Censorship Beijing would be proud of
24 October 2008
Predictions that those organising our Olympic adventure would learn important lessons from the way the Beijing Games were run have turned out to be alarmingly true. In east London, a local council has been enthusiastically adopting the Chinese solution to dissent by suppressing it.
The great writer of London life Iain Sinclair was due to launch his forthcoming book, Hackney, That Rose Red Empire at Stoke Newington Library. After the arrangement was made, an essay written by Sinclair appeared in the London Review of Books, the theme of which was that the Olympics – “this 2012 game-show rabies” as he put it – would have a disastrous effect on London. “The Millennium Dome fiasco was a low-rent rehearsal,” Sinclair argued. “The holy grail for blue-sky thinkers was the sport-transcends-politics Olympiad, the five-hooped golden handcuffs, smoke rings behind which deals could be done for casinos and malls: with sponsorship, flag-waving and infinitely elastic budgets (anychallenge an act of naysaying treason).”
That parenthetical aside was prophetic. Stoke Newington Library rang Iain Sinclair to withdraw itsinvitation to him. The problem, they said, was that he had been critical of the Olympics. A spokesman for Hackney Council subsequently dug the local authority a little deeper into the mire. It would be inappropriate for a public library to host the launch for a book “expressing controversial or political opinions,” he explained. The problem with that argument, apart from its sinister daftness, is that the book is three months away from publication has presumably not yet been read by the thought police of Hackney.
Sinclair’s LRB essay suggested a high level of dodgy dealing in east London, with developers being given attractive deals if they put money into the financially hard-pressed Olympic project. As a result, the communities, small businesses and historic buildings were being destroyed. “Nothing slows the momentum, the Olympic imperative,” Sinclair wrote.
These are worrying claims for those of us who supported the British Olympic bid in the belief that it would provide a much-needed boost to national self-confidence. The idea behind the London Games was that they would celebrate the diversity and freedom of our way of life, not destroy it.
The suppression of a book launch does not in itself indicate that a juggernaut of repression is rumbling down the road towards us. However it isworrying that a local official can, without a blush, announce that reading from a book with controversial or political opinions is now inappropriate in a public library.
In a sense, the man from Hackney was expressing official policy. The virus of Olympic obsession has spread outwards from central government and its associated quangos and grant-suppliers. Over recent months, arts bodies seeking support from local councils have been told that, in order for their bids to be successful, they should find a connection, however specious, between their favoured project and the games.
It has already proved a small step to move from such mindless propaganda to a mindless, government-sponsored suppression of free speech. The case of Iain Sinclair should set off alarm bells and the dangerously obsessive mindset of those promoting and profiting from what he calls “the scam of scams” should be questioned at every turn.
We’ve forgotten that sport is meant to be fun
It is a shock to hear that the world of children’s tennis is a snake-pit of cheating, violence and foul language, populated by enraged parents andtearful children. One might think that, given this win-at-all-costs culture, we would produce rather more young champions like Laura Robson – though her mother and father clearly aren’t like that at all. Perhaps those ghastly parents should learn from English football and cricket. Anxiety and pressure do not make champions. It is the joy of play that needs to be instilled, not the misery of losing.
How to make sense of ‘feelings’ in the night
For those of us who have never had a sex education, the idea that it is dangerous to provide primary school children with basic information about human desire is likelyto seem bizarre.
My only formal sex instruction came from a hopeless prep school headmaster who told school-leavers that sometimes at night they would have feelings. It was most important that, when we had these feelings, we did not succumb to temptation. Instead we would have rather pleasant dreams – “wet dreams” they were called, for reasons that would become clear to us.
When, shortly afterwards, I learned what happened between men and women, the whole business seemed too absurd to be taken seriously, an impression which I have never quite shaken off.
Those worried about the idea of young people being told the truth might usefully study a survey of 3,000 parents conducted by The Baby Website. Sixty per cent of those interviewed told their children that sitting too close to the TV would give them square eyes. Thirty-nine per cent of children were told that if they crossed their eyes and the wind changed, their eyes would stay crossed. One in four boys has been told that if he plays with himself, what he is playing with will drop off.
Poor little devils. No wonder so many grow up confused. Enough of parental lying. It is time for the facts of life to be taught in all their glorious absurdity.