Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
The London Games have been an exercise in image control, but that has only encouraged the jokers.
Saying that London’s Olympic organizers have been slightly too protective of the Games’ image is as much an understatement as saying that London’s weather this year has been somewhat damp. Not only are designated brand police now poised to swoop across Britain to maintain promotional exclusivity for sponsors, organizers have also tried to stifle dissenting voices under the guise of brand protection. Even the London 2012 website’s conditions contain a clause saying that you’re only allowed to link to them if you’re nice.
As you’d expect, this control freakery is probably inspiring more critique than it silences. It’s highly possible that London will end up throwing a lovely party that runs fairly smoothly, with a security presence that manages to find a middle ground between neglect and intrusion, where the sun even comes out for a few days. But when Olympic organizers’ hawk-eyed watch on the country make the bristles stand up on many people’s necks, the temptation to kick back and poke fun is too great.
Most of this kickback comes via the media, social and otherwise, though anti-Olympic graffiti can still be found in a few secluded corners of London. Currently making the rounds on Facebook, for example, are these spoof Amazon reviews for the police uniform-wearing toy versions of London’s creepy Olympic mascots, sometimes cited as the worst in Olympic history. Acting out resentment at London’s security overkill, reviewers have dubbed the toy “My Little Drony,” complained that the figurines have been brutalizing their other toys, pushing their kids downstairs for wearing non-sponsor logos and reporting them to the secret police. In addition to ample twitter commentary, another social networking favorite are these parodies of the London 2012 Olympic logo, showing both the obscene shapes many have claims to see in them and spoofing Iranian assertions that the symbols spell out “Zion."
The highest-profile British source of Olympic parody is coming not from a fringe group but from Britain’s state-funded media. Since last year, the BBC has been screening the faux-documentary series Twenty Twelve, a satire on Olympic incompetence clearly inspired by The Office. For a long time, it offered a pretty lukewarm critique, with London’s hapless Olympic bosses presented as muddled but ultimately adorable. As the Games near, however, it’s gotten far sharper – recent episodes have shown incompetent police chiefs, organizers trying to arrange a future for the still unallocated Olympic Stadium as a dog racing track and the Games’ brand managers claiming Myspace is their most exciting promotional platform. Currently the show is capturing the pre-Olympic mood well, but scriptwriters still face a challenge. With major security shortfalls appearing at the last minute, roofs spiked with missiles and the Olympic city steadily sinking into a rain-sodden quagmire, London’s reality has recently been so over the top that fiction can only struggle to catch up.