The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and London 2012 Games showed two different sides of British patriotism. But is it time we said goodbye to corporate sponsored flag-waving?
For the past few months Britain has been seized by a double obsession: the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympics. I can’t seem to understand this, let alone join in, when it seems pretty clear that the two events clash horribly. The Jubilee and the Olympics have been lumped together in one big patriotic package, and yet the vast discrepancy between the community focus of the Jubilee and the unashamed corporatism of the Olympics is glaring.
It’s hard to avoid the focus of the summer – I recently saw an advert on the back of a service station toilet advertising a ‘Great British’ chocolate bar. The entire country is fixated on celebrating our nation, our collective identity, and ‘us’. This in itself is no bad thing, considering our usual form of patriotism is generally self-mocking and cynical.
The Jubilee was patriotism at its best. Celebrations were simple, small, and of the people. Creativity was actively encouraged, as none of the imagery of the Jubilee is privately owned; the Queen’s face, the Union Jack and the national anthem all belong to the people.
Then came Wimbledon. Yes, Andy Murray lost, but who can deny that Wimbledon itself oozes Britishness? The plain white dress code, the traditional grass courts – it was perfect post-Jubilee.
There was potential for these simple celebrations to continue on into the Olympics; we could keep our bunting up, we could go and watch the torch go past, and we could celebrate the inspirational stories of ordinary British athletes ‘going for gold’. Of course we could all take part in the games! But let’s not kid ourselves. We are no freer to own ‘our Olympics’ than children in a school playground are free from teacher supervision.
Those heralding a Great British Summer forget that while we have the Jubilee and Wimbledon much to ourselves, we must share the Olympics with the rest of the world. London 2012 does not belong to us.
The Olympic Charter itself states that the Games are the exclusive property of the IOC. Our supervisors are corporate sponsors like McDonalds and Coca Cola, whose presence devalues the community spirit that many of us assumed would be inherent to the celebrations.
Furthermore, no Olympic imagery can be used without permission. Guidelines state that “Businesses must not undertake or produce any PR, promotions, adverts, products, special offers, websites, or other promotional media which are games-themed” as these will inevitably create an association with the games. Only McDonalds chips are allowed to be sold at the Games (they’re not even chips, they’re fries). It was announced that anyone entering the Olympic Park wearing a Pepsi logo will be asked to leave and the only beer being sold was Dutch. Excuse me if my patriotism is a little diminished.
As for the torch, I was a bit turned off to be honest. I could hardly catch sight of it with all the Coke bottles being shoved in my hands and the hordes of advertising vans. Indeed, of the 8,000 torch bearers, around three quarters of the places were allocated to the relay’s nine sponsors and in particular the three ‘presenting partners’ Coca Cola, Lloyds TSB and Samsung.
This advertising fest was probably the closest most Britons will ever get to the Olympics, with tickets being priced so highly and being so hard to get hold of. The empty seat fiasco which blighted the first two days of competition also did little to sell the idea of a ‘people’s Olympics’. And to top it all off, it was nonchalantly announced that Team GB’s track athletes would not be leaving their training camp in Portugal to attend the opening ceremony.
The very idea of the Olympics being ‘British’ just seems like a joke. It clashes horribly with the Jubilee, having none of the spontaneous merriment which that celebration inspired; and where you do get it, it’s satirical or in protest, like Charlie Brooker declaring himself the “sole official tweeter” of the games.
And yet the Great British public don’t seem to have been fazed by the corporatism one bit, inspired by the patriotic tone that was set in the opening ceremony and Team GB’s incredible medal haul. Perhaps it is Britishness itself that counters corporatism: keep calm and let the companies carry on.
If the IOC does indeed want to be an institution that celebrates universal human values, they could pick up a few tips from the British. In the meantime, Britain is certainly doing its best to give the corporate Olympics a run for its money.