Charlie Brooker clambers on board the bandwagon:
Thanks, Olympics, for confounding my inner cynic. In the run up to the Games, I was expecting the whole thing to be little more than a festival of trademarks. The papers were full of stories about jackbooted brand police waterboarding 80-year-old women who had knitted unofficial "London 2012" bobble hats for their grandkids. Locog stormtroopers prowled the streets, machine-gunning anyone who so much as dared to picture the Olympic rings in their mind's eye without paying £25bn in advance for the inner-life sponsorship rights. Then they announced plans to ban non-Olympic vehicles from every single road in the capital apart from Horn Lane in Acton, which meant people were going to be forced to drive their cars through buildings and rivers and way up into the sky just to get to work.
Everything was terrible. And then the Games began and suddenly everything sort of wasn't.
Etcetera. It’s a shiny thing thing. You’ll recall how the 2008 Olympics began as the genocide Olympics; that was followed by the Tibetan activist campaign against the Torch relay; China transfixed by nationalist frenzy; reports of protests squashed and dissidence muzzled. The opening ceremony was said to reveal that our new insect masters had arrived. Then Britain started winning stuff and it was ‘oooh, shiny things’ : everything else got heaved overboard and Beijing became the UK shiny things breakthrough games, and a towering success.
So also in 2012. Part of the reason that the event itself hasn’t lived down to our worst expectations was the fact that a lot of people seem to have either laid low or cleared out. Even so, in the days before we started winning anything, you could see a kind of counter narrative taking shape, based initially around the empty seats meme, a promising marker for the Cock-up Olympics. That segued neatly into a rash of stories on Friday/Saturday about how the informal evacuation of London was depressing the retail/tourist sector.
Those stories were probably on the radar on Wednesday. On Thursday, we started winning shiny things, and the nascent Olympic disaster story promptly collapsed. A shame, in a way. It might have been more fun than the increasingly monotonous procession of decent but dull sportsfolk standing on podiums and bringing us all together (with the exception of Wiggo, every bloke’s ugly best mate).
Consider what would have happened if the gongs had failed to come. The low grumble about empty seats would have geared up into a high whine. LOCOG would have been condemned for this; it and Mayor Boris would also have been vilified, accurately enough, for stampeding Londoners out of the city. A couple of hacks would have been dispatched to Paris where gloating shopkeepers would have told them how much money they were making from Olympic refugees. Back home, the folk in the Olympic park would have been asked to say how disappointed they felt. Meanwhile, a photographer would have caught a brand cop in the act of snatching an unauthorised beverage from the hands of a child. The folk with missiles on their roofs would have been visited and asked their opinion of whether it had all been worth it. There would be a permanent hunt on for snoozing security guards. Intermittent rain would be the subject of incessant comment. Over at the Mail, some swivel-eyed voice of the silent majority would have put the whole fiasco down to the morale sapping effect of the leftist opening ceremony. He wouldn’t exactly say it was a conspiracy, but…And over at the Guardian, our man Charlie B would have found the whole thing risible.
As I say, I’d have found this spectacle more enjoyable than, say, the keiren. It would also make for better journalism. The things that were outrageous before – missiles on roofs, sponsor authoritarianism, Olympic only traffic lanes - remain outrageous now, but have been obliterated in the dazzle from the medals. Such is the power of shiny things.
But in fairness, I don’t see any sign that it’s led to some kind of proto-nazi upsurge in National Will. People are getting nice, shiny things, and they like it: which is not surprising since the ideology of the past couple of years has been precisely that you, the public, don’t deserve nice things. At the same time, there’s no begrudging anyone else getting their share. The event has had the appropriate impact on political opinion, which is to say, none whatsoever. We are being sporting, which is unusual for a sporting event.
Perhaps its just a matter of money well spent.