As Olympics fever continues to grip the UK, I can just about about cope with the competitiveness of the Games on an individual level, and have admiration for athletes’ self-discipline and determination, although I maintain that the greatest achievement of humanity is cooperation and not competition, and I also believe that it is important to bear in mind, as the hyperbole threatens to engulf us, that, as well as not being the highest form of human achievement — something that should be reserved for endeavours that improve all our lives — sport is not generally an undertaking that contributes to the political well-being of a nation and its people, beyond a kind of short-term thrill.
In thinking of the disturbing subtexts of the Games — including their humourless corporate greed, their ballooning costs, unchecked by government, the instigation of various forms of social cleansing, and their use as an excuse for empty nationalistic displays, which always do more for warmongers than for peacemakers, by encouraging a sense of supremacy amongst groups whose athletes do particularly well — I have been reminded of the phrase “bread and circuses” (from the Latin panem et circuses), for which an excellent description exists on Wikipedia: “In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the creation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion, distraction, and/or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace.”
I suspect that this is always true of the Olympic Games, which seem to be the epitome of “bread and circuses,” leaving host countries groaning under debt, while their governments desperately try to divert any criticism of their own behaviour by pointing to happy patriotic crowds of citizens. However, in the case of the UK, here and now, the words ring particularly true, as the Tory-led coalition government is actually incapable of “exemplary or excellent public service or public policy,” and is, in fact, committed to destroying state involvement in the provision of all services except for parts of the judiciary, parts of the military, and, of course, MPs themselves, whose privatisation cure does not, of course, extend to themselves.
Nevertheless, as I am not a complete killjoy, I have been travelling around London soaking up the atmosphere over the last ten days, and yesterday I took a trip by bike from Brockley, in south east London, to the Greenwich peninsula, with my wife and son, to take the Emirates Air Line — the cable cars more popularly known as the Olympic cable cars across the River Thames from North Greenwich, near the O2 (formerly the Millennium Dome) to the Royal Docks. To get there, we took the Thames Path from Deptford to the eastern shore of the Greenwich peninsula, and, on arrival, decided to check out the O2 itself, which is the venue for the Olympics gymnastics events.
Happily, the O2 is also home to the Jamaican Olympics team, and yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Jamaican Independence, and so, after discovering that we could wander around inside the O2, we passed through security, which resembled the kind of security in place at airports, where the staff were very friendly, and, we learned swiftly, overworked and underpaid, and then took a tour around the O2, which is a surreal kind of US-derived mall at the best of times, and is now groaning under the added burden of presenting a friendly face of the Olympics’ faceless trans-national corporate sponsors. While there, we paid a visit to the Jamaican House, a much more relaxed, low-key Jamaican affair, where Independence Day celebrations were taking place, and then, gasping for air after another promenade down the O2′s fake streets, made our way out, into the fresh air and on to the Emirates Air Line. I’ll be publishing photos of that extraordinary experience very soon, but in the meantime I hope you enjoy this set of photos.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Ruth Gilburt wrote:
Your photos also speak volumes, Andy but as ever, your words get to the heart of how I feel too. Thanks, as always x
You’re most welcome, Ruth. I’m very glad to hear that the combination of words and pictures is working out. I’m finding it enormously liberating cycling around photographing my city, and finding what appeals to me emotionally, or what amuses me, overpowers me, depresses me or fills me with awe.
Ruth Gilburt wrote:
yes, that’s more than apparent Andy ….
You really remain one of the most defining and consistently focused and fair voices of dissent we have. I deplore that there are so few commenting like you – but there you have it.
Keep on pedalling x
Thanks again, Ruth. That’s lovely to hear, and very encouraging. Actually I’m just about to head out on the bike again. Nothing major today, but I’m getting addicted to being on the road, snooping about with a camera, checking lost nooks and crannies, marvelling at the expansive skies. That’ll be my obsessive-compulsive tendencies at work again …
Ruth Gilburt wrote:
hahaha…I know- go for it x
I did go for it, Ruth. I had no idea where I was going to go. Thought about dashing to Hyde Park without any distraction, to see what that spectacle of obsession looked like, but I got distracted before I’d even left New Cross! Then Peckham, then Camberwell, Kennington and Walworth. Four and a half hours and I didn’t even make it out of south east London – but I found lots of wonderful things, and met some lovely people!
Ruth Gilburt wrote:
huzzah to that! x
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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