The Olympics are starting in a matter of days, and London has made itself unrecognizable. The Daily Mail boasts photographs of the Olympic Villageand compares it to North Korea. I’ve never been to North Korea, but I know even Disneyland doesn’t offer armed soldiers standing watch on candy-colored walkways.
I wrote earlier about the International Olympic Committee's “Brand Exclusion Zone,” and Britain’s own papers have joined the chorus: “Not since William of Orange arrived with his Dutch army in 1688 has London's government been surrendered so completely to an alien power,” declared the Guardian. Streets have been closed for repairs, while others have had express “Olympics-only” lanes marked off.
“Cities have no real future as theme parks,” the Guardian continues, and I have to laugh. Didn’t Julian Barnes write England, England, about an island in England transformed into a theme park bearing replicas of all England’s own tourist attractions? Didn’t that process even involve hiring an official cynic or two?
Seventeen years ago, the brilliant historian and philosopher Raphael Samuel lashed out at the disbelievers who condemned theme parks. In theIndependent, he wrote:
It is a favourite conceit of the aesthete that the masses, if left to their own devices, are moronic; that their pleasures are unthinking and their tastes cheap and nasty. Theme parks—doubly offensive because they seem to us to come from America and because they link history to the holiday industry—are a particular bugbear for the critics. As engines of corruption, or seducers of the innocent, they seem to occupy the symbolic space of those earlier folk-devils of the literary imagination: jukeboxes and transistor radios, or candyfloss and milk bars. In contemporary leftwing demonology they have become the latest in a long line of opiates of the masses . . .
It’s true that these bewilderingly bright colors and overly cheery signage have no place in a living, breathing city. But what will become of London after these games have ravaged the capital? Will it remain a theme park? I doubt it. There is little in Atlanta or Salt Lake City that reminds us the Olympics once took place there. History has a strange tendency to be forgotten by the present.
I think London will be okay, despite all the mishaps (four-hour drives!Bewildering traffic jams!) and bizarre organizational strictures. People have lived there happily for several centuries now, and it seems like their intent is to go on living there, with or without the IOC’s baffling rules.
Or at least, I hope so. Wouldn’t it be funny if the capital of Orwell's Airstrip One was born out of this candy-colored theme park of an Olympics?
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