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Give us our daily supply of outrage

Signed any good petitions recently? There is a whole range of causes that concerned citizens are able to support or oppose by going online and adding their names to a list. The Save Our Post Offices petition urgently needs support. The Global Campaign for Education, set up to remind world leaders of the importance of education, is attracting celebrity backing – the boy band McFly recently decided that, on balance, they were in favour of education and signed up.

Courtesy of The Sun, there is a petition to “protect the UK’s kids from paedos”, surely a worthy cause if ever there was one, while the group holding the BBC man Alan Johnston in Gaza may or may not be influenced by the 80,000 or so people who are urging his release on a BBC website.

There are many others. In fact, a brisk 10-minute surf would enable you to vote one way or another about most of the big news stories of the moment. A good place to start would be the current top-of-the-petition hit-parade, the campaign expressing dismay, anger and outrage at the logo chosen for London’s 2012 Olympics. Within hours of its launch, this website had attracted the signatures of 45,000 people, not all of whom can have been bored mouse-clickers with nothing better to do.

A new symbol to represent our own Olympics was always going to get a hammering – nothing excites the British quite as much as their own disapproval, but, in this case, the designers have compounded the problem by being recklessly adventurous and forward-looking. The new logo is startling but, once you get tuned into it, rather good, capturing a whiff of the edginess that makes London such an interesting city. Rather than pandering to the absurd illusion that our capital is a British Barcelona or Sydney, the designers have looked to the jagged shapes and garish colours of graffiti artists. The message conveyed is that London 2012 is represented better by awkward youthful dynamism than by plump corporate dreariness.

The reaction has been depressing, and indeed, to quote the words of one of the critics of the logo, it “portrays our country in the worst possible way”. Rival designers have stepped forward to explain how they could have done better; non-designers, the clueless majority of protesters, have come up with alternatives. These logos, published in newspapers, posted on websites, invariably choose dull points of reference – Nelson’s Column, the London Eye, the Union Jack – while the designs reflect an aesthetic which dates from 10, 20 or 30 years ago.

One idea, significantly, was to nick the central image used in 1977 on the cover of the Sex Pistols’ first single, “God Save the Queen”. That scruffy collage, now famous and a design cliché, would of course have caused exactly the same kind of huffing and puffing when it was first published as the Olympics logo is prompting now. It is only over time that it has become an acceptable part of the visual establishment.

The British public needs to be introduced gently to new images and ideas; its distrust of the experimental and untried goes very deep. Whenever anything new appears, there will always be people on hand to trot out the tired old cliché about how their six-year-old daughter could do better. They sneered at Tracey Emin a few years ago when her work first appeared. Now that she is Britain’s representative at the Venice Biennale, she has mysteriously acquired artistic respectability. In five years’ time, she will be probably be a role model for younger artists.

As a nation, we seem to be never happier than when working ourselves up into a state of outrage about something or other – parts of the press make an excellent living out of supplying Middle England with a daily supply of outrage. Recently, though, it has ceased to be enough to sit, fuming, in a comfy chair, occasionally sending off an angry letter to the editor.

There are petitions to sign. The internet provides an easy, and largely fake, democracy. Adding your name to this or that list provides a buzz of satisfaction, the illusion of involvement. But an online petition is little more than a means to armchair protest by slackers. It is an illusion, this idea that everybody’s opinion matters so much that it should feed into the decision-making process. Little creative good comes from a committee, and when that committee consists of thousands of busybody amateurs, the chance of it producing something better than a good professional designer would do is remote in extreme.

Perhaps the time has come to draw up a petition against petitions. Its symbol will be a plump Englishman, his cheeks flushed with outrage, looking back longingly into the past. Its design style, of course, will be traditional.

  • Chris Rust

    It’s not a trivial issue that the researchers here don’t seem to have any notion of irony or context. If McCartney is saying old people are unloveable how come so many oldies belt that song out at their 64th birthday parties? It’s an affectionate song about love persisting despite the inevitable effects of getting older, what could be more positive?

    But there’s something quite sinister here, the conclusions of the article say:
    “It is imagined that the negative representations of age and ageing can be dispiriting and confidence and esteem lowering for older people and that more scrutiny of these texts by censorship boards should be exercised.”

    In other words it’s a manifesto for the thought police to start telling artists what to do, based on a particularly numb piece of research. Decidedly chilling.