London 2012

Pathologies of Our Peculiar Age

August 02, 2012

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Pathologies of Our Peculiar Age

The USA, I’m sorry to see, is currently behind China in gold medals, 17-12.

And oh dear, there’s Britain, with only two gold medals.

It’s only Wednesday night, though—end of the fifth day, eleven still to go. I’m sure the old country will perk up and gather a few more golds. It can’t possibly be the case, as that dire opening ceremony seemed to suggest, that the entire national genius of the British is now concentrated on running hospitals, recycling old pop songs, writing whimsical stories for children, performing the national anthem in sign language, and celebrating diversity.

Or as Peter Hitchens said in a wonderfully peppery Daily Mail column:

It is a strange sort of nation that can turn a hospital bed into a symbol of national pride, especially in an era when you can die of thirst in one.

Yes, I’m trying to keep up with the Olympics. This goes against my general inclinations.

“The Olympics are still one place where nations compare themselves with each other.”

For one thing, there’s the totalitarian angle. A huge organized sporting event like this, with its son et lumière opening spectacle, hundreds of flags paraded around to the cheers of the multitude, and strong social pressure on us all to show enthusiastic approval, inevitably brings to mind the great 20th-century despotic utopias. Does the name Leni Riefenstahl mean anything?

As I blogged three Olympics ago (how time flies!):

The reason that fascists and communists love sport is, of course, that sport has no linguistic content. Totalitarians hate language and wage constant war against it — another thing Orwell taught us. Sport is therefore the ideal lowbrow entertainment from the point of view of jealous power elites, just as ballet is the ideal highbrow entertainment. The old Soviet Union poured huge resources into both.

The main venue for this year’s Olympics is in London’s East End, not far from the hyper-gentrified Isle of Dogs, where my wife and I owned a pleasant little apartment twenty-something years ago. We bought at the top of the market and sold at the bottom, for £100,000 each time. Now the damn thing is worth half a million at least. This rankles. I’d rather not be reminded.

(Should I ever offer you advice about real-estate investment, run like the wind!)


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