should look to the nook outside the velodrome. There, a few vagrants sit in their torn clothes, caked in the athletes’ sweat that’s irrigating the Olympic Park, holding out a small polystyrene cup and begging for change. You’d like to help but refreshments at the park gut wallets. The 2012 Cultural Festival, you say? You’re interjecting with that? Well, you’re right: if our major arts organisations were offered this one summer showcase or a grant of ten billion to divide amongst themselves, it’s clear they’d choose to piggyback their wares onto something this transient.

No, I bought these ridiculous leggings (thanks for remaining interested) because I was due to have an MRI scan of my brain and needed below-the-waist-wear with no metallic component. The scan was for piece of mind; my neurologist’s final attempt at convincing me that occasional headaches, numbness in the extremities and thermal fluctuations were little more than aggravated migraine symptoms; a by-product of life’s stresses and nothing more. I bought the damn things unable to tell the scanner technician, because embarrassment’s a bind, that I had a pin in my penis; the only thing holding it together following a savage attack by a Whipsnade cheetah. The same zoo is hosting the bear baiting events.

Still, there was something about the purchase of those bottoms, with the original context choked out, which summed up my Olympic dissonance. Sometimes I catch myself (necessitating nigh on superhuman contortions) and feel surprised by how little enthusiasm I can muster toward it. No rousing is now possible. This is all the more remarkable when I think back to the moment London was anointed. There I was, broom in hand, on the shop floor of Oddbins in Blackheath Village. By my side, Andy, my ineffectual colleague; a man who took half day lunches, smelt like a sherry cask and was only interested in wine if you could forge a tenuous connection between it and 70’s rock.

The news came through on the radio and we were both briefly elated. Thank God it was us and not Paris. Nous avions emporté! Wouldn’t it be great for London? Finally, after years of pressing our noses to the glass, a games we could attend…and without having to travel outside Zone 3. It would be inconceivable that city council tax payers wouldn’t get preferential booking. It was a great day to be a Big Smoker.

Andy died a few months later. He had an epileptic seizure while alone in his flat. I think someone told me he’d choked on his tongue because no one was there to pull it out. He missed the furore over the escalating budget and the ugly, concept fart logo, designed by Nathan Barley. He was in absentia during the scandal of the ticket lottery, the sidelining of locals, the news that the site can’t be re-developed post-games because the soil has a half-life of 15,000 years, and the endless, unrelenting hype: hype that’s just this month reaching its ear bleeding crescendo. He timed his exit beautifully.

Andy was a laid back kind of guy; the only time I saw him angry was when I tried to hold him to his contractual hours. I can’t help but think he’d have watched it all unfold with a mixture of wry amusement and absolute indifference. I never thought I’d be indifferent; to paraphrase Ben Cross in Chariots of Fire, I couldn’t wait; yet I expect to hit that mark around 3 seconds prior to the start of the opening ceremony.

What the hell happened? It’s not the ethics. If London 2012 are happy to take money from Dow Chemical, the company that won’t release a rupee to compensate Bhopal victims, though they be morally liable, then fine. I can’t say I care. You might think it’s ridiculous for Coke and McDonalds to sponsor a celebration of health and vitality but I drink Coke, because I’m addicted to the sugar content and the toxic formula, and I like McDonalds, even though I can actually feel it passing through my guts like wet cement, so I’d be a hypocrite if I sat back and boycotted the fun because I couldn’t bear the association. I’d have to boycott myself. I mean, sure, all of this, in the abstract, makes a mockery of everything Seb Coe says he’s trying to achieve, but that’s not what’s snuffed out my Olympic flame.

It may be just this simple: the run up to the games; on the street, on TV, in conversation, in tomorrow’s chinchilla cage lining; has become a sort of tyranny from which it’s impossible to escape. Those who’ve imbibed the black sleep expel a decathlon’s worth of energy telling you how good it’s going to be and how historic it is, leaving you to wonder if there’s a parallel event with an identical name in the offing you know nothing about; an underground festival showcasing the best of Britain. They can’t be talking about this monster that commodifies feeling, can they?

Resisting the hype is the only intellectually defensible position in a situation like ours. The affection is unearned. No one really remembers an Olympic Games. It isn’t like a World Cup or a Wimbledon. It doesn’t have a constituency. Who do you know that can talk about their favourite Olympic moment? By and large the enthusiasm that’s felt every four years is entirely manufactured. It’s a machine that feeds itself. This is what makes the games so attractive to sports tourists: people who wouldn’t touch a non-branded event with a sailor’s cock. They fancy the prestige without stopping to consider whether this thing they’re tethering themselves to is actually worth, in Lyndon Johnson’s words, a bucket of warm piss.

It’s taken over the city. It feels like an occupation. It’s exhausting. Londoners are blessed in many ways but on any one day you’ll find the government treating us with absolute contempt. During a normal summer we’d be expected to put up with super-heated tin cans that the government dare designate as trains, an airless underground warren, carriages packed from bottleneck entrance to bottleneck entrance, thanks to a sadist’s blueprint, outrageous fares, over priced food and drink, no personal space, criminal rents and now, in what is surely the final fuck you, the warbling tones of Mayor Boris, in full idiot monotone, ejaculated from station tannoys.

His noise pollution is an insincere friendly reminder that we must “get ahead of the games” – don’t get caught out by the million additional passengers that will rip our already seam split public transportation system. Boris won’t have trouble getting around of course; the city now has blonde lanes, or Bullingdon super-highways, reserved for his bike and flower girls. The rest of us must make do.

It’s great for the city, you hear that a lot – not for the people who live in it, naturally, but its businesses and tourist spots. Nevermind the inconvenience, feel the influx! Well it’s great that they’re coming and greater still that they’re prepared to be robbed, but London hardly needs a spike in visitor numbers. If the IOC and the bid team had had some vision they might have broken with the metropolis model altogether and staged the games in one of our dilapidated counties. Cornwall 2012? Truro wouldn’t tear up a cheque for £9.3b. Imagine the legacy. Instead it’s us – the cash rich, overcrowded capital. I can’t take the old chap out for a porcelain rinse without hitting another man’s. We don’t need it, knowhattamean?

My only hope is that the event will be so extraordinary, so exhilarating, that any sense of folly will dissipate as it goes. Perhaps seeing Jesse Owens and Daley Thompson in action will allay my misgivings. It’s still going to close with a UFO descending and an alien greeting the world, right?* John Williams is still doing the music?** What’s that? David Arnold?!! Holy shit and mustard.

*This actually happened at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Look.

**Listen.

Advertisements

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://edwhitfield.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/the-olympic-tyranny/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: