Cultural attitudes towards the Olympics

Ever since they announced they were coming, something strange has been happening in British culture. Are the Olympics a good thing, a bad thing, or just a thing?

So there I was, New Year’s Eve, a little tipsy having just failed in a giant game of Cluedo, and the first thing I hear about the coming year is how it is going to be a special one for people in Britain. This was, of course, an allusion to the summer Olympics, an event at the time seven months away. Yet the need to declare its relevance at the exact point the year begins, tells us something about the true extent to which the Olympics have permeated public consciousness.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of the Olympics. It is a wonderful event for mankind to have and share with each other, especially with the politics that exist between nations. Watching countries compete, particularly secretive ones, is akin to seeing that house at the end of the street, whose occupants hide suspiciously behind twitching curtains for years, suddenly come out and join the street party. We all want it to happen because we are all social creatures at heart.

But what I have found fascinating is the relationship between Olympic ideals and the way it has been marketed. Of particular interest is the conflict between excitement and an impending sense of doom. As crazy at it sounds, these are the two schools of thought that are occurring in fascinating ways in popular culture. Let’s have a look at some of the evidence:

Transport: Doom

Artist’s impression of what commuting during the games will be like. ARTIST’S IMPRESSION.

Not so long ago, I was standing on the central line platform of Notting Hill station and I began to look around, as you do. I looked at the narrow tunnel, the narrow platform, the narrow entrance that was right next to the narrow exit in the same narrow place. Then I turned to find myself looking at a poster advertising the tourism attractions of London beneath a massive 2012 logo. The culmination of these events led me to mutter aloud a telling commentary regarding the likely logistics of London in the coming summer. “This ain’t gonna fly”, I said to myself.

And here we have the first problem. As Londoners are well aware, getting around the capital at peak times is an uncomfortable and often perilous experience. After a long day at work, commuters love nothing more than to simultaneously fling themselves into the passageways below the capital and fight to avoid being guillotined by a passing train. This is common place for us, however the rest of the world have no idea how nuts we really all are. How is the city’s transport system, already struggling underground, overground, and in the congested skies itself, going to cope with the millions of tourists flooding towards the games?

The answer is it can’t. London knows this, which is why it has started a campaign to tell us all about it. Getaheadofthegames is basically another way of saying “we can’t cope with what’s about to happen. Every man, woman and child for themselves!”

Adverts: Excitement (albeit manufactured)

We live in an age where the business world is very savvy when it comes to marketing. At times, a little too savvy. Take for instance the moment when my dinner plate requires cleaning. This is not a very public moment, nor one of such significance that I would even notice myself doing it. Yet now I find adverts informing me that this process is a blueprint for genetic success in my offspring. How? Consider the advert below:

What we see here is the reason why Britain’s Olympic programme has stalled for so long. We need to use more of this product. Judging by the success of the US, China and Russia, they must be drinking the stuff for breakfast.

Ominous Signs: Doom

From the moment it was first announced we would be hosting the Olympics, Londoners installed a doomsday clock to count out the remaining time they had left. Since then it has been ticking away remorselessly (except when it broke once). The notion that we are all heading towards zero is somewhat unnerving, however that is nothing compared to what has recently appeared on the side of the A40 near RAF Northolt. There is now a sign warning that there may be excessive aircraft noise for a prolonged period. “Ha!” I said, thinking this a ludicrous message for motorists travelling past an air strip. That was until a Typhoon fighter jet tried to rip off the roof of my car.

Such is the noise of these military beasts that recently one of them accidentally went supersonic over the Cotswolds. Calls came flying in from across the country with many people fearing there had been a massive explosion. And that’s exactly what it sounds like. The atmosphere is literally ripped apart as these fighter jets snap the laws of physics in two. Sitting at home, the notion that the Olympics are coming ever closer is tainted somewhat with the abundance of apocalyptic sounds.

Festivals: Enthusiasm

Thought you had been to the Edinburgh International Film Festival? Think again, it’s now the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012. Thought you had been to the BBC Proms? Think again, it’s now the BBC Proms 2012

While the Olympics will manage to infiltrate all major festival events this summer, and there are a lot, at least one positive is that it will bring an influx of new people into contact with the creative arts. That’s always a good thing. And everyone loves a good party, why not make it nationwide?

Tourism: Enthusiasm and Doom

So, one of the biggest arguments FOR the Olympics was the economic one. The money generated from the rejuvenated infrastructure and significant boost to tourism is supposed to revolutionise what was a struggling economy and an unloved patch of east London. But what’s this? Oh oh, a controversial report? Those meanies at the European Tour Operators Association have been saying bad things about what’s going to happen. They suggest that host nations suffer a drop in tourism in the years following the event.  “If London followed the same pattern as Beijing, it could see more than 2.5 million fewer visitors and a loss of £1.5 billion in revenue”. Well that’s a kick in the teeth, especially since Londoners have been footing a very hefty council tax increase to pay for it all.

Tickets: HYSTERIA!!!

A lot has already been written on the topic of Olympic tickets. In short, the demand has been so high for some events that the British have become world experts at hording. Although not assured of tickets for each event, many fans simply submitted applications for a huge selection of events, often meaning that if successful, they would have to foot a hefty bill. And that’s just in this country. Recently, hurdeler Dai Greene, saddened that his athlete’s allocation of two tickets meant other fmaily members would be unable to see him compete, was rescued by his twitter followers who snapped up tickets from other countries in the EU.

But while there have been over a million requests for 100m final, 1.5 million tickets for the Olympic football remain unsold. It seems then that since there is such incredible spectator enthusiasm, the process of ticket allocation could have been made a little more transparent to meet their demand. What this does prove, however, is that many people are very, very, VERY excited about the games.

Conclusion: Enthusiasm

The Olympics, then, are a bit like the circus. You go there to see extraordinary people do impossible things, but there are also clowns. And clowns are scary.



  1. don’t forget the diamond jubilee 2012 or Jubilmpics- courtesy BBC series ‘Twenty Twelve’

  2. Or the fact that Edinburgh still has a Fringe…Or Boris Johnson as Mayor of London during the Olympics. Expect foot to be placed in mouth several times. Brilliant piece, although at our workplace in North London there’s NO CHANGE in working hours. Someone comes in from Epping, and he already took two weeks for a honeymoon this year!

  3. Haha, love the 2012 link Rishi, and yes, good point about work place felxibility Jonny!! Glad you guys enjoyed the blog!

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