11 August 2012

The Hyperreality of London 2012

As the Olympic Games draw to a close it seems important to mark the way in which they have become an extraordinary national festival. Living in Stroud I have plenty of friends who have seen and heard nothing, since the excitement has been entirely mediated and virtual: a culmination of a life where what happens on your television feels more real than what happens outside your front door. London 2012 underlines the insightfulness of Baudrillard's concepts of hyperreality and the simulacrum. The mediated appears more real than lived experience; the articifial has more power than the authentic.

So how green were these games? To what extent has the claim to be the greenest games ever been fulfilled? The job of monitoring this claim was passed to the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, led by 12 commissioners. The focus of their activities is clarified by the range of 'experts' they chose to involve: in the areas of biodversity, waste, sport, and standards and ethics. Nobody was considering the amount of energy used in flying the millions of spectators around the world. The work of the Commission is typical of the way action on sustainability often ignores the wood to focus on a few whimsical trees. It is of some interest that the cauldron uses less gas than the cauldron in Beijing, and that the lighting system for the stadium was most out of recycled gas pipes, but these design features are farcically insignificant compared to the massive CO2 emissions resulting from the travel of the spectators.

This takes me to my most fundamental criticism of the games: they were planned to be and inevitably were a games for the elite. The people who live, work and run businesses in London were frightened into leaving their own city, turning it over for three weeks to be the playground of the world's rich and famous. This is what the Olympic games have become and it is symbolic of the displacement of citizens from all positions of power within the global economy, which is now similarly dominated by corporations and elites.

I may only be seeking to recoup my share of the investment in the games (which is now estimated at some £11bn, so slightly under £200 for every UK citizen), but I like to think that, in spite of all the focus on individual achievement it is we, the British people, who have actually won the games. Both Olympic bureaucrats and athletes have commented most on the warmth, enthusiasm and sheer niceness of us Brits. If the games have proved to us that we are a nation of kind and helpful people will it be worth my investment? I think only if we use that knowledge to spend more time getting to know each other and co-operating to achieve something real in our communities, and less sitting in our own homes, absorbing the messages of media elites about business elites celebrating the performance of sporting elites.


  1. good post. the chances of competing, given the resources needeed to reach the top level seems increasingly obstructive to those living outside of london, or not coming from a background which can support it. the lottery fund has done a great job of limiting this however. even so, a third of those competing for Britain were privately educated.

    one person who certainly is in the mould of Baudrillard, Foucalt etc is Chris Hedges. he is maybe not as deeply philosophical as those two and he focuses largely on US society, but given that theirs is the standard socio-economic model for much of the globalisation that those in power seek to promote today, his articles/books are worth the time.



  2. You've read some Baudrillard. Well done.

    You should have applied for tickets and seen how fucking virtual the prices were! Not very.

    Otherwise good work. Carry on...