Given that this blog was set up in part as a local anticipatory response to the 2010 Winter Olympics here in Vancouver, you would think I’d have something to say about the most recent Summer spectacle that has just concluded in London. Especially now that the postmortems have begun: on the pre-Games embarrassments for the host country (the line-ups at Heathrow, the security concerns and costs) that slowly gave way to collective national pride as the weather cleared and their athletes started racking up the medals; on the potential post-Games legacy for East London, and for Mayor Boris Johnson, who many are already touting to replace David Cameron as ruler of the Conservative Party (especially now that Cameron’s coalition with the Lib Dems seems to have collapsed); on the rote American jingoism and frustrating time delays of NBC’s television coverage; on the IOC’s continued corporate fascism in monitoring everything from British citizens’ infringements of the official Olympic brand to what messages athletes could or could not tweet; and, as is usually the case here in Canada, on our failure once again to ascend the heights of the medal podium in several events that were supposed to be a lock.
Let the public bloodletting begin!
In fact, I’ve spent the last two weeks trying to avoid, as much as possible, anything to do with the Olympics (which is easier said than done, believe me—even for someone who doesn’t have cable and was squiring around visiting relatives to local tourist destinations). I maintain that the entire enterprise is a colossal waste of money, a media spectacle whose excesses seem grotesque when set alongside the corresponding diminution of coverage for real crises like the civil war in Syria, and a largely pre-determined sporting contest whose outcomes seem designed only to maintain the divide between moneyed Western nations and the entire global South (though we’ll see if that changes somewhat when the Games move to Rio in 2016).
What I wrote about the Olympics in my book World Stages, Local Audiences two years ago (in a chapter comparing the Beijing and Vancouver showcases) still seems the most apt performative response. At the Olympics, I suggested, “tribal nationalisms join forces with late capitalism, neo-liberal individualism, cultural tourism, gender binarism, the modern security state, and local weather patterns to produce a two-week media showcase of drug and judging scandals, political grand-standing, corporate sponsorships, regional boosterism, heart-tugging human interest stories, spectacular opening and closing production numbers and, very occasionally, sublime moments of athletic excellence” (18-19).
Plus ça change à Londre.