Sunday, July 29, 2012
Puke Britannia posted by Richard Seymour
A few days ago, I got wind of some of the arrangements prepared for the Olympics opening ceremony. Danny Boyle was readying a celebration of the NHS and multicultural Britain. It was going to be a New Labour-tastic re-imagining of Cool Britannia some fifteen years on. Two things were immediately apparent. The Tories would hate it; and some on the Left would temporarily lose their reason and find their patriotism.
This is all very well in a way. After all, this isn't 1997 - the NHS is under unprecedented attack, and Britain's multiculture has been hammered for more than a decade. We are living in an age when celebrating these things is seen by some as 'too political' or, for the riper pundits, 'left wing propaganda'. And if the "people's history" found empire too touchy a subject to encounter except obliquely, through the prism of Commonwealth immigration - the sole complaint of Boris Johnson who otherwise professed to be delighted with its focus on the NHS, the rise of the industrial working class, and "the triumph over the capitalism" - its acknowledgment of any social antagonism amid the diorama of 'Britishness', from bucolic prancing to industrial dancing, was probably a little unexpected for most viewers.
An ideologically interesting gesture was the binding of what Owen Hatherley presciently called 'austerity nostalgia' (that reverence for the virtuous Forties when everyone pulled together, backs to the wall, living off rationed food and facing down the enemy with stoical good humour, their struggle eventually rewarded with social peace and plenty) to a vaguely critical left-of-centre politics. Perhaps this was not dissimilar in tone to that UK Uncut 'Great British street party'. It was nationalism, but it was a decidedly Labourist nationalism.
My point, basically, is that one can always grin through it while perfectly normal people find various reasons to be #ProudOfBritain, and pundits fall over themselves to worship at the shrine of Boyle's genius. (And really, his films are enjoyable, but if anyone thinks this guy is a creative mastermind they really need to check out his Twitter feed.)
Still, amid the general Sunday morning hangover, I hope those on the soft left who threw aside their probity for a saturnalian flag-fest are now in the mood to confess and repent. Lawks, Mary Poppins saving the NHS from Voldemort to the tune of Branson's money-spinner Tubular Bells! Let the Tories dare privatise the NHS now! (They're already doing it. They'll still be doing it on Monday. The fine nurses and doctors from Great Ormond Street Hospital danced in vain if this was supposed obstruct this determined class assault.). James Bond and the Queen! Britain loves to take the piss out of itself! (This is the sort of self-congratulatory dribble, in this instance referring to an insufferably smug streak of meconium passing itself off as wry British humour, that proves patriotism cannot be genuinely self effacing; it is only in the service of its amour propre that it allows the slightest critical reflection.). Boyle loves Britain's modern social and racial mobility, and so do we! (Every bit as real as the dark legions of Voldemort.)
Whatever the creators' intentions, whatever people now do to appropriate elements of this spectacle for their own agendas, the fact is that it's major achievement was to induce people to forget temporarily what a disgrace the Olympics are; how hated they are in the East End where the Olympics Green Zone has been implanted, protected by rooftop missiles that residents don't want; how poor people have been drive out of their homes as they always are when the Olympics comes to town; how much our civil liberties have already been attacked in the name of suppressing criticism of this ugly metro-plasty, as legislation and police exercises have been framed in the assumption that protest during these events is a potential terrorist plot; how preposterous it is that the 'security' for this montage of pointless exercises is being supplied by thousands of soldiers fresh from hunting shepherds in Afganistan; how fucked up it is that the major sponsors of this debacle, their names glowingly referenced all over the city's billboards, are corporations like McDonalds (which specialises in heart disease, bowel cancer and obesity), and Atos (which specialises in throwing disabled people off benefits and will no doubt have a special role in the Paralympics); and above all the fact that this is sports, pointless, boring sports, and the only reason anyone really wants to watch someone else swim forty lengths or jump over sandpits is because they're doing so on behalf of the nation.
Those leftists who did have a patriotism binge this weekend can report here to expiate their craven indulgence first thing tomorrow morning. I have some chores for you to do.