The best of British for the Olympics
28 September 2009
Every country which has hosted the Olympics has used it for image purposes. China presented itself as powerful and organised. Australia projected a sunny yet cheerfully competitive nature. The problem so far with the London Olympics has been to decide what exactly our national brand of Britain is.
Now, at last, we are catching a first glimpse of our public image in 2012. There is to be a very tall tower in the Olympic Park. It could be like a pylon, with lots of interesting platforms and no end of solar panels. It will certainly be the last word in sustainable regeneration. There will be other works of public art but so far they have failed to inspire confidence. A pair of 30-ft crochet lions have been commissioned. A small island is to be tugged from the Arctic in order to remind us all about climate change. These things sound truly embarrassing. Before it is too late, the central committee of the Cultural Olympiad should consider items of public art which speak directly of our nation as it is today.
Dogging Park. For obvious health and safety reasons, no dogs will be permitted inside Olympic Park. Instead, visitors around the world will be able to experience a leisure activity which in certain parts of Britain has become as popular as snooker. Dogging Park will be enclosed, and lighting will be kept low so that, through the gloom, it will be possible to see the shape of parked cars, perhaps even an arm or leg.
The Children Zoo. All those entering Olympic Park with children will be required to show that they have up-to-date Acceptable Adults accreditation from the police. Once they are in, their first destination will be to a zoo where British children can be seen in complete safety. The highlight will be the Feral Children enclosure, the design of which will be based on the award-winning Tiger Island of Zurich Zoo.
Celebrity Library. A survey of literary trends suggests that by 2012 over 78 per cent of all new books bought by customers will be under the name of celebrities – indeed the difference between “writing” and “paying someone else to write for you” will have be of interest only to academic traditionalists. Those on the cutting edge of research will be studying what will be known as “the Great Celebrity Tradition” of literature”. Whereas in The Great Tradition, FR Leavis studied the writing of Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James and Joseph Conrad, those working on the celebrity novel will trace the literary influence of Naomi Campbell, Kerry Katona, Jeremy Clarkson and Jordan. The Celebrity Library will be a resource centre for those interested in the thriving new industry.
The Twitterarium. Representing the new technology at its most sophisticated, this great glass dome will celebrate the finest tweets of Britain’s modern history. Among the highlights will be “I’ve just had dinner at the Ivy” by Stephen Fry, Sarah Brown’s “I get really nervous before Gordon makes a speech”, and Jonathan Ross’s Tesco tweets.
Damien Hirst’s Healthy Countryside. To avoid health hazards, the Cultural Olympics Committee has commissioned Hirst to create an entirely safe rural landscape where visitors can touch (stuffed) sheep, watch (animated) birds and sniff a “flower”.
It is thought that the tower itself will contain the collected briefing papers, reports and surveys of the Cultural Olympics Committee, the Olympics Deliverance Authority, the Artists Taking the Lead Fund among many, many others.
A kiss goodbye to the age of celebrity excess?
The moment when Britain grew bored of the Bright Young Things occurred with a fancy dress ball in 1931. The party, recalled this week in a BBC4 documentary called Beautiful and Damned, required guests to appear, gorgeously of course, dressed up as beggars. The Hunger Marches were happening at the same time and, with a single ill-judged social event, the ugliness behind the frenetic, effortful glamour of the privileged few stood revealed.
Perhaps, at some point in the Great Recession of 2009, there will come a similar moment of truth when the tastelessness and bogus sentiment of a money-obsessed, celeb-rity-led culture will cease to be amusing. If so, a strong contender will be the charity auction in San Francisco this week at which the actress Charlize Theron sold a 20-second French kiss to a female audience member for $140,000. The two women snogged on stage in front of a cheering audience as cameras flashed.
The incident has a sort of fairy-tale unity to it, bringing together much that is silly and bogus in the world of the famous. There is the occasion of glittering excess and consumption at which the obscenely rich compete with one another. There is the fake compassion rep-resented by a charity binge. There are the celebrities “giving back” and reaping the PR benefits. And, at the very bottom of the food chain, a saucy little sexual charge is offered to punters around the world who are given the thrill of seeing two women kissing.
All that noise and officials won’t listen
Because politicians, quangocrats and civil servants live in a world of bustle, chat and noise, the idea that other, wiser people value silence is likely to be largely incomprehensible to them.
When the Department of Transport was recently asked to put a limit on increasing numbers of aircraft flying over national parks it briskly rejected any form of control. Tranquillity is subjective, it explained. “What may be seen as intrusive by one may be acceptable to another.”
Here is a new official line – or perhaps that should be “official lie”. All things depend on subjective judgement, and so any objection based on personal experience can be dismissed. Those expressing opposition to something hideous being done to a landscape will now customarily be told that their view is subjective, that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.
In the case of the sounds around us, this ignorance can cause stress and unhappiness. There were 32 million people who experienced high levels of noise in 2008, according to the National Noise Survey. The level and character of those sounds will undoubtedly affect the way we listen and think, according Charlie Mydlarz, an acoustic engineer from Salford University. This week he is launching a national sound map which will provide an aural snapshot of Britain. Members of the public are being invited to record on their mobiles a 10-second extract of the sound around them and post it on a website: www.soundaroundyou.com.
For some, the case for occasional tranquillity is likely to fall on deaf ears. Those who work for the Department of Transport seem to have stopped listening or thinking some time ago.