Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Olympic Success under the Microscope

What would a Morrisian analysis of the current spectacular UK Olympic success look like?  There would, of course, be a standard Marxist critique here, along the lines of ‘false consciousness’ or ‘bread and circuses’.  In a neo-liberal epoch of extreme and increasing inequality, and of major economic instability since 2008, let's keep the masses happy and diverted with huge colourful shows like London 2012 and Rio 2016.

I think we might feel a more local irony too.  If the BBC and UK newspapers are frantically pumping out news of all the Team GB medals to cheer us (and themselves) up after the decision for Brexit in the recent European Union referendum, we can enjoy the irony that it was precisely the artificially inflated nationalism and patriotism that they invariably indulge in so repulsively on such occasions which played a significant part in producing that anti-EU result in the first place (though there were also other, and better, reasons for wanting it). 

But a more specifically Morrisian critique of the Olympics would concentrate on the nature of work in our society.  What we currently have, you might say (to caricature just a little), is a nation of coach potatoes, suffering from alarming rates of obesity and diabetes, obsessively watching on television the hyper-trained, lavishly funded elite athletes who are delivering the impressive UK successes of the last few days.  The physically under-developed thus obsess over the physically over-developed; both are two sides of the same wretched coin – the ‘torn halves of an integral freedom to which, however, they do not add up’, to borrow Adorno’s fine phrase. In a utopian Morrisian world in which social labour was both physically invigorating and satisfyingly creative, you would no longer have or need either extreme.


Kotick said...

Tony, see the good critique by Simon Jenkins at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/17/olympics-hysteria-britain-turned-soviet-team-gb

Tony Pinkney said...

Yes, the government's feeble childhood obesity strategy, officially released today, shows just how little they care about that crisis - in marked contrast to the obscene sums of money being put into elite sport in this country (which is in my view just another form of cheating, only collectively rather than individually, as with drugs).

Tony Pinkney said...

And for an earlier, rather fanciful sketch of what a Morris-inspired Olympics might look like, see my http://williammorrisunbound.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/olympics-2012-william-morris-style.html