We had the “honour” of the Olympic torch being carried through our town this weekend. It was an event which I didn’t attend (I had better things to do – I think I was cleaning my toilet or something like that) but judging by Facebook it was “a wonderful day which really brought the city together”. Now call me a bitter, miserable cynic if you like (I won’t object) but there’s something amiss when we’re going collectively insane over a flame, especially considering the concept was reignited by the Nazis for the “controversial” 1936 Berlin Olympics.
So we gawp and stare and cheer as an emblem used to glorify Hitler’s regime trundles through our high streets to mark the opening of a sporting event which has cost the British taxpayer somewhere in the region of £12 billion – meanwhile, the government is cutting billions from the National Health Service and social security. To make matters worse, London has been taken over by the corporations, who are using high tech security firms just to make sure no unwanted imagery (i.e. protests against their domination of public spaces) find their way into the capital.
The Chinese government wore their authoritarianism on their sleeves at the Beijing Olympics, surrounding the torch with armed guards as it made its way across the country – in Britain there’s no need for such measures. After all, we love our bread and circuses almost as much as the Romans did – if it isn’t the Queen’s Jubilee it’s the European football championship, a population with heads alternately stuck in the sand or up in the clouds.
Next up: the games themselves. Sit back in awe as hundreds of thousands of people applaud as men run really quickly and jump over fences/into sand pits, or throw heavy frisbees and metal globes really far. Except nowadays there is no bread (unless you count McDonald’s, although I suspect there may be legal issues in referring to that as “food”), just circuses.
At least when the Romans appeased the masses they had the gladiatorial arena: a cynic like myself might just be drawn to these events – perhaps if we threw a few bankers and politicians into the ring and made them fight it out these games might be worth watching after all.