The silence of the London 2012 killjoys
Protesters who planned to ruin London 2012 with jeering stunts and anti-Games rallies are now feeling very stupid indeed.
‘With the internet reaching to all corners of the Earth, we can raise up a worldwide army of protesters to lobby for an Olympic Boycott… Together we can achieve Olympic history. Together we can Stop The Games.’
So declared a website called BoycottLondonOlympics.com. It reeled off reasons for stopping the Games, ranging from the UK’s looting of the Parthenon Marbles to its occupation of Afghanistan. Other specially launched anti-Games websites talked excitedly about the unprecedented opportunities for protest. A writer for the New Left Review waxed lyrical about how ‘the anti-Olympics movement [had] reinvigorated activist circles’ in Vancouver during the Winter Olympics of 2010, and now ‘the fun is shifting to London for the Summer Games of 2012’. A ragbag coalition of green, NIMBY and left-wing groups known as the Counter Olympics Network (CON) announced it would be organising a ‘day of mass action’ after the London opening ceremony. It would be, according to one website, ‘a day we never forget’.
Have self-styled radicals ever misjudged the public mood so badly? Only a few hundred grizzled left-wing activists bothered to turn up to the much-hyped ‘day of mass action’, bearing banners with chirpy messages such as ‘Sod 2012’, ‘Olympics: Fuck Off’, ‘No to a Militarised Corporate Olympics’, and ‘These Games Are Not Green’. The author of The OFFICIAL Anti-Olympics Blog, who had been busily blogging in the run-up to the Games, writing of a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to ‘demonstrate to the IOC that not everybody buys into their phoney ideals and spin’, suddenly stopped publishing when the Olympics started. Aside from some low-key stunts targeting individual sponsors, CON didn’t bother to mobilise again, either.
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One of the organisers of CON attempted to rationalise the lack of public interest in the protests during an interview with Salon magazine: ‘It’s very British, I’m afraid. There’s almost a culture of grumbling and not doing much about it.’ Others moaned about a police state deterring protests. One protester complained that if you ‘say that you have a problem with the Olympics… an awful lot of people look at you as if you’ve just suggested a nationwide kitten and puppy massacre’.
Did these anti-Olympics protesters seriously believe the public would be interested in their protests? After all, the key argument of the anti-Games complainers was that the public had been duped by London 2012 - ie, we’re a bit thick - and that is hardly a rallying cry that the public is going to get behind.
Consider the prominent left-wing blogger who wrote last year that the Olympics were ‘bread and circuses’, which were ‘scheduled to keep the British public happy and obedient’. Dismissing the Olympics as ‘men throwing sticks’, one Guardian writer said: ‘The only sensible course is to treat the Games as a fascinating anthropological experiment, as people who would normally avoid London arrive to participate in the “Stupid Olympics”.’ The stupid public was portrayed by Olympic critics as being swindled, subjected to the ‘scam of scams’ and fooled into embracing a ‘17-day corporate extravaganza’. The Olympics, one critic wrote, is ‘a Mexican wave, and if a wave feels like unity, then so does any act that everyone can engage in, including death’.
Once the ‘wave’ started, some Olympics cynics at least had the good grace to admit they were wrong. Even the Guardian’s cynic-at-large, Charlie Brooker, admitted that his ‘eyeballs are eating up the Games’. Professional Olympics killjoy Iain Sinclair continued to publish grumbles about the ‘Orwellian’ nature of large screens showing the Olympics in public places - yet ‘despite the hyperinflated yelps of deranged nationalism’, even he declared his cynicism was ‘suspended’ when watching Bradley Wiggins. (Apparently, Sinclair was ‘in awe of the mechanical perfection, the yogic elegance of body position, the drive towards an uplifting victory’.)
Such was the moaners’ embarrassed silence once the Games kicked in that satirical website the Daily Mash joked that Britain’s 500,000 cynics had been temporarily incarcerated under the Olympic stadium for the duration of the Games. It was left to singer Morrissey to hit the headlines by attacking the ‘blustering jingoism’ of London 2012: ‘The spirit of 1939 Germany now pervades throughout media-brand Britain… WAKE UP WAKE UP.’
Morrissey’s daft rant about the public being sleepwalking, proto-fascistic drones was condemned by all sides. But what is easy to forget is that such sneering sentiments were shared by a large number of writers and activists prior to the Games. It is too much to hope, I’m sure, that their sniping at big public events has been wound down for good.
Patrick Hayes is a reporter for spiked. Visit his personal website here. Follow him on Twitter @p_hayes.