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Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Morrissey v The Olympics

It would appear that Morrissey is attracting quite a degree of flak for his observations on the London Olympics. In a recent post to his ‘True To You’ fan club, the singer wrote:

I am unable to watch the Olympics due to the blustering jingoism that drenches the event. Has England ever been quite so foul with patriotism? The 'dazzling royals' have, quite naturally, hi-jacked the Olympics for their own empirical needs and no oppositional voice is allowed in the free press. It is lethal to witness. Although the spirit of 1939 Germany now pervades throughout media-brand Britain, the 2013 grotesque inevitability of Lord and Lady Beckham (with Sir Jamie Horrible close at heel) is, believe me, a fate worse than life. WAKE UP, WAKE UP."

Now, much as I like some of his music, I don’t think there are many topics on which I’d take Morrissey’s opinion seriously. He is still in the same intellectual groove he occupied when he was a frustrated student penning furious letters and reviews to the NME back in the early eighties. But it’s not just Morrissey; when it comes to matters of culture and politics, I pay about as much attention to the opinions of rock stars and actors as I do to the views of taxi-drivers, moody adolescents and anyone who has just suffered a massive blow to the head.

However … he may just have a point here. Let’s put to one side the various feats of sporting excellence. Let’s concede that it’s a good thing that Team GB is performing very well indeed. With that out of the way, it seems to me that there are several things about these Olympics that might entitle some of us to feel at least a little bit uneasy.

There’s the fact that huge amounts of lottery money were sucked into the cavernous maw of London 2012. Most of this money would normally have gone to voluntary organisations and charitable causes up and down the country, yet none of them were consulted about whether or not it was a good idea to bankroll the games with lottery money.

There’s the fact that the International Olympic Committee is corrupt on a scale that would embarrass the average African dictator. I’ve read various stories in the blogosphere from Londoners who are not completely thrilled at the fact that their city has been set up for the convenience of an invading army of officious bureaucrats on a dream junket. You’ve got to admire the chutzpah of whoever came up with that grotesque concept of ‘Olympic lanes for the Olympic family’. If an ordinary citizen strays into the wrong lane at the wrong time, he or she will cop an instant fine of £130. Didn’t the mafia advocate the idea of the extended, connected, privileged ‘family’? Or perhaps that is a tad uncharitable; the notion is more likely to have been cooked up by Leonid Brezhnev and his fellow politburo members, sometime around 1971.

There’s the fact that the state broadcaster has sunk every available resource into its breathless coverage of the games, to the extent that no other news qualifies as ‘news’ during the event. Given that there is a decent proportion of the population with no real interest in competitive sport, I would have thought it a tad unfair to expect them to accept this without a grumble. Driving home from work the other night, I felt like listening to some chat that wasn’t about the Olympics. Radio Five-Live does unremittingly gushing 24/7 Olympic coverage, so that was to be avoided; Radio 4 was in the middle of an extended feature on how many medals Team GB has won, so I switched to Radio Scotland only to find that they were glorying in Chris Hoy’s latest triumph. I gave up on chat and opted to listen to some music on Radio 2. I got about a minute and a half of the O’Jays before the presenter went over for a special report to –guess where- Olympic Park. If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard the words “amazing … unbelievable … I’ve never seen anything like it” over the last couple of weeks, I’d have £273 by now. For the BBC, there is no alternative.

There’s the fact that drug-cheating allegations get to the heart of one of the big problems with the Olympics. Whether these allegations are baseless or not, I can’t be alone in simply not trusting (and therefore not caring about) some Olympic victories any more. The wider the winning margin, the more remarkable the improvement in ‘personal best’ performances, the more likely we are to distrust them. But of course, when ‘our’ folk use sharp practice to gain advantage (like the cyclist Philip Hindes deliberately going down in order to have his race restarted) it is clever tactics. When ‘they’ do it (like those nasty South Koreans and Chinese badminton players) it’s cheating.

Morrissey, much as I consider him to be something of a buffoon, is actually holding up a great British tradition: namely, the right to dissent, the right to be an outsider, the right to make disparaging, cynical, side-of-the-mouth remarks while the head teacher is addressing the school assembly.

He is probably a daft, pampered and irrelevant old curmudgeon, but -as the saying goes- even a stopped clock is right at least twice a day.

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