By Jeffrey Zuckerman

On July 27, the Olympics will start in London. My friends there are actually going elsewhere for the full three weeks of tourist and media frenzy. They just want to enjoy their summers, and watch the occasional swimming match on TV.

They’re also escaping the most Orwellian set of circumstances I’ve heard about in ages. Kosmograd, whose handle recalls a formerly totalitarian country, describes the rise of the “Brand Exclusion Zone,” which stringently enforces brand purity for the Olympics’ official sponsors. The goal is to prevent ambushes by other brands and to restrict brand exposure solely to companies that have paid millions of dollars and pounds and euros for advertising rights.

As a result, visitors wearing clothing or carrying items with the logos of rival brands will be barred from entering the games. Athletes and spectators are not allowed to upload videos of their own, which would compete with television broadcasts. These restrictions exist in both space and time, “up to 1km beyond [the Olympic Park’s] perimeter, for up to 35 days.”

Freedom of speech is a popular right, and one of the most easily contested. The issue becomes even more complicated when companies and individuals clash. But in this case, I feel uncomfortable at how rigidly the IOC is suppressing other voices. And when I think of the tyranny of brands, I think of Banksy:

“Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head. You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.”

(Viz the graffito by Criminal Chalkist, above, of a vigilante running off with one of the Olympic rings. I presume the IOC ordered all graffiti removed shortly thereafter.)

It’s true that London competed with many other cities to host the Olympics in 2012. They’ll benefit from the extraordinary influx of money, from the massive public works projects and increased media visibility. But at what cost? What will be lost by accepting the IOC's draconion rules?

When I read George Orwell’s 1984 in high school, I was fascinated by its ironies: the Ministry of Peace keeps Oceania at war, even the Ministry of Truth perpetually lies to maintain a consistent history. I took heart in how the very final page, an essay about that regime’s language, was written in the past tense. But here we are in 2012: now the Brand Exclusion Zone maintains brand purity by constantly fighting off other brands, and polices the Olympic athletes’ own Twitter accounts for brand infringement. What role have we played (and should play) in this fulfillment of Orwell's prophecy? How is it that London, the fictional capital of Airstrip One in1984, has let itself be seized in real life by Big Brother?

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